A few weeks ago I was invited to a Mexican restaurant called Mestizo in North London, for an evening of tequila and food pairing. Tequila seems to have a bit of a ‘Marmite’ appeal in the UK, most likely because us Brits like to knock back the shots, which I think has potentially cheapened what is a high quality and traditional spirit. That said, I didn’t know a huge amount about tequila, so I was keen to learn more. And having the largest selection on display in the UK (260+ and counting), Mestizo seemed like a good place to do this!
We started with the classic frozen margarita before moving on to a selection of Don Fulano tequilas, while being given an introduction to the production methods and types of tequilas.
Tequila takes from 7-10 years to produce, unlike many other spirits such as rum and vodka) which can be made on a yearly basis. It is made from the Blue Agave plant that grows principally in the State of Jalisco and takes its name from the town of Tequila. The best tequila are made from 100% Blue Agave plant. What I didn’t realise is that tequila can be purchased across a variety of ages, much like with wines, whiskies or cheeses, for instance.
Blanco/Plata (white or silver) – this tequila is clear in colour and is bottled immediately after the distilling process. It has a light, clean taste.
Reposado (rested) – a reposado tequila is often chosen as the main ingredient in a margarita to give it more flavour and character. This tequila is aged for a minimum of 12 months and the barrels are new oak barrels, to give a rounded and fuller bodied flavour.
Anejo (aged) – this finest of tequila is aged for a minimum of 12 months. The barrels used may have previously held other fine liqueurs or spirits, so the flavour of the tequila is enhanced.
Premium – a special selection of tequila that has been aged for over 3 years in aged barrels. These are limited in supply and are definitely for the tequila connoisseur, with a full bodied and often rich, complex flavour.
But there are also close ‘cousins’ to tequila which you might have heard of – Mezcal and Sotol.
Mezcal is another name for the maguey cactus and is made mostly in the state of Oaxaca. Unlike tequila, Mezcal can be made from many types of the cactus plants in Oaxaca, such as quishe, pasmo, tepestate, tobala, espadin, largo, pulque, azul, blanco, ciereago and mexicano. It can be aged for different amounts of time – Joven is young mezcal – always either non-aged, or aged less than 2 months. Reposado means it has been aged from 2 months to 1 year and Anejo has been aged for 1-3 years. Mezcal can be made in only 7 states in Southern Mexico and is generally made by small producers using traditional methods. Its taste is similar to tequila, although smokier (the result of the production process in which the plant’s pina, or heart, is roasted underground.
Sotol is a relative newcomer to the Mexican spirit market, but one that has been known to the local Chihuahua Indians for over 800 years. It achieved appellation distinction in 2004 and only 5 producers make it. It is made from the Dasylirion Wheeleri, commonly called the Desert Spoom or Sotol, and it grows in the Northern states of Mexico. It takes 15 years to mature and each plant produces only one bottle of Sotol.
A few years ago there were just 40-50 tequilas available in the UK, but this has now grown to over 180 varieties due to an increase in popularity for this drink.
And then came the food. A LOT of food. Mestizo has a huge menu and regularly hosts special events with tasting menus. During our visit, we tried the following:
1. Empanada Chapanecas: a corn pastry filled with shredded pork, tomato, hard boiled egg, onion and cloves, served with salsa verde.
2. Tamal Oaxaqueno: corn masa filled with chicken, wrapped in a banana leaf, steamed and covered in a chile and tomato salsa.
3. Sopa Purapecha: a puree of black bean soup, garnished with fried corn tortilla strips, grated cheese, cream and chile de arbol.
4. Pescadilla: a corn tortilla filled with chile spiced flaked fish, tomato, onion & garlic, deep fried until golden
5. Papadzul: an egg enchilada smothered in pumpkin seed sauce and topped with spicy habanero salsa.
6. Pavo en Escabeche; sliced turkey breast pickled in a traditional marinade of aromatic herbs, baby potato, cauliflower and carrots.
7. Chamorro al Tequila: sliced shank of slow cooked pork, marinated in mulato and pasilla chile and tequila sauce.
8. Mole Amarillo: Slices of shank of lamb cooked in a spicy marinade and covered in a yellow mole stew of herbs, tomatillo, guajillo chile, green beans and chayote
9. Pastel 3 leche – a rich almost custard-like cake made with 3 milks – condensed, evaporated and double cream.
I could barely move after all of this delicious grub! It all felt incredibly genuine and traditional, with lots of wholesome, hearty flavours.
If you fancy trying out Mestizo (they’re located between Euston and Warren Street), you can find out more on their website here. Make sure to check out the events they’ve got coming up. For instance, as part of their Día De Muertos (day of the dead) celebrations, makeup artists will offer free face painting to all of their guests (27-29 Oct, 7-10pm).
I was invited to review Mestizo by Tonic Communications and Mestizo but did not receive any payment. All views are my own.