SINGAPORE (Oct 30): The Mexican culture, as understood by the general masses in this part of the world, is a caricature of loud rainbow hued ponchos and outrageous sombreros; its food characterised by heavy burritos that have gained popularity among locals in recent years. And more often than not, one is assaulted by strong colours and lively music when they step into a Mexican restaurant on this island. And the menu would feature rather predictable permutations of beans, rice, tender cuts of meat accompanied by heat from jalapenos and acidity from lime. And what is not to love about that?
The fact is, as much as we love the stereotypical flavours of what we perceive as “Mexican”, the burritos that we devour are as representative of the country’s cuisine as Singapore Fried Noodles is of our own food culture. If you are ready for an education, head to El Mero Mero.
The restaurant was founded by Alejandro Blanco in 2014. The Mexican who has since come to call Singapore home started the restaurant with no grand manifesto — he simply missed the food from home. Blanco also owns a B2B production facility that makes fresh tacos using milled corn imported directly from Mexico; and casual dining outfit Señor Taco — to which El Mero Mero serves as a more refined counterpart. The rejuvenated El Mero Mero, which reopened its doors in July after a five month-long facelift, remains anchored by the sleek open kitchen. It retains the same elegance as before, but where it was dark and sexy it is now lighter and airier with ivory-hued walls, marble-topped tables and lush indoor plants.
Main image: The rejuvenated El Mero Mero retains the same elegance as before, but where it was dark and sexy it is now lighter and airier with ivory-hued walls, marble-topped tables and lush indoor plants
The change is not just cosmetic either. New chef at the helm, Jorge Rosas Leon, a native of Oaxaca, injects the menu with a fresh energy, and a contemporary spirit of experimentation is more apparent. That said, a number of classics remain on the menu — perfectly unchanged, just as regulars remember them.
The corn sampler ($15) presents intensely sweet grilled baby corn skewers served on smoky torched corn husks, and fluffy rings of earthy and savoury donuts made from huitlacoche (a fungus native to Mexico). Enjoy the snacks on their own, or dress them with an addicting concoction of cotija cheese, mayonnaise, arbol chilli pepper, salt and lime juice all whipped together to form a dip with a rich yet lifted flavours. Other familiar items include a range of tacos, such as a tempura of Patagonian toothfish fillet ($14) served atop a tender tortilla made fresh each day and finished with a finely chopped medley of tomatoes, onions, coriander, serrano chilli pepper, slivers of pickled shallots and a dollop of chipotle mayonnaise.
While as diners we might be prone to go back to familiar favourites — rather than have to think too much about what to order, here, it pays to be a bit more adventurous.
The new dishes present plenty of intrigue without being outlandishly modern. In fact, some of the items are so rustic you can almost imagine a Mexican abuelita humming a tune as she stirs the pot for her brood. One such dish is the tortilla soup ($14): a hearty homestyle stew rich with the natural sweetness of tomatoes, garlic, onion and guajillo chilli peppers — first roasted in the Josper (a combination of grill and oven) for a hint of smokiness — served with creamy dices of avocado, and accompanied by crisp-fried tortilla strips.
Tortilla soup is a hearty homestyle stew rich with the natural sweetness of tomatoes, garlic, onion and guajillo chilli peppers
But if it is lightness and freshness that you seek, go for the hamachi and coconut ceviche ($21). Chunks of sashimi-grade hamachi are first marinated in lime juice and jalapeno, serrano and guero chillies, then tossed in a mixture of lime juice and hibiscus milk — a light broth made from simmering the flower in coconut water and milk. Served in a tender-fleshed young coconut, topped with fresh avocado puree and garnished with trout roe, it has umami, heat, freshness and lightness all in equal and balanced measures, making it a dish that is at once indulgent yet rather guilt-free.
Then there is the Tostadas de Atun ($17), which is cubes of sashimi-grade yellowfin tuna tossed in chipotle mayonnaise, avocado puree and tempura banana shallots served in the most delicately crisp tortilla shell. One could easily demolish a serving alone, and still crave for a second serving.
Tostadas de Atun has cubes of sashimi-grade yellowfin tuna tossed in chipotle mayonnaise, avocado puree and tempura banana shallots served in the most delicately crisp tortilla shell
A meal at El Mero Mero presents a wide spectrum of flavour profiles that honour the diversity of Mexican culinary culture. At the same time, it distils — through the use of fresh ingredients and clean execution — the complexity of the cuisine into dishes that can be widely appreciated and easily accepted. Come for a deep-dive into Mexican cuisine if you choose, or just come for a delicious dining experience that transcends cultural taste differences. Whichever way, you will find yourself hooked.
Koh Yuen Lin is a freelance editorial consultant who maintains that while her peers are overachieving, she is just overeating
El Mero Mero
30 Victoria Street, #01-20 Chijmes
Tel: 9722 8171
Opening hours: Sunday to Thursday: 5pm to 11pm,
Friday to Saturday: 5pm to 11.30pm