A Taste of Mexico

Liz O’Reilly discovers a trip to this traditional-style eatery is a treat for all the senses.

Arriving at Margarita Mexicana in the Gulf Hotel you’re greeted by the sound of the two-girl house band playing traditional South American rhythms, including smoky saxophone. The atmosphere is distinctly one of festivity, with sombreros, native tapestries and pottery decorations.

Our starter was never in doubt; who can pass up the chance to have your guacamole made fresh at the table by chef Chrisanto who approached wheeling a trolley of goodies to add to the dip? We went for spicy with onions, tomatoes, cilantro and chilli and watched as he expertly tipped the golden yellow-green flesh from the avocados and mashed it to a creamy consistency in a heavy stone pot… perfection.

We also chose ceviche; plump juicy prawns marinated with lime juice, chilli serrano, onions, cilantro and cucumber, served with tostadas. This dish is an acquired taste since the lime and chilli mix can be quite fiery but if, like me, you’re partial to a piquant mix of spicy flavours, it’s the ideal starter to make sure you’ve got room for dessert. I’ve tried this elsewhere made with cod or other white fish, which cooks in the marinade, and I have to say the prawn version gets my vote as a more flavourful option.

For main course, my dining companion opted for Pescado Tikin-xic – hammour fillet marinated in axiote adobo with bell pepper, pico de gallo and Mexican rice. This dish was a sight to behold, a riot of bright clashing colours to tempt the palate and the eyes. The fish proved tender and juicy, the marinade adding a subtle taste without overpowering the meaty texture. And the rice and peppers could have been a meal alone; the portion was generous and the combination of flavours gave an interesting and satisfying accompaniment.

My Carnitas de Cerdo both looked and tasted divine. Cubes of meat fried with onions and coriander accompanied by salsa pasilla and salsa verde. The meat was melt-in-the-mouth tender and the smokiness of the pasilla peppers perfectly complemented the onions and coriander to render this dish super tasty. It’s served with corn tortillas but I opted to leave those aside and, should I order this again, I would probably ask for a salad as the meat really doesn’t need wrapping.

For dessert, since I’d carefully been saving space, I decided to try the traditional Mexican Tres Leches, a deliciously light sponge cake soaked in three types of milk with a touch of vanilla. It comes covered in whipping cream, which resembled meringue, and was a truly perfect end to a delightfully tasty meal – but beware, it’s big enough for two but you might be tempted to eat it all by yourself!

My dining companion decided not to order dessert as she had been sampling the avocado milkshake. I must admit, it doesn’t sound overly appetising and she is a braver woman than I. She absolutely loved it and even ordered a second portion, declaring it deliciously smooth and totally filling.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Good music, friendly knowledgeable staff, who were attentive without hovering, and excellent food. Margarite Mexicana is highly recommended.

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