Sunday, 17 September 2017

Quintonil, Mexico City

Two days after Pujol, we had lunch at Quintonil. A couple of places behind Pujol in the World’s Best Rankings, it’s at No. 22.

The dining room was much more modest than Pujol, no zen garden or glowing indoor tree, but then again there were no banners warning us about dodgy dealings either. We were told to order two or three smaller dishes followed by one (or two) main courses for each person. After the portions we experienced at Pujol, we decided to cut back as Mexican portions are quite generous. So went with 3 starters and 2 mains to share.

We started with a selection of mole and salsa, followed by an amuse bouche of mango and lime granitas.

Charred avocado tartar with escamoles and mexican herb chips
Escaroles are ant eggs, which used to be a key ingredient in Aztec cuisine. We were slightly apprehensive about the idea but damn these were so delicious. The small globules were buttery, they melted away in mouth like mini balls of ice cream, leaving a trail of fragrant richness. The smoky avocado added extra creaminess to each spoonful, it was a beautifully indulgent dish.

“Salbut” with pink oyster mushroom, “agave” honey, seasoned with “chile mixe” salt

Chef Vallejo came round with a heaped bowl of fungi to show us the various species that went into the small dish. 

The crispy bowl of puffed tortilla was filled with a concoction of mushrooms in a savoury broth. The flavours were intense with concentrated fungi aroma, mixed with bouncy morsels of mushroom that released more juices with every chew.

“Jaiba azul” tostada with lime, radish and “chile habanero” mayonnaise
The crab tostada was one of the signature dishes. The crab was hidden under the large toasted tortilla, dressed with a slightly piquant mayo for a creamy texture to contrast with the crunchy veg. It wasn’t crazy spicy, just a hint of sharpness which was quickly washed away by the sweet crabmeat. It was good, but not as stunning as the ant eggs.

Catch of the day Puerto Nuevo style, grilled salicornias, fermented cabbage and sea weed mojo
Our server said he didn’t know what this fish was called in English. We think it’s monkfish. Quite disappointing dish, especially after such excellent starters. The fillet was marginally overcooked, leaving the fish slightly parched on the exterior and rough on the tongue; the flesh had lost the succulent silkiness. The thick sauce didn’t work either, it was very salty with small grainer bits that resembled black bean.

The portions turned out to be much smaller than Pujol, just as well, we didn’t enjoy it very much.

Braised pork jowl with blue corn “cegueza”, lettuces and pickled “rajas”
Having had an insane number of carnitas, we thought pork would always be a safe option as the Mexicans have nailed pork. Well, this was an exception. The pork jowl was dry and bland, but the most offensive part of the dish was the over seasoned ragu pooled at the bottom. It was like the kitchen had forgotten to dilute a whole box of stock cube.

“Zapote negro” rocks with a guava puree and caramelised white chocolate 
We saw the same dessert arrived at our neighbour's table covered in nitrogen; by the time ours arrived it was just a flat bowl. Well, at least it was back to the standards of the starters. The rocks were frozen ice cream, mixed with tart guava puree at the bottom. It was really quite delicious.

Quintoil was very different to Pujol. We felt Quintonil was more contemporary and perhaps more experimental, though the risks in our mains didn’t quite pay off. Whereas there was a set formula in Pujol and though small deviations may happen, the core flavours were more or less the same. If I am honest, despite the service / decor / ambience being less impressive in Quintonil, I feel we had the most memorable dishes of the entire trip here.

World’s Top 22nd restaurant? Yea, probably.

Newton 55
Mexico City

Tel: +52 (55) 5280 2680

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Sunday, 3 September 2017

Pujol, Mexico City

This post is over 2 months late. We had two great weeks in Mexico back in June, mostly diving and swimming cenotes in the Yucatan region, but also spent a few days in Mexico City to check out two World’s Best restaurants; Pujol (no. 20) and Quintonil (no.22).

On our walk to Pujol, there were banners lining the street that claimed the restaurant was corrupted and illegitimate. Slightly worrying. Once inside, the restaurant zen garden was stunning with a wooden bar adorned with colourful plants. The dimly lit dining room was equally impressive, with a small indoor garden glowing in the dark decor. 

Our server greeted us, introduced the concept of Pujol and presented the wax-sealed envelop that contained the menu. There were 6 courses and 4 options for most of them. Obviously we chose different dishes to try as much as we could. Our server first listened to our choices without writing anything down, then he apologetically came back and asked again, this time with a notepad. A few minutes later, he came back with the notepad and asked again what we wanted. Funnily enough, they still got the orders wrong and kept giving me his dishes.

Street Snacks

The first course was two snacks; smoked baby sweetcorn covered with chicken toner powder, lime juice and coffee mayo, which was sweet and crunchy with a mild earthy tone, and gordita topped with wagyu salsa on corn bread. 

Jerky Tartar, mukato chilies, bean blossoms
After 10 days of Mexican pulled pork and beans and tacos, some raw beef was a welcomed change. The thick slices were soft and marbled with fat, slightly chewy with gentle bounce. The heat from chilies were subtle, paired with peppery blossoms and a refreshing dressing - a solid tartar.

Octopus, habanero ink, ayocote, veracruzana sauce
The octopus was covered in spicy ink - so deceiving. The succulent tentacle was wrapped in fierce heat, finished with a Mediterranean touch.

Softshell crab, meyer lemon, herbs
A surprisingly meat crab with an impossibly crispy batter. Though thoroughly enjoyable, we thought this dish had the least Mexican flair.

Charred eggplant tamal, chard
The small parcel enveloped smoked aubergine puree. I remembered this being delicious, but can no longer recall the sauce.

Pork Chicharron and purslane in salsa verde
This was the highlight was the evening. The cubes of pork with a generous layer of wobbly, melt-in-mouth lard were godsend, served with a thick avocado sauce mixed sharp lime juices to dissect the fat. 

Wagyu, fennel seeds, herb guacamole
It was a hunky piece of beef, we would probably get a third of the portion in other tasting menus. Sadly the beef wasn’t the top grade wagyu I anticipated, it was too lean as far as wagyu is considered, and too subtle in flavour. The creamy ripe avocado (lots of it) somewhat made up for the lack of buttery richness of the wagyu in terms of texture, but the juicy bovine goodness was lacking.

Mole madre 1315 days, mole nuevo
The number of days the mole madre mature get added every day, and it was served with a dollop of new mole and some green tortilla. Even now, we can’t really grasp the idea of mole… it’s a concoction of spice cooked together, to form a thick sauce that absolutely everyone in Mexico adores. Yet 90% of foreigners just don’t get the obsession. The two tables beside us poked at the puddle of mole and pushed it away. Maybe they ran out of space in their stomach. We really wanted to appreciate it; to understand how this became the ultimate signature of the World’s No.20 restaurant.

And it grew on us a bit. The mole madre had much more depth, and understated sweetness combined with a rich, almost chocolatey bitterness, plus a lingering aftertaste. Then the new mole, in bright orange, had more spices that came and went. When mixed together, the combination was quite sophisticated with complex flavours. We grew to like it enough to clean the plate.

That said, we didn’t like it enough to start ordering mole when we see it on the menu.

The sweets were the weakest section. Shockingly poor. The gelatinous cake was made with sugar and ground maize, so it resembled an odd jelly of no real flavour.

Chocolate tamal, guava, soursop, brown butter
There was nothing chocolate about this tamal, it didn’t help that we are not fans of the texture of tamale. It was a really strange creation.

The saving grace was the coil of fresh, piping hot churros to round off the meal.

We were stuffed to brim at the end of evening. The portion was much more generous than a regular tasting menu, we felt we had 2 full sized starters and 2 full sized mains. We enjoyed Pujol very much, especially when we were growing tired of stodgy meals drowned in thick sauces and endless tacos. The kitchen showcased how typical Mexican ingredients were used in a more sophisticated dishes, reining in chillies and brought out more flavours.

Tennyson 133
Polanco 11550
Mexico City
Tel: +52 (55) 5545 4111