What’s the recipe for a great launch party? How about tantalising, authentic Mexican food, delicious cocktails, dash of music, over 100 eager guests, vibrant décor and a buzzing atmosphere!
I was thrilled to attend the launch at Intu Derby, on Thursday 30th June, for the official opening of MEXIco, the new restaurant that offers diners a menu developed by Johnny Hernandez. The Executive Chef who is renowned for his Mexican cuisine, recently cooked for President Obama and now he’s swapped the White House for Derby.
I had the pleasure of chatting to Johnny, who gave me behind the scenes information on menu development, and his hopes for his first restaurant in the UK.
Lucky attendees got to experience a personal Tequila Tasting with Johnny himself. Here is the cool dude in action.
We also tasted Johnny’s amazing array of signature dishes, including salsa roja, salsa verde, pico de gallo, puffy tacos, homemade guacamole and stone ground corn chips. My personal favourite was the pulled pork tostada. In fact, I have just made myself hungry thinking about these delicious dishes. I cannot wait to dine at MEXIco very soon, so keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming review.
Guests were also treated to some incredible drinks, including the very best classic and contemporary versions of the legendary Margarita. The bar team also served a small selection of Agua Frescas using fresh fruit and juices. Meaning ‘fresh waters’, Agua Frescas are the drinks equivalent of “street food”, cool and informal with a vibrant and colourful personality, providing an authentic taste of Mexico and an option equally delicious with or without alcohol. Here is the full Tequila Tasting Table (pretty neat right?).
Watching the evening in full swing was amazing. But how did it all come about? The seeds for MEXIco were sown around eight months’ ago, when Dirk, CEO of the company chatted to Johnny about developing a concept of authentic Mexican food especially for the UK.
Johnny’s work has seen him travel through Mexico for over 15 years as a professional chef, and he’s therefore been able to do lot of research. His heightened sense of taste and smell (yes he can really be a superhero) means he is best placed to understand the depth and breadth of Mexican food like no other.
Johnny said: “Even in my home city of San Antonio, people are limited to their exposure of authentic Mexican food. When you get into Wahaca, Mérida, Yucatán, those cuisines consist of bold flavours and a lot of wonderful, signature, iconic dishes from different regions. But somehow they don’t seem to make it into the mainstream. Over the last seven years, through our restaurants, we’ve taken a lot of the regional authentic cuisines and shaped for the American palate, which is really very exciting.
“We’re showcasing a lot of the food that I grew up with, including enchiladas and puffy tacos. The menu has some great seafood dishes, including sea bass Veracruz, snapper with chilli and lemon, and prawns with chipotle sauce. And there’s always room for churros!
“There is so much diversity in Mexican food, that I really wanted a menu that had some familiarity, through cuts of meat or seafood as ingredients. To make a diner feel great familiarity whilst simultaneously challenging the palate – without intimidating the diner, is magic.”
The menu started to take shape last year. Johnny put his thinking cap on to figure out what the good people of Derby would respond to. He already knew that the Intu site was perfect for MEXIco.
Johnny said: “What we’re doing different, is that I’ve created a menu that has a broad appeal. You could bring a family here, a foodie, or hold a business meeting over lunch. I wanted to create a versatile environment and that is reflected in the food and vibe.”
Having great staff is key too; I chatted to the lovely James and Jane, whose smiles provided a warm welcome.
It has certainly been a great learning journey for Johnny as he’s studied and learnt what people like. He loves the research part, and is constantly thinking of ways how he can present authentic Mexican food to a broader audience. Derby he says, is a bigger challenge than London and he cannot wait to wow diners with his authentic flavours that pack a Mexican punch.
Me and The Dude loved the cocktails; the Margarita was zingy and delicious, whilst my fruity Agua Fresca was sublime.
Johnny wants diners to enjoy fresh, wholesome food in MEXIco, a restaurant built and designed specifically for Derby. He said: “I want diners to feel at home. We’ve invested a lot of time in creating this beautiful space. For me, a memorable dining experience is a combination of warm hospitality, a wonderful comfortable space, and great cuisine. These three things really create the dining experience and I want diners to leave my restaurant with that sense of enjoyment.
“Lot of details in this space are unique. I feel very confident in what we’ve created, because I’ve tried to do my homework. I’ve done the best I’ve could, in terms of menu selection and variety and I can’t wait to open the doors and welcome diners to have a true taste of MEXIco.”
There is plenty to enjoy and indulge at MEXIco, from the Mexican sourced artwork to hip crockery. Check out this bad boy pitcher, which can only be described as covetable.
MEXIco’s opening times are 12pm – 11pm on Monday to Saturday, and 12pm – 10pm on Sunday. To learn more about the menu, or to book a table, visit http://www.mexicorestaurants.co.uk/ now, or hop onto Twitter and give MEXIco a follow @TrueTasteMEXIco