This prominent Hampstead Road dining room has been there for as long as many of us can remember – since 2004, in fact. And yet how many times have you whizzed straight past it on the bus, making a mental note?
The simple idea, say the owners, was to bring the best of Mexican cuisine to Londoners, years before the current streetfood craze for all things taco really took off. In English the name means ‘mixed’ – as befits a two-floor multi-purpose bar, restaurant and club.
First thoughts? The contemporary blood-red interior still feels relatively chic after all this time, with grey pillars dotted about and a handful of rustling pendant lights: a soothing sound indeed.
It was a little odd however that, as we entered, a waitress seemed unsure whether they were still serving at 2pm on a Thursday. After finally being granted a table, we sat down by the big windows where, in true London juxtaposition, a 1970s concrete block and the Euston Saree Centre were visible beyond the red fluffy heart dangling against the glass.
The extensive menu may feel overwhelming to those unacquainted with Mexican food. Dishes range from burritos to the house special, a huge volcanic stone bowl of beef or chicken to share. As we took our seats, almost every couple was devouring one.
The cocktail list has the expected focus on tequila, but Mexican beers also feature and, as it was a weekday lunch, we opted for a beer-cocktail hybrid: a chelada is like a hoppier, fizzier bloody mary, served on ice with soy-like salsa maggi, tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and lime juice. Unlike anything I’d tasted before, it left a spicy, moreish residue on the lips, its relative meatiness ensuring it took far longer than a normal beer to drink. Which is a good thing, right?
We chose tacos to start, which came in something like a handmade oven glove to keep warm: the flour had a blue corn sweetness, while melt-in-the-mouth pork, served with marinated red onion, was infused with orange juice and colourful achiote. A bowl of prawns ceviche was more akin to a cold soup, with the fat juicy crustaceans bathing in a marinade of onions, tomatoes and chillis, topped with a fan of flawless, soft green avocado slices. Good quality homemade tortilla chips proved a sturdy vessel, too.
Eschewing the popular bowl to share (too easy), we opted for two classic mains to get a feel for what the rustic dishes were like. Pollo Negro is a Mexican staple whose recipe is commonly passed from grandmothers down the family – and it showed: tender blackened chicken was smothered with a smokey cuitlacoche sauce made from truffles, and topped with a cheese gratin. Delicious: but how old-school the presentation was, down to the accompanying unseasoned boiled carrots and cauliflower florets.
Meanwhile, Thin crepes folded under a classic red chilli mole sauce were sweet rather than spicy; and it was tricky to identify the filling of courgette flowers, against the rather shouty triumvirate of onion, garlic and melted cheese.
It was time to get back to work. As we paid up, a stream of Spanish-speaking customers were still pouring in, the large walled TV screen showing rolling world news. Mestizo, we concluded, is nothing if not authentic.