Restaurant Review: The Oaxacan Cantina Experience Comes To Mehico, Kolkata

Expect innovative cocktails and (fairly) authentic Mexican flavours in a lively, colourful ambience.

Published On Feb 27, 2024 | Updated On Mar 07, 2024

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Aguachile was the first dish I tried when I visited Mexico; the tangy, spicy ‘Chile water’ reminded me of puchka paani and I knew this dish will work in Kolkata,” says Saket Agarwal, referring to the city’s favourite street snack. I dig into the Aguachile Verde con Camaron — plump shrimp and avocado in serrano chilli-spiked green curing liquid — and nod in agreement. 

I’m at Mehico, Agarwal’s second restaurant in Kolkata that opened in early January. It’s past 9pm on a Sunday night a couple of weeks into the opening, and the restaurant is packed. Agarwal moves among the tables, chatting with diners and getting first-hand feedback. My Kolkata-native dining companion mentions that he does the same at his first restaurant Sorano, the equally popular Italian restaurant and cocktail bar that’s just a short walk away. 

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Aguachile Verde con Camaron

Agarwal is the co-founder of Manifest Hospitality along with his wife, Nivedita. With the goal of bringing authentic global cuisine to Kolkata, they opened Sorano in 2022, and within a year, it was ranked #26 by 30BestBarsIndia and featured on the list of ‘31 Essential Kolkata Restaurants’ by Eater. 

In fact, my friend, a drinks connoisseur, proclaims Sorano’s Negroni the best in Kolkata. After deciding upon Mexican for his second outing, Agarwal embarked on a 40-day trip around Mexico for a deep-dive into local cuisine. He then followed it up by travelling around India and sampling the variety of Mexican food available in the country. All that research shows clearly in everything from the menu to the space. 

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Mehico’s brick-red façade is framed by potted cacti and there’s a small glass-fronted tortilleria outside where you can see fresh tortillas being made. Inside, the 1,900-sq.ft. space is divided into three dining areas, including the central bar — all done up in bright colours with neon signs, giant murals, and a sacred heart behind the DJ console. The music is thumping, the staff is friendly, and the vibe is very much of a Mexican fiesta. 

True to the Oaxacan cantina setting, the bar is the centrepiece with a terracotta bar back, a neon sign proclaiming ‘bebidas’ (drinks), and tequila ruling the roost, naturally. Mixologist Manoj Singh Rawat helms the technique-forward bar programme with a creatively curated cocktail menu. 

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Doña Perfecta

I begin with the Doña Perfecta, a clarified concoction of Patrón tequila, pomelo, pink guava, prickly pear, and agave, which comes with a neon-green guava macaron as garnish. The macaron aside, I enjoy the citrusy tropical flavours of the cocktail, while my friend goes for the floral and fruity Izamal Sunset with Bacardi, Aperol, jasmine, and citrus. 

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Centro Paradiso

I also try the Centro Paradiso with Patrón, jalapeno, yuzu, and cilantro — it comes with towering foam, which makes it a bit difficult to sip but I like its spicy and peppery notes balanced with citrus. Apart from the nitro foam, the cocktails showcase other cutting-edge techniques like rotary evaporators, centrifuge-powered clarification, helium clouds, fat washing, fermentation, and in-house carbonation. Additionally, there are classic cocktails, an extensive margarita menu, and assorted spirits, wines, and mocktails. 

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Nachos Flight

Salsa story 

The food menu is extensive, partly because it features photos of many dishes and copious notes, which I think is a nice touch since there are dishes that aren’t usually found on Mexican menus in India. We begin with the chips and salsa, which arrives with the seemingly de rigueur salsa flight with pico de gallo, habanero, pineapple-guajillo, and charred tomato salsa, along with guacamole made tableside. We also get the supreme nachos, which are suitably loaded with black beans, sweet corn, cheese, sour cream, etc. 

The starter I enjoy the most is the Chiles Rellenos de Queso, which are charred Anaheim peppers stuffed with Oaxacan string cheese and served with tomato salsa, together hitting all the correct spicy and tangy notes. The soft-shell tacos are excellent as well, particularly the carnitas with melt-in-the-mouth pulled pork shoulder, chicharron (pork belly and rind), pineapple, and jalapeno. 

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Guacamole en Molajete

There are crowd-pleasing Tex-Mex flavours, of course, but the overall slant is towards authenticity and exploring new ingredients and dishes. Like the Fish a la Contramar that we try as our main. This is an ode to a similar dish at Mexico City’s seafood institution Contramar, which often finds itself on many ‘best restaurants’ lists. 

Their signature dish is recreated at Mehico with local bhetki — a large fillet has half-and-half marination of adobada (red chilli and vinegar sauce) and parsley lemon salsa. It’s grilled on coals and served with tortillas and salsas, and is hands-down our favourite dish at the table. Agarwal also insists we try the Pollo Mixote, which is chicken marinated in aromatic guajillo and pasilla chillies and steamed in parchment paper. Served with soft tortillas, rice, and condiments, it’s quite a delectable feast. 

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Fish a la Contramar/ © Prachi Joshi

Obviously, we have no room for dessert, but we do try the highly recommended Rose And Pistachio Tres Leches — and instantly wish we hadn’t. While the pistachio cake is spongy and light, the cloyingly sweet Damascus rose-flavoured milk and rose gel topping is rather overwhelming, not to mention the unappetising lurid pink and green colours. Perhaps the churros may fare better and I do like the sound of chocolate and ancho (chocolate chunks and dark chocolate ice cream topped with ancho chilli-spiced peanut salsa); a second visit is certainly on the cards.

Address: Mehico, Jubilee Court, 11/1, Ho Chi Minh Sarani, Kankaria Estates, Park Street Area, Kolkata

Timing: 12pm-12am with extended hours on Fridays and Saturdays

Meal for two: INR 1,800 (with alcohol)


Photo: Featured Restaurant

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