I cannot recall the last time I ate in Maidstone town centre which is a shame, as it is where I live but pretty much devoid of any eatery I would happily give my hard earned cash too unless on a GTG with friends. Of course there are the usual splattering of chain restaurants including Nando’s, Pizza Express, Wagamama etc but these are utilitarian and hardly garner any sort of excitement at visiting which is why I haven’t. I would prefer to cook myself.
Things have now changed. In what was once a Chiminichingas, MEXIco opened at the end of last year. Modern, with an authentic feel as soon as you walk through the door, it installs a sense of confidence. In part this is due to the artwork which takes prominence on the white walls. It is mostly all original and was imported from Mexico, not from a art wholesaler, but often by tracking down a particular artist that Johnny Hernandez, the consultant chef, had seen at an exhibition. The stand out piece for me was a wood carving displayed towards the back of the room and to the right hand side. It impresses not only due to it’s size but it’s intricacy.
MEXIco does not rely on UK supply for all it’s food either, opting instead to import a variety of hot sauces direct from Mexico that are otherwise unavailable in the UK. This is a nice touch.
I was invited to MEXIco by the manager, Mark Bishop, to attend a tasting evening with some other food writers to experience what the restaurant has to offer. This afforded the opportunity to sample a wide selection of dishes (and cocktails) to get a real flavour of the restaurant and what it is trying to accomplish.
Promptly upon seating Mark offered us a cocktail which was more than welcome after a hard days filming (I own Different-Perspective). Unless a cocktail is whisky based (or I am in Mexico) I pretty much stick to craft ale or wine but seeing that I was in “MEXIco”, I was happy to go with the flow.
I love to be surprised so asked Mark to bring me whatever he felt appropriate which turned out to be a Fresa Nube, a delicious combination of home made strawberry vodka with strawberries and orange topped with ginger beer. Very refreshing, boozy and a great start to the evening. This was followed by a succession of cocktails throughout the evening to give a broad sampling including an intriguing TOASTED PIN’YA, which is the house Mezcal with Bacardi Oro golden rum, pineapple juice, citrus and strawberries. The agave for Mezcal is cooked in an open fire to give it a soft smoky flavour which really implants into the drink making it quite unique. I loved it. My wife, who was sadly driving enjoyed a selection of Agua Fresca’s including a watermelon which was the stand out one for her.
Mark asked if there was any dish on the menu we particularly wanted to try or if we were happy for him to bring a selection out. We were more than happy for the latter but were warned to pace ourselves… I headed this warning fortunately as there was an abundance of dishes to give us a real feel for the restaurant. I have detailed a number of them below. The only dish that I really wanted to try but was not bought out was the pan seared Snapper Fillet Salsa Verde marinated in garlic & onions, served with a coriander & white wine sauce, fresh lime juice, avocado, onions, olive oil and Mexican rice. Mark kindly ordered this for me and it turned out to be my favourite dish of the evening. It had the perfect balance of chilli heat and lime which worked with the snapper and not over-powering it.
The food was fresh and vibrant and quite filling which is always a bonus for me. The menu was confident by not being overtly large which is always a good sign. The atmosphere was also great, helped by the abscence of no cheesy music, sombrero’s or plastic cactus anywhere to be seen.
Speaking to my wife afterwards she made a quite a few comments that I have bullet pointed below:-
- The decor was clean, fresh and it gave the restaurant an open feeling.
- The colourful masks and paintings were not overpowering as you might find in some Mexican restaurants and were original products of Mexico.
- The food was spicy but not hot spicy which was a bonus for me and wouldn’t put me off going again, and it was authentic.
- The homemade guacamole and salsas were fresh.
- The puffy tacos were light and easily rolled for eating, different from the hard tacos we find in supermarkets which tend to be bland.
- Generous helping with the burritos
- The aqua frescas drinks were refreshing.
- The staff were very friendly and welcoming.
- Mark really knew his stuff which added to the experience as he was able to offer a lot of advice and background information.
- The wait wasn’t long for food. On a Thursday night there were quite a few people in.
- Happy to cater for large parties and can cater for those with food allergies.
We discovered just before leaving that the restaurant offers a great value lunch menu up to 5:00pm at £9.99 for 2 courses (enough to easily fill you up!) which seemed like a great deal to us. So much so in fact that we headed back with our son, his girlfriend and a house guest to take advantage of it. We arrived just before 5:00 to get our orders in before the cut off which also enabled us to make use of the 2 for 1 cocktails between 5-7pm. Crafty I know but I do love a good offer. The only disappointing element was that Mark was on a day off and he had promised to give us something else to taste which for the life of me I could not remember. Apart from that everyone genuinely really enjoyed the food and ambience.