Every year on the night of September 15, the President of Mexico will ring the bell of the National Palace of Mexico and from the balcony of the Palace cry out to the assembled crowds, ‘¡Viva México! ¡Viva México! ¡Viva México!’
This is Mexican Independence Day, a night of partying to celebrate a local priest turned revolutionary figure, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla’s, cry for freedom that caused the start of the Mexican War of Independence in 1816 and thus Mexico’s eventual independence from Spain.
I have come to Mestizo, a Mexican restaurant near Warren Street station that has just opened a festival of regional Mexican food in a lead up to this night of revelry and partying. This will be their ninth year of hosting this gastronomic festival – highlighting so many of the regional delights that are so rarely seen in the UK. It’s a busy Friday night in the restaurant and the staff are so friendly and welcoming to everyone who steps in that I feel as though I’ve walked into a family’s dining room.
Not only does Mestizo serve delicious food, it also has the accolade of having the largest collection of tequilas in London. I’ve brought my husband with me, who last summer couch-surfed his way around Mexico after meeting some amazingly friendly and generous lads in Mexico City on a placement at our university, and will therefore only eat Mexican food if it’s ‘real’ Mexican food.
We start our night by ordering margaritas – I go for a cucumber margarita which is phenomenally fresh and feels like a modern fun twist on a Hendrick’s G&T. My husband chooses to be the dare devil and plumps for a chilli margarita which has a spicy kick while also being incredibly moreish.
The staff are friendly and down to earth and rather than the slightly more formal way of serving separate tables, everyone gets involved – welcoming us, checking the food is ok, telling us about their favourite dishes, their love of regional food. It’s fantastic and vibrant and makes the whole evening come alive in the passion of the people who work here.
I go with one of the waitress’s suggestions and for antojitos (starters) we pick the mixed platter which comes with a flauta (rolled corn tortilla filled with chicken, deep fried), an empanada (corn pasties), a jalada (jalapeño stuffed with cream cheese and deep fried) and tamal (steamed corn husk).
Everything is the perfect blend of spicy, creamy with real generosity of filling that makes a great Mexican meal. The jaladas are my favourite – a fiery jalapeño chilli stuffed with creamy cheese to take away the heat and then deep-fried. It’s so delicious and a great way to enjoy the taste of jalapeños without loosing all feeling in your taste buds.
We also opt for some pescadillas (corn tortilla filled with spiced flaked fish) a dish found along the coast of Mexico and panicho (corn tortilla topped with refried beans, shredded cochinita and marinated red onion) which essentially is a Mexican club sandwich – layers of soft tortilla covered in different toppings and sandwiched together to create one well balanced and blended dish.
By now its 9pm and the restaurant is buzzing; packed with big Friday night parties and I can see why – this is the perfect place to bring friends, celebrate and feast on great sharing food and quirky margaritas. Mestizo describes itself as serving ‘classic Mexican cuisine in the time-honoured way’ and for main we therefore choose the speciality of the house: Molcajete ‘Mestizo’ – a dish of beef and chicken served in a volcanic stone bowl with cheese, chorizo, grilled spring onions, cilantro and avocado and spicy sauce, all served with corn or flour tortillas.
When it arrives it makes me literally giggle it’s so fun. A giant volcanic rock, shaped into a pig with his back scooped out to create an incredible mound of meat, cheese and fresh avocado. We get stuck in and I can’t help but continue to laugh as I serve huge cheese strings of melty, sweet cheese onto flour tortillas and fill them with the spicy beef and chicken, salty chorizo and the fresh avocado. This is food with a party attitude and full of flavour, fun and passion. There is easily enough food to feed four so by the end we are happily defeated and decide the only solution is another margarita.
So if you fancy a night of partying it up Mexican style with traditional hospitality, food and tequila, Mestizo is the place.
103 Hampstead Road
Tel: 020 7387 4064