CLICK ON THE MAIN PHOTO ABOVE TO VIEW CAPTIONS IN GALLERY FORMAT
Image 1: Despite confirming and reconfirming by phone and email, they couldn't find my reservation when I arrived! It was 8pm and this place was fully packed with a good mix of diners - two small tables with tourists in jeans, a few tables of local mature couples in formal evening dresses, and the rest were younger local's with a big group of 12 squeezed to a table of 8 dominating the small dining room.
Image 2: Luckily after only 15 mins of waiting 2 tables were vacated. Getting service here was as difficult as getting a table! The sommelier was busy trying to juggle many wine glasses on his small tray, whilst all the other servers were either engaged with taking orders or rushing out from the kitchen serving them. It was a war zone here!
Image 3: We were a bit disappointed with the service team so far but once we got our server's attention, he took his time trying his best to translate every item on the tasting menu, though I could only catch half of what he was saying. Admittedly, the service was not that bad after all!
Image 4: Whilst the ambience wasn't what I expected from what local magazines described as fine dining, maybe this was the best way to experience contemporary Mexican street food!
Image 5: Our server immediately came back and placed three condiments on our table: coriander and tomato with pumpkin seed; tomato with onion; and green tomato with hot pepper. However, he forgot to bring me my missing napkin!
Image 6: Our amuse bouche swiftly arrived to keep us entertained - a whole pumpkin shell and shrimp crackers.
Cool presentation with intense smoke steaming out.
Image 8: Sticking out from the shell were skewers of smoked baby corn covered in coffee mayo. The corn was nicely cooked with a crunchy centre and the creamy sauce was quite appetizing, I wouldn't call it exceptional, but a good start with a sense of relief.
Image 9: The cracker that came with the pumpkin had mini cubes of avocado and many tiny, and I mean really tiny, shrimps on top. Despite not having received my napkin still and my plate being dirty, the food was fun so far!
Image 10: The team here worked non-stop. Within a couple of minutes, they came back with our first course of the tasting menu, a simple courgette flower salad with a black bean paste underneath. Looked beautiful but it cried for more seasoning! It didn't take us long to realise that it was a tasteless salad.
Image 11: It seemed like the speed of service stepped up another gear. Immediately after removing one plate, they would lay down the next. This one, a guacamole tasting with one hard taco. There were three different kinds of guacamole: mashed avocado with yogurt, diced avocado with onion and tomato…
Image 12: … and an avocado ball dusted with chipotle. It was a great idea to taste three types of guacamoles in three bites.
More salad dish and this was my first time having cactus!
With board beans garnished with rosemary and celery oil.
Image 15: The cactus skin resembled snow peas and the crunchy texture resembled cucumber. This was just a taste of ingredient rather than a dish! And it wasn't even a delicious ingredient as the cactus was mute in flavour other than the light dose of vinaigrette that made it slightly more palatable.
Image 16: I was fooled thinking it was fish course already! This was actually tamale, a traditional Mayan corn custard wrapped in leaves which were removed after boiling or steaming. This preparation is similar to Chinese sticky rice "zongzi". This tamale was filled with bone marrow, chipilín and cotija cheese. Interesting but I have to admit that it didn't suit my palate.
Image 17: We continued to march through our tasting menu. A bowl containing a pair of small Mexico dumpling of pork rind surrounded by four little stacks of ranch cream. Our server explained these dumplings are typical in Oaxaca.
Image 18: This course was actually a soup of watercress, potato, and chayote, a Mexican squash. The soup was alright but more importantly, they needed to do a better job in washing -- I first got a dirty plate for my amuse bouche, now a dirty spoon for my soup!
On to the meat part of the menu, a coriander taco of lamb and avocado.
Image 20: Our server then drizzled a tomato based sauce with hoja santa, a native herb that is widely used in Mexican cuisine. He also suggested us adding a small spoon of the spicy tomato condiment and eat this taco with our hands! Not bad, at least I finally felt like I was having some proper food.
Coming up was our main course served with tortilla on the side.
Image 22: It was a joke that our server first brought us an empty plate and instructed us to warm the tortilla on this plate without realizing the hot stone was missing! Another waiter walking by our table pointed it out to our server, who then ran back to the kitchen with the plate to find the missing hot stone!
Image 23: So far we were bombarded with one plate after another without any respite, but somehow there was a long wait after they brought us the hot stone which was getting colder and colder. Very depressing! Our server finally showed up after 20min with a decent looking plate of turkey breast that was salted in brine for 24 hours giving it a very good flavour. It was looking promising...
Image 24: ... before they ruined the dish by completely covering it with chichilo negro sauce, an Oaxeca specialty. Do they really need to cover the whole plate with such a concentrated sauce? I couldn't see the lovely plate of turkey breast with fried banana and white carrot puree anymore! I guess they really didn't want me to like the food here!
Image 25: We still tried to warm up our tortilla with a not-so-warm stone and I realized instantly that the tortilla would be much warmer if warmed it up with my palm!
Image 26: I really tried to enjoy it but it was a difficult course to like, dominated by the thick, intense, and bitter sauce! Maybe it's authentic, however, this sauce is really difficult to like! We tried our best and were able to finish half of this dish. Haven't had such a bad dish for a while!
And the second meat course was suckling pig and pickled radish
Image 28: However, we had to have it with our cold tortilla, and to make it worse, just as I was thinking I finally could enjoy a delicious course, I had a whole piece of the yellow pepper garnish in my mouth that I had to spit out as it was burning my tongue! The pepper was unbearably which I quickly pointed out to our server and he pointed out that it was a special type of extremely spicy yellow chili. Why didn't he warn me before then?!
I was glad they brought us this sorbet right after the main as I could still feel the chili.
Cool! A stream of fire!
A Mandarin sorbet as a palate cleanser that I definitely needed to cool down my tongue!
Image 32: We asked for two different desserts and they had no problem with that. A pineapple sorbet accompanied by a cake that was soaked in syrup.
Image 33: And the dessert of the tasting menu was an avocado cloud resting on cheese cream accompanied by a cube of caramelized avocado and bulbs of coconut gel.
Image 34: With a coconut sorbet on a bed of macadamia nut crumbs. The avocado was surprisingly a great element for dessert, sweet and creamy!
Image 35: For petits-fours, they explained that each item was a transformation of a traditional drink from different regions of Mexico! What a brilliant way to showcase the country! Though I don't know any of them, I admire the idea of reflect authentic flavour into a modern cuisine.
Image 36: Unfortunately, the best items of the meal were the amuse bouche and the petits-fours! The service was catastrophic to say the least. Was this truly a reinvention of traditional Mexican cuisine? I appreciate that I'm no expert so I couldn't comment. Overall, even though some flavours were not my cup of tea, I was still glad that I have experienced something different as this was the objective of this trip.