Mexican food is definitely one of my favourite cuisines, but, like many others, I rarely venture beyond the tried and trusted favourites of fajitas, burritos and tacos. (A slap on the wrist here for being both unadventurous and unoriginal)
However, with 2015 being declared the official Year of Mexico in the UK, the Mexican Tourism Board and British government have teamed up to encourage us to learn more about the culture, science & education and culinary variety originating in this fascinating country.
As part of a whole calendar of events, London’s luxury department store Selfridges is currently putting on a series of foodie experiences starring some of the most exciting contemporary cookery talent hailing from the North American republic.
Chefs including Benito Molina of Manzanilla restaurant, Manalo Banos and Javier Plascencia are being flown in especially to host exclusive dinners and wine tastings designed to give a unique insight into the creativity and character of modern Mexican cuisine.
Realising that this may well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I jumped at the chance to attend the evening curated by Daniel Ovadia of Paxia Restaurant in Mexico City.
Self-taught, the young chef is celebrated as one of the country’s most promising kitchen masters and currently owns and manages three restaurants. He is renowned for his ‘elegant but faithful’ interpretation of Mexican home cooking.
With my friend Amy in tow, I made my way up to the beautiful Corner Restaurant on the second floor – via a detour through the Shoe Galleries. Crucial mistake!
Two pairs later (one each, of course), Amy and I sat down at a beautifully laid table decorated with a vibrant bunch of flowers, candles, and, most excitingly, the menu for the night. With two barmen already busy shaking up some Margaritas, we settled in nicely.
But before we could get stuck in too far into the zesty concoctions, the man of the moment, Daniel Ovadia, stepped out into the restaurant to greet his guests and talk us through the meal.
For starters, Daniel had chosen Black Shrimp Aguachile, made with burnt cocoa husk and huitlacoche tortilla. The rich sauce looked as black as ink, but combined the fresh flavours of lime with the sweetness of the cocoa and smoky, bitter quality of the burnt shells.
The dish in this form, Daniel explained, had taken him a whole year to perfect. And boy, do we owe him for the hard work that went into creating this piece of foodie heaven! With each dish, we were served a wine to complement the flavours, this time a crisp Sauvignon.
Next up was a Torta Ahogada, which translates to ‘drowned torta’ – a bread roll filled with veal ‘carnitas’, tomato sauce, spicy ‘chile de arbol and pickled red onion.
This was were the evening turned adventurous, as we were given sealed instructions and a pair of plastic gloves to enjoy this Paxia signature dish the authentic way. Swimming (or drowning) in sauce, we were encouraged to pick up the roll with our safely gloved left hand while adding a squirt of lime and then the chile and pickled onions for the ultimate taste sensation.
It was certainly a challenge not to drop the succulent meat everywhere, but looking around the smiling faces in the restaurant, the course was as entertaining as it was delicious.
For the main course we were treated to Mole ‘Carretero’: a tender piece of duck accompanied by sweet potato-guava puree and crisp plantains with lime and chilli.
This, Daniel explained, is a very traditional dish in Mexican home cooking and he added a little bowl of burning coals to the plate so we could experience the fragrance of his hometown’s streets at dinner time. It was a delicious assault on all our senses, with perfectly blended flavours and scents making this the standout course of the evening in my humble opinion.
Never one to knowingly turn down a dessert, we ended this food dream come true with Necuatole: yellow squash, tequesquite and orange served with Mexican raw sugar, amaranth, sour cream ice cream and pumpkin seed salt. Sweet, but light enough not to overwhelm after the previous three courses, it was perfection on a plate.
The evening ended with a selection of tequila awaiting those who dared at the bar and the chance to win a trip for two to Mexico. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!
If you want to get involved, the dinner experiences at Selfridges are sadly sold out but there is a whole calendar full of other events to check out. Feeling inspired? You can find all the information you need to book your holiday at www.visitmexico.com.