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Photo by Richard Owens
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Devilishly Delicious 2
Photo by Richard Owens
On first impression, Los Azulejos is an ideal restaurant. Hidden down a narrow, fern-filled alley of the Barri Gòtic, it seems intimate yet laid-back and exciting. It specialises in alta cocina mexicana, which is currently the hottest thing since, well, posh Peruvian or gourmet burgers. Just ask Ferran Adrià, and for that matter a host of food magazines predicting the next big things for 2013. There are plenty of perfectly okay Mexican joints in town, but none offering the new wave. I was intrigued.
I got inside this pretty little space with its red floors and shapely candelabra hanging from the bowed beams, tiled murals of mariachis and Mexican peasants hauling bushels of corn, and it was all charm and loveliness. Then the grind of a Bruce Springsteen “wannabee” hit me from both sides thanks to two flat-screen TVs blaring out Mexico’s version of Operación Triunfo, which is about as welcome as X Factor at El Bulli. Call me old fashioned—I am, rather —but eating out to the tune of a talent contest is just not my cup of tea.
I found a corner as far from the screens as possible and settled into what might be the most comfortable dining chairs in town, admired the round dining tables —my favourites—and waited for my friend. Two big, mean Margaritas later softened the squalling somewhat; we were ready to order and the menu read marvellously well. It is filled with the kind of dishes you want such as tender, spiced pork tacos de chamorro doradito; crunchy tostadas topped with a Yucután veggie ceviche and tapenade; that devilishly delicious street food classic of sopecito Azul de cochinita Pibil y foie (a blue corn taco, topped with suckling pork marinated in citrus and slow-roasted in a banana leaf); carpaccio of tuna with lime, radishes and cilantro; crema de frijol (black beans) with pico de gallo (a chopped salad of tomatoes, onions and chillies), fish balls in salsa verde and a classic chicken mole from Oaxaca.
It was hard to choose but in this game you must, unless you want to become very fat, and so we settled on house specials marked with a star. Four tacos de camarón con tocino y epazote was a generous stew of jumbo prawns, onions and tomatoes, deeply flavoured with paprika and earthy epazote (Mexican hedge mustard) piled on top of warm tortillas, which contrasted nicely with tostada de ceviche de camarón y pulpo. The crunchy corn tortilla provided a welcome platform for the bright, fresh flavours of prawns and octopus bathed in lime juice. Personally, I’d have liked a bit more heat in the marinade, but a bowl of hot salsa verde on the table helped that along. The pato al horno con salsa Jamaica didn’t seem particularly Mexican—I guess this was where the fusion came in—but it was a tasty sliced duck, cooked perfectly pink and served on a puddle of a sweetish sauce with a side of green mash potatoes. And the pecho de ternera asado was superb: two stout beef ribs that had been slow roasted in spices until spoon tender and falling from the bone that you used to scoop up extremely fresh guacamole.
The portions are generous and don’t leave much room for desert though I was tempted by a mousse of zapote (an orange fleshed, jungle fruit native to Central and South America). And thus, happy and sated, the Mexican TV crooners almost forgotten, we asked for the bill and this is where my crush on the place began to fizzle, for it came in at over €100. Truthfully, we’d not paid much attention to the prices, and to be fair most of the dishes hover around a fair €11 mark. But prices doubled as soon as we got to a couple of meat mains and for the first time ever I actually felt compelled to bring it up with the owner. “You deserve to be packed to the rafters every night,” we told him, “the food is great and it’s interesting to boot, but not if its going to cost you €50 a head for four courses without wine.” He listened, nodded sagely, asked a few questions, thanked us for our honesty and then rushed off to the kitchen, where one imagines they started plotting a strategy to redress it.
We left happy and encouraged. On the way out, the bartender asked me: “Were the margaritas OK?” “Oh yes,” I said. They were wonderful and you know what, with just a tiny tweak to the pricing, Los Azulejos is too. Sometimes you’ve got to have a few ups and downs to find the place you know in your heart you will come to love forever.
Los Azulejos, C/Trinitat 3, (Barri Gòtic).
Tel. 93 304 1979. www.losazulejos.es.
Open Mon-Sun 1pm-2pm. Live music on Fridays. Lunch menu €15. Evening meals based on 4 shared plates without wine €40-€50