Guy Pelly (above) isn’t the only one to have opened an establishment with a hint of Mexican flavour in recent weeks. And, like the vogue for unfussy but high-quality burgers and barbecue that encouraged the rise of Meat Liquor, Pitt Cue and Burger & Lobster, a trend that first gathered momentum in New York has sparked a flurry of openings across London.
Those who want to drink like an inhabitant of Mexico City while avoiding the Chelsea set could do worse than head to Qui Qui Ri Qui (Spanish for cock-a-doodle-do). A hidden entrance round the back of a Hoxton kebab shop gives way to a steep, dingy staircase that reverberates with indietronica. Eventually it leads to London’s first specialist mezcal bar, which stocks more than 50 varieties of the spirit. A close relative of tequila, mezcal is made in small batches from agave (a plant in the same family as aloe vera) and is subject to appellation of origin laws similar to those that control what can and can’t be called “champagne”.
As wine has its different grapes, different varieties of agave have their own characteristics and reflect particular terroirs. Mezcal’s most distinguishing trait, though, is its smoky flavour – brought on when the agave is cooked using hot rocks. Good quality bottles will be strong – I tried one that was 54 per cent proof – but smooth, and are made even more palatable when sipped and accompanied by slices of orange sprinkled with ground worm (yes, really) and salt.
For truly authentic Mexican cooking, Mezcal Cantina is a good bet. The bar there serves its namesake and some excellent cocktails, but the main draw for the crowd of young, good-looking Dalstonites is the food. The “mole” sauce (pronounced “molé”) that accompanies the chicken enchiladas is out of this world. Made with 20 ingredients, including chilli and chocolate, it is complex, unusual and has notes that are reminiscent of a fine cigar.
Having made its debut in 2007, bar and restaurant chain Wahaca is a good deal older than these newcomers but is, in some respects, more accessible. What's More, the newly launched Charlotte Street branch is the first to open in the morning; and it serves a hearty breakfast burrito. Arriba.
Qui Qui Ri Qui
184 Hackney Rd, Bethnal Green, E2 7QL
127 Kingsland High Street, Dalston, E8 2PB
020 7254 1177
19 - 23 Charlotte Street, W1T 1RL
020 7323 2342