We've had tex-mex stuff its burritos down our throats, heck we've even had desi-mex drown us in garam masala all in the name of mole. But the only thing that evaded us till now was actual Mexican food. And all in the blink of an eye, it hadn't been weeks since La Bodega opened its doors when Depot 29 ole'd it's way in to the city too.
Let's focus our attention first at La Bodega; in my opinion the more authentic out of the two. La Bodega has been opened by two ladies one of which I make out from our brief chat lived in Mexico, and has brought a local chef down to run the kitchen.
As for the place? With an aztec design craze hitting the world, I am sure there was no lack of inspiration. Californian meets Aztec quirk - traditional patterned tiles meet wiry urban lighting. Little beakers make for flower table decor; rough plastered white walls and fairy lights brightening little balconies, allow you to believe the next couple of hours will be a delight.
Now back to the food. Yes authenticity is all I have yearned for, so call me audacious when I now add, authenticity is nothing without good taste & mastery of skill.
I am no stranger to Mexican food. While I lived in the U.S it did take a little bit, for my palette to separate tex-mex from real Mexican. At first I found it blander, I suppose if you take away all that cheese that could be used to start a pizza chain, it's bound to fall flat at first. I eventually made my way to Mexico where I got a small glimpse in to this vibrant cuisine. It was only once I started working at a fine dining Mexican restaurant, run by a celebrity chef back in the states, was I able to discern all those exotic and beautiful flavours. I learnt that they are simple yet complex all at once. There is sophistication in how the ingredients are handled, yet every bite brings comfort. Such special care if given to the marinating and grilling of meats that there was no need to drown it out with salsas. And like India, Mexico's cuisine is vast and varied through the country. A great amount of preparation and technique also goes in to Mexican cuisine. For a real glance in to this delicious world one must get their hands on Diane Kennedy's cookbook The Essential Cuisines of Mexico
. There may be no pictures and steps may look laborious but it tastes that good because no shortcuts have been taken. She is undoubtedly the Julia Child of Mexican cuisine.
And that brings me to my problem with the La Bodega - the short cuts and lack of technique. But let me take you dish by dish. For not all was lost, with a little more practice I think we may eventually have one decent Mexican restaurant. That is if they choose to work on their short comings rather than ignore them with misplaced pomposity.
- Salsas to start - Though we weren't given anything to actually dip in to these with. Hmmm a tad bit strange n'est ce pas?
- Classic Margaritas - I thought they made some solid margaritas. Not sure about all the flavoured ones but they nailed it with this one. And they served it on the rocks as it should be rather than a sludgy mess resembling something out of 7 Eleven. Though I believe you can choose how you want to drink your poison.
- El Mazateno - Prawn Taco - Ah where do I begin. Let's start with the prawns that had a funny taste to them that did make me question their freshness and quality. On top of which the batter was a disaster, what should have been light and crisp was thick and soggy. Oh how soggy batter irks me! And now for the most important part according to me - the masa tortillas. It's commendable if they are attempting to make their own corn tortillas. And my heart did do a mini somersault when I saw corn tortillas versus insipid flour ones. BUT it really doesn't matter how much more you have laboured over it if at the end the result is weaker. Unfortunately, the tortillas were dry and didn't hold well. The tortillas are the backbone of any taco, their presence resonates through every bite, so really there isn't any option but for them to be good.
- Cochinita Pibil Taco - I love a good cochinita pibil. I'm going to bring down my blabbing levels and say that their pibil was super. Fiery, vinegary pork, cooked gingerly for hours, in a cosy wrap, of flavour enhancing banana leaves. It is the kind of thing that gets your mouth watering, at the mere mention of it. This shredded pork taco and a few margaritas may just be enough to bring me back. Of course the problem of the dry masa tortillas remains.
- Ceviche Caribeño - Ok I take that back because to be fair this was the only faultless dish of the night. A white fish and shrimp ceviche marinated in lime, salt (the acids from the lime in a way "cook" the raw seafood) and coconut milk. Now I have had my fair share of ceviche - Peruvian food was trending on my top cuisines for a good few years. It probably still would be, if I got even a sliver of it here. And while my Mexican and Peruvian friends would without fail bicker about who owned the indigenous rights to ceviche, I would use this window to gobble it all up for myself. Yet, this was the first ceviche for me with coconut milk and I have to say it was delicious! I was a bit worried about the seafood after our prawn tacos but I had no complaints. The creamy sweetness was a perfect balance to the tart flavours. Besides coconut and seafood are an even more beautiful match than Brad & Angelina in my opinion. It is listed under the mains but we had it to share as a starter.
- Duck in Mole Negro - A picture does speak a 1000 words, especially for any of you familiar with a mole negro. And let me add the "authenticity" I spoke about went out the chimney faster than santa claus. Mole negro is quite the sauce to take on. It is probably the most time consuming of all of Oaxaca's moles, and uses anywhere from 25 to 30 ingredients. Due to the presence of some local herbs and dark bitter chocolate it is an almost frighteningly dark colour, hence it is befittingly called "black" mole. And because of how tedious this sauce is to make, several restaurants use ready made pastes as a base. The restaurant I worked for took two days to make this sauce alone. A good Mole Negro, is salty sweet, and more complex than the theory of relativity. It is rich to the tongue, and has a thickness to it from the hours of cooking. Now without even taking a bite, glance at the picture and tell me what you see? No silly that isn't a rogan josh! That is a rather embarrassing rendition of a Mole Negro. It lacked the complexity, it lacked sweetness, it lacked that undertone that comes from the bitter chocolate, it lacked depth and that luscious viscosity. Clearly it just lacked too much to even be called a mole negro anymore. I feel almost bad adding more, but that duck had to be cooked incredibly badly, to even be noticed amidst that puddle of disaster. And poorly cooked it was. The meat was so tough to get off the bone, it would be easier prying secrets out of the M15! At some point after my knife surrendered, I picked it up to bite off a piece hoping for a meaty mouthful, lets just say we stopped at that one bite. It just wasn't worth the effort.
After a lukewarm meal, we decided to skip dessert and settle for what we knew worked best.. tequila! In hindsight, I do regret not trying the tres leches, it is one of my favourites. Perhaps another time over a round of margaritas or to try their brunch menu, which did look a whole lot more enticing - but I suppose that is if it transpires as well on to our plates.
Budget: Meal for two avg Rs. 2000 (excluding alcohol and taxes)
Alcohol: Full bar is available
Outside Seating: Yes
011 43105777, +91 9818229185
1st Floor, 29 B, Middle Lane, Khan Market