Despite the popularity of Mexican food in the UK, it has spawned few restaurants seeking to cater for a fine dining clientele. Peyote, restaurant and bar, located on Cork Street just north of Burlington Arcade, is one rare example. Launched in November 2013, proprietor Tarun Mahrotri has partnered with Eduardo Garcia, (previously of Maximo Bistro, Mexico City), on menu composition, and worked with Head Chef Hili Sharabani, (who has worked at Buddha Bar Knightsbridge and Nobu Park Lane), to produce an innovative menu that mixes tradition with contemporary influences.
Fine Dining Guide visited Peyote on a Thursday evening in May. The gravitational pull of the sizeable crowd spilling onto the street, soon had us headed in the right direction. Inside we found the lighting set to low, as the music to high, appropriate to what seemed to be a bar come dining area in which we were seated. A DJ Booth occupying one corner sealed the impression that Peyote seeks to serve a broad church, from relaxed diners to hardened tequila aficionados.
We were later to discover that the basement level of the restaurant, which includes the Chef’s table and Taco Bar, lends itself as a very different option for dining. Brighter, more spacious, and away from the hustle and (sometimes) overbearing music of the bar, the tables are afforded a great view into the open kitchen, and enjoy a more serene environment.
The menu is extensive. A number of elements demonstrated a pan-Latin influence, for example a selection of Ceviches. Others were faithful classics such as Tostadas, Tacos and Quesadillas. All of the dishes seemed to promise the sort of fresh, vibrant flavours we were hoping for.
Given the Mexican obsession with Tequila, a definite highlight is the cocktail menu; which boasts a range of expertly blended tipples. The staple, the Margarita (of course), is a perfect harmony of sweet, saltiness and acidity – but for the more adventurous there is plenty else to choose from. There is also a carefully curated range of tequilas, although one can’t help but feel these are wasted on the uninitiated such as us.
Our first foray exploring the menu took in a smooth and velvety Guacamole, bursting with pungent undertones of garlic and chilli. This was accompanied by a quintuple of salsas, ordered by Scoville scale according to the level of heat. Thankfully, even the hottest of the lot, the habanero, was perfectly palatable.
Other dishes we had to start included the Yellow Tail Laminados (think Sashimi, but with creamy avocado puree in place of the wasabi), the wonderfully unadulterated Tuna Tostados, and the star of the show, the Prawn Ceviche. The Ceviche was a joy, boasting prawns that were fat and succulent from soaking up the flavours of lime, chilli and coriander. Every mouthful managed to be both full of flavour and a palate cleanser all in one.
From the fresh clean flavours of the first set of dishes, we moved on to sample some of the signature Tacos. These were surprising restrained in terms of heat; however this allowed the subtlety of flavours to really stand out. The Pork Pibil – a speciality of Yucatán State – was meltingly soft, with a beautifully piquant sauce, and if cooked in the traditional way, both coloured and flavoured by the addition of annatto seeds. The fish taco demonstrated further delicateness of flavour and careful handling of ingredients, being cooked to perfection, with slightly caramelised outer edges and a soft, mouth-watering middle.
For the main course we sampled both the Rib Eye and Chilean Sea Bass. The meat was expertly cooked, being enhanced by a sweetness derived from careful charring and the selection of a well-marbled cut. The accompanying borracha (chilli) salsa, augmented with tequila, was yet another example of careful flavour control and a tendency by the kitchen to let the delicate flavours of the ingredients stand out. The fish was similarly well delivered, cooked to be soft and translucent; this was accompanied by a deliciously tangy pineapple and coriander sauce.
The freshness and simplicity of flavours on the menu makes saving room for dessert somehow seem easy. Of course, one of the delights of Mexico is the abundant Churros. These are soft doughnut like sticks that are perfectly shaped for dunking in chocolate, cinnamon or sugar. Peyote does this Mexican street food full justice, conjuring up soft, light strips of dough, encased in a moreish, crisp shell. The smell alone is worthy of being bottled to make scented candles. The chocolate sauce that accompanies the churros is warm and gooey and perfectly geared up for dunking. The only problem is that one serving is never likely to be sufficient! We also sampled Hibiscus cheesecake. This was a traditional vanilla cheesecake, but was given a transformational lift by the addition of sweet and aromatic hibiscus granite – although perhaps not an authentic Mexican recipe, this certainly seemed a harmonious addition to the menu.
Although much of the offering at Peyote will be familiar to those who have enjoyed Mexican food in a more casual setting, the restaurant does offer a more sophisticated twist, which is particularly exemplified by the subtlety and delicate flavouring of the cooking. Less than one year old, Peyote has already attracted a well-heeled clientele, and not just from the bright young things of Mayfair. Fine Dining Guide will follow its progress with interest.