I was initially puzzled by the buzz among my friends about Mexico’s imminent opening: they’re not normally the type to get excited by chain restaurants with branches in Takapuna and Hamilton. Then I saw the menu and understood the hype. The dishes looked more innovative and better presented than most Mexican food in Wellington. Queues out onto Dixon Street attested to its appeal.
We waited at the bar, starting with a carafe of classic Margarita and salsa roja with corn chips. Everything was beyond reproach: well balanced, fresh and flavoursome. Eventually the perky staff ushered us to our table… I say “our”, but this is shared canteen-style seating. This can be enjoyably convivial, but hard, heavy benches don’t make it comfortable to sit or move around.
The menu is short, but packed with enticing options that made it hard to choose a representative selection. Once we did order, it wasn’t long before the dishes started arriving. And they kept on coming, in rapid succession, until a table already groaning with cutlery, sauce bottles and drinks became awkwardly cluttered.
While not quite the artful compositions on their website, the dishes were pleasantly presented, with tacos served open so you can enjoy the composition before wrapping up their soft shells and eating them. Grapes and apple are unusual accompaniments for beef skirt, but they provided a lively contrast. Candied pepitas and lemon confit promised a similar zing in the Pipían chicken taco, but it was surprisingly muted. Slivers of radish enlivened the special roast pork cheek taco, but poblano and chilli picadillo got lost in the mix.
We looked forward to the flautas, but as we worked our way around the strings that tied them up, we couldn’t help noticing that the pumpkin was undercooked and the fennel salad was watery and bland. Fried chicken was crisp, but didn’t live up to the “not to be missed” billing. Bold combinations of red meat and sweet spices were more impressive, such as braised coconut brisket in the gorditas, and cinnamon braised lamb quesadillas. The latter came with a rich salsa borracha, but with little sign of the advertised zucchini and mint. The robust fish flavours of the pan-fried skate were complemented with a tangy, almost Mediterranean-style Veracruz sauce, though if there was fried orange in the puffed wild rice, or if the olives were truly candied with ginger, it was impossible to tell.
After washing this down with a quaffable sangria bianco, we tried some dessert. While the churros were a tad doughy, the two other desserts on the menu were much better. Rhubarb mousse was delicious, despite the lack of tangible ginger in the ginger jelly, and the carrot cake was a surprise hit: more like a sweet, crisp taco than cake, brilliantly combined with cinnamon buñuelo and lemon-peel ice cream.
What is Mexico’s niche? The service is too hurried for a relaxed meal, but waiting for a table rules out a quick grab and go. If it’s intended as a bar, then the food is unusually ambitious for ‘cantina’-style raucousness. This might represent a general raising of standards, with adventurous combinations no longer restricted to finer dining, but the execution doesn’t match the ambition. The trick might be to order dishes in waves, and linger over a few more tequilas, for a more relaxed experience.[warning]
Address: 41 Dixon Street, Te Aro
Phone: 04 894 6982
Cost: Snacks and tacos $6–8; specialities and quesadillas $14–16
Open: Daily noon–late
Food: Contemporary Mexican
Drink: Tecate $9; sangria $10/glass, $26/carafe[/warning]