In Singapore, there are Mexican eateries aplenty and then there is the slightly refined El Mero Mero. Named to reflect its ambition as the ”go-to” venue for Mexican gastronomy, El Mero Mero is pitched as the finer and more contemporary version of its more casual stablemate, Senor Taco. Now in its fifth year at Chijmes, the restaurant was recently closed for a facelift lasting five months and it re-opened in July to unveil a more beautiful, albeit dimmer, setting with off-white walls, new marble tables and lush green potted plants framing the same the open-plan kitchen surrounded by counter seats.
Its menu has too undergone an update to keep up with the times but fret not, the revamped menu is still rooted in Mexico’s culinary traditions, with corn – and corn tortillas – serving as the cornerstone to a menu also richly graced by avocados, tomatoes, chilli peppers (namely jalapënos, poblano and habaneros) and beans.
Ease into dinner with corn sampler ($15) – a trio of skewered grilled baby corn served on corn husks with savoury and somewhat earthy huitlacocha (a fungus that grows on organic corn) donuts, great on their own but for a mini party on the palate, best dipped in a salty and slightly funky chilli mayo dressing enriched with Hispanic-style cotija cheese (otherwise known as the Parmesan of Mexico). Importantly chase it down, Mexican style, with a mezcal-laced blood orange margarita ($17) or, if you like stiffer drinks, the Mexican take on Negroni by way of 30 Mexico Street ($17).
There’s also charred tostadas (toasted tortilla) on the menu served with an avocado dip of guacamole ($12/$18) that you mix at the table with diced tomatoes, onions and serrano pepper. But truth be told that the other tostada of tostadas de atun ($18) is tastier and, let’s just say, sexier – chunks of tuna tartare coddled in crisp cups of corn tortilla with punchy chipotle (roasted red jalapenos) mayo topped with even crispier tempura of banana shallots.
The Peruvians have ceviche, the Mexicans aguachile (for chilli water) and El Mero Mero the hamachi and coconut ceviche ($21). Here, cubes of sashimi-grade hamachi are first treated with lime juice and fresh chilli pepper pulp of jalapeno, serrano and guero, then further cured in a cocktail of lime juice as well as coconut water and milk simmered with hibiscus flower. The fish, now cured, is served in a halved coconut husk with dots of avocado puree and trout roe complete with the tender and succulent flesh of the coconut. Our only complaint is the lack of a spicier aguachile that could lend a spicier kick for guests with a higher tolerance to chillies.
Inside of eating a tortilla, why not drink it? Indeed, the tortilla soup ($14) sounds tempting – flamed corn tortilla blitzed with roasted tomatoes, garlic, onion and guajillo chilli pepper, and served with deep-fried tortilla strips and diced avocado. It all sounds great but while the broth looks thick and alluring, its flavour generally lacks lustre.
The biggest highlights of your meal here will no doubt be the tacos. There are six options on the menu, all served on corn tortillas made in Singapore by a tortilla bakery owned by the founder-owner of El Mero Mero. For meat lovers, there’s wagyu volcan ($15 for a pair), thinly sliced beef shavings served on crunchy charred tortilla with melted mozzarella, smashed avocado and molcajete sauce (mortar pulsed tomatoes, jalapeno and garlic). But in our opinion, it’s outrivaled by the baja fish taco ($14) – Patagonian toothfish encased in a crisp tempura facade that gives way to the warm and moist flesh of the fish, matched with vibrant flavours from pickled shallots, chipotle mayo and pico de gallo (chopped tomato, onion, coriander, lime and serrano chili pepper), all served on a piece of warm flour tortilla.
Mains are mostly Josper oven-grilled fare. We can’t recommend the el mero fajita ($38), the restaurant’s jazzed up take on beef fajita with flour tortila, mostly because you don’t get to taste the oven-grilled oyster blade when it is doused in an overwhelmingly creamy crema of poblano shisito crema. The gordita ($28), on the other hand, is god-sent, for its concentration of plant-based flavours on a plate. A riff on a classic gordita (a pastry made with masa and stuffed with cheese, meat, or other fillings), here the pastry is served alongside butter-sautéed heirloom vegetables of carrots, baby corn, brussel sprouts, baby red and yellow capsicum and cauliflower, and frijoles (black beans fried in housemade onion oil), with salsa roja (tomato-based sauce with onions, chillies and cilantro), and finished with a sprinkle of jalapeno salt for a touch of heat.
Both the braised pineapple ($14) and tequila pecan pie ($14) easily pass muster for a sweet ending but on our return trip, a finale cocktail might just be our calling card.
30 Victoria Street #01-20 Chijmes, Singapore 187 996; +65-9722 8171; elmeromero.sg