El Mero Mero: Modern Mexican at Chijmes
El Mero Mero means the “go-to guy” in Mexican parlance. The founder, Alejandro Blanco, was formerly a legal professional, who spent over 10 years in corporate law and mergers and acquisitions as Director and Regional Counsel for a Mexican MNC in Asia. Alejandro decided to venture into the food business after his company underwent restructuring in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Subsequently, Alejandro started his own company that was aptly called Plan B Ventures. It was certainly apposite that this food review is written by a restructuring lawyer!
Interestingly, 2008 was when Taco Bell exited Singapore some nine years after they opened. While Taco Bell helped to introduce the concept of Mexican food to Singapore diners, authentic Mexican cuisine is not quite the same. For one, Mexican food isn’t just about tacos and burritos. In fact, many of the so-called Mexican foods like hardshell tacos, burritos, and nachos are actually Tex-Mex inventions.
In contrast, authentic Mexican food as served at El Mero Mero is usually about extracting the most natural flavours of fresh produce and not unlike French cuisine, food preparation involves a lot of ingredients and time. Most of the ingredients used in the dishes are sourced directly from Mexico and all the tortilla, salsas, sauces are freshly made in-house or at Alejandro’s tortilla factory La Mexicana. El Mero Mero serves an extensive selection of fabulous flavours from all corners of Mexico, elevated with a contemporary spin.
We started our dining experience with the Hamachi and Coconut Ceviche; this is fresh sashimi-grade Hamachi tossed in coconut milk infused with the tangy hibiscus in a collision of flavours. Ceviche is a dish of Peruvian origin in which fish is steeped in lime or lemon juice with lots of spices. Essentially, the acid in the juice denatures the proteins in the meat in the same manner that cooking would. This renders the texture of the fish firmer and dryer, yet the flavours remain refreshing. Being both spicy and piquant, this dish is definitely suitable for the Asian palate and is a must-order.
Next, we had the Atlantic Grilled Octopus. The Octopus is sous vide with oil and salt at 80OC for 3.5 hours, then grilled in the Josper oven. It is dressed with corn cream and black garlic paste to enhance the smokiness of the meat. We felt that the meat could have been slightly less chewy.
We also ordered the gordita ($28), which is pastry stuffed with heirloom vegetables (including carrots, baby corn, brussel sprouts, baby red and yellow capsicum and cauliflower) and frijoles (black beans that are boiled, seasoned and blended till chunky then fried in housemade onion oil). The gordita is prepared with nixtamalised corn dough (also known as masa) and salt, pressed with a tortilla press, and deep-fried. Nixtamalization a very old process, invented by the Mesoamerican people who realized that cooking corn in a mixture of water and lime (or ash) allowed them to keep the masa longer. This is a good vegetarian option or if you are fan of vegetables as I am.
Our favourite dish of the evening was the baja fish ($14) which comprises patagonian toothfish fillet coated in tempura batter and then deep-fried. Served with pico de gallo (prepared with tomato, onion, coriander and serrano chili pepper), pickled shallots, and chipotle mayo with flour tortilla and lime upon request. The stellar execution of this dish made it something that could have been easily featured on David Chang’s food programme “Ugly Delicious”.
While the mains were great, ignore the desserts here at your own peril. Made of grilled pineapple and vanilla ice-cream, the signature Mexican dessert Pina a las Brasas ($14) was invigorating. Pineapple is peeled and cut into six parts, blanched then frozen. The frozen pineapple is sous vide with piloncillo (cane sugar melted with butter) at 70OC for 45 minutes then grilled in the Josper oven. The grilled pineapple was warm, succulent, naturally-sweet and with a hint of sourness. This was served together with vanilla ice-cream. We also had the red velvet churros ($14) served with light cream cheese and cocoa mousse. The churros were crispy and not too sweet. Out of the two desserts, we felt that the grilled pineapple dessert was more impressive and less common.
It has been five years since its debut and El Mero Mero at Chijmes has recently been renovated to revitalise its décor. El Mero Mero opens daily from 5pm for dinner and drinks. Overall, the food is refined albeit the portions are small. Mexican food is certainly a good way to uplift one’s spirits after a particularly tough week at work. Its centrally located venue at CHIJMES makes this suitable as a paktor place or for group gatherings or even business dinners. This was easily one of the best meals I had this year and I will certainly be back!