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.
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.
Tel: +52 (55) 5545 4111