Think of Mexican food in Singapore and a handful of places come to mind — like Muchachos for California burritos and Papi’s Tacos for, well, tacos. Like the latter, El Mero Mero at CHIJMES does very good ones, like a taco with charred corn tortilla and cool creamy avocado. Is that all you’ll find? Hardly.
“El mero mero” is Mexican slang for “the go-to guy”, and having checked out the restaurant earlier this month, we can’t disagree. Our visit comes after its refurbishment in July — the menu is now more modern and global and the space more sophisticated — but really, it’s been five years since corporate lawyer-turned entrepreneur Alejandro Blanco undertook the task of advocating authentic Mexican gastronomy and hospitality. So yes, none of that Tex-Mex stuff here.
The venue now sees soft ivory walls, marble tables, unfinished timber surfaces, and lush green plants, including a very large cactus near the centre that frames the place. The dynamic open kitchen extends into the main room, with counter seating so you can observe the team as they prepare your meal with both shiny equipment and traditional culinary tools. Want to better understand the different facets of Mexican dining? Then these are the best seats in the house.
There’s a lot of attention to detail that goes in their new dishes. Botanas, or Mexican small plates, such as the Baja Fish (S$14) are executed well. Crispy tooth fish is fried tempura-style and pocketed with juicy pico de gallo and pickled shallots on a soft flour tortilla, and the texture and flavour contrasts are addictive. The Corn Sampler (S$15) is fun and tasty, giving you a new perspective on corn with chargrilled baby corn on torched corn husk and tiny donuts made with huitlacoche, an edible fungus growing on corn that tastes way better than it looks. Some people also call it Mexican truffle, so you can imagine how good that tastes (hint: it’s lovely).
El Mero Mero’s deep understanding of presentation is apparent through the menu. The Hamachi and Coconut Ceviche (S$21) is a glorious coconut bowl of fresh hamachi that’s been marinated in an aguachile of jalapeno, serrano, and guero peppers before being tossed to a tangy hibiscus-infused coconut milk. Just as pretty, a classic Tortilla Soup (S$14) comes laden with Josper oven-roasted tomatoes, guajillo chillies, and charred tortillas that thicken up the concoction. It seems like a waste to toss fresh, crispy tortillas in a soup, but it makes all the difference.
You’ll see undertones of East Asian influences as well: the umami-rich Wagyu Volcan (S$15) is lean and fairly thin slices of wagyu off-cut (kiriotoshi) slathered with a tomato, chilli, and garlic molcajete sauce, while the Oyster Blade Fajita (S$38) is served with shishito pepper, an East Asian variety similar to Spanish Padrón peppers. It’s familiar, but unfamiliar.
There is always time for dessert at a Mexican place. The Braised Pineapple (S$14) is a lot more complicated than its name suggests — pineapple is first blanched, frozen, sous vide with piloncillo (cane sugar melted in butter) and finally grilled in the Josper oven. It’s an extravagant way to eat pineapple, what more with very good vanilla ice cream, but why not?
The drinks list here complements the food well enough. We wanted to pass on alcohol, but the list of mezcal cocktails convinces us otherwise. The eponymous El Mero Mero (S$18), for one, uses orange-infused mezcal, lime, and agave syrup for a subtly smoky and refreshing drink. We insist you try it too.
El Mero Mero is located at 30 Victoria St, #01-20 CHIJMES, Singapore 187996, p. +65 9722 8171. Open Sun-Thu 5pm – 11pm, Fri-Sat 5pm – 11.30pm.