|The open-concept kitchen at El Mero Mero where French chef, Remy LeFebvre, (left in pix) works his Mexican magic|
To coincide with the S$45 million makeover of Chijmes, which re-opened in October 2014 to a slew of new dining options, El Mero Mero debuted in an airy space formerly occupied by stable mate, Senor Taco, a taqueria chain.
Brandishing a sleek new 80-seat space swathed in contemporary dark brown tones, some slates and rows of shelves decorated with jars of pickled chillies and chipotles, the more elegant cousin of the former taqueira is a breath of fresh air relative to the cluster of cookie cutter-type Mexican joints.
But make no mistake, El Mero Mero (which means the “go-to” guy in Mexican) is by no means an over glorified tacqueria but a modern Mexican outfit helmed by a French executive chef, Remy LeFebvre, whose confidence comes to the fore in the parade of convincingly well-executed – sometimes, excellent – dishes fielded from the buzzy open-concept kitchen where a Josper oven holds court.
Signposted by “botana” (snacks), “taco”, “classic” and “butcher cut”, LeFebvre’s menu focuses less on authentic Mexican than on contemporary cooking and whilst the presentation sometimes defies tradition, each dish is always underscored by familiar Mexican flavours.
|“Huitlacoche” (Right) with cotija cheese mayonnaise dip|
“Huitlacoche” (S$9), a corn fungus-turned-Mexican delicacy (also known as the Mexican corn truffle) appears in a basket as darkish-unctuous, subtly sweet yet earthy paste ensconced in well-crafted donuts. Dipped in a Mexican cotija cheese mayonnaise spiked with a hint of chilli, it’s unique and quite the table silencer.
|Vuelve a la vide, a Mexican hangover cure, is recommended even if you’re not hung over|
Even if you’re not hung over, the vuelve a la vida (S$19) – meaning come back to live – is a de rigueur. The chilled seafood cocktail, widely known as a hangover cure in Mexico, arrives chock-a-block with avocado slices and poached seafood basking in a thick, tomato juice-enriched “Bloody Mary” sauce. Wash this down with a shot of Margarita (S$16) and then some (the more potent El Mero Mero cocktail, S$18, is recommended).
A Mexican meal without guacamole, tacos and enchiladas may leave you out of sorts.
|Guacamole with so-crispy-it-shatters taco shells|
We reckon any Mexican meal is incomplete without guacamole (S$14); here it is served, as it should, in a molcajetes (mortar) complete with tomatoes, cayenne, jalapeno pepper and a dash of lime. It’s perfect on its own and even better with the accompanying so-crispy-it-shatters taco shells made by a local, company-owned factory.
|Braised veal tongue and oxtail tacos|
The limited menu of tacos takes a decidedly upscale path with the use of premium ingredients like Kurobuta pork (S$26) and Angus tenderloin (S$45). For something a tad more classical, try the braised veal tongue and oxtail taco (S$34) flanked by smoky grilled onion slices tucked in the warm embrace of fluffy corn tortilla.
|Enchilades verdes is one of the loveliest dishes at dinner although you’ll have to forage for the prawns|
The enchilades verdes (S$28) doesn’t sound like much but it is brilliant. Instead of roast chicken, cut-up prawns are stuffed in corn tortilla and grilled in the oven with lashings of cheese. Served at the table in a pool of tomatillo (green tomato) broth perfumed with Serrano pepper, it is tart, spicy and addictive. However you may have to do a fair bit of foraging to locate the prawns.
If you are game for Mexican “curry”, try the mole negro (S$32) served with white rice. Cooked with sous-vide chicken, chilli pepper and heaps of different ingredients including chocolates and dried fruits, this thick and heady concoction may take some getting used to but once you get past the mental barrier of sipping a chocolaty and sweet “curry”, it’s can be curiously addictive.
There are also Josper oven-grilled steaks on the menu but those are for another dinner.
We love restaurants that take risks.
El Mero Mero took a calculated risk by hiring a French chef (quite an excellent one at that) and gave him a free hand at fashioning a contemporary Mexican menu that, thankfully, steers far from gimmicks. By doing so, LeFebvre elevates Mexican cuisine to a new threshold in Singapore at least. Your dinner will not come cheap but the tabs will be far from fine dining levels. Plus, the dessert of Josper oven-grilled pineapples with a scoop of Papantla vanilla ice cream is completely irresistible, even if you don’t have a sweet tooth.
If it’s not abundantly clear from the review, we are officially fans of El Mero Mero.
© Evelyn Chen 2013
Please note that the reviews published on this blog are sometimes hosted. I am under no obligation to review every restaurant I’ve visited. If I do, the reviews are 100% my own.