From Frida Kahlo to Guillermo del Toro, I have an innate appreciation for all things Mexican. The opening of MEXIco Restaurant, a new Mexican restaurant in Derby simply added fuel to el fuego (sorry I’ve come over all Mexican).

The launch party last month was a massive success (see my original article here), which is why I couldn’t wait to return to check out Executive Chef Johnny Hernandez’s offerings. MEXIco Restaurant is the self-proclaimed home of authentic Mexican cooking, nestled adjacent to Zizzi’s on the first floor, facing the food court.

After a warm welcome we were promptly seated at our table in a very busy restaurant. Diverse appeal of the restaurant was reflected in the clientele; there were cutesy couples enjoying coy dates, suits number-crunching their latest business deals, a bunch of cool tweenie boppers,  and families all keen to see what the big fuss was about.

Claire was our lovely waitress for the evening and recommended some drinks and paired dishes. We kicked off with a couple of cocktails. I had the Toasted Pin’Ya, which was a citrus based juice (pineapple, strawberries, tequila’s cousin, Mezcal). The agave for Mezcal is cooked in an open fire to give it a soft smoky flavour, which came through almost immediately on the swallow of this gorgeous cocktail. This is now one of my favourite drinks on the menu and my go-to cocktail at MEXIco Restaurant.

Michilada was the second cocktail ordered, which was a Bloody Mary with a Mexican twist (tomato juice, El Jimador Reposado tequila, house spice mix topped with lager). This was very tart and loved by my dining partner.

We ordered a few starters to share. Chipotle Chilli Wings were gorgeous; slightly peppery with a hint of warming chilli and one of the best chicken wings I have ever tasted.

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I’m a huge fan of coriander, and think the flavour of this earthy herb would have really complimented undertones of the chipotle. It would have been nice to see more than just an obligatory garnish of coriander leaves on the stunning chicken wings. Not an issue, just a personal preference. I loved the succulent meat and this is one dish that has made it onto my Top 10 dishes to eat before I die (yes I’m morbid like that).

Our second starter was the Puffy Pulled Pork Taco, which is MEXIco’s signature dish (crispy hand-pressed corn tortillas, pulled chicken tinga, shredded lettuce, tomatoes and guacamole). I loved this stunning interesting and divine pastry creation. It is almost magical, as the puffiness of the taco renders it soft, yet the corn gives it added depth, discernible bite, and is the perfect edible receptacle to hold tasty offerings. Pulled Pork was heaven on a plate, seasoned well, with a  hint of garlic. You can have Chicken Tinga or Mexican Picadillo filling, but I was more than happy with the pork filling.

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Puffy Tacos; hand-pressed corn tortillas served with pulled pork, shredded lettuce, tomatoes and guacamole.

For main, I ordered Chipotle Prawns (peppers, onions, garlic, white wine, smoky chilli chipotle sauce, avocado and Mexican rice). I love smoky chilli, and the flavour of this was deep in the luxurious sauce. Succulent fat prawns were a joy to eat, and the tasty pepper fried rice a good sponge to mop up the scrummy sauce.

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My dining partner had the El Mariachi Enchilada which he absolutely adored. This dish consisted of a cheese enchilada, chilli sauce, chicken enchiladas verde, signature chicken MEXIco puffy taco, melted Monterey Jack cheese, guacamole, crema, lettuce and tomatoes and Mexican rice. This was a very generous portion, and the sauces piquant with just a hint of spice.

We also ordered a side of Mexican Cream Corn, which although very tasty, was just a little watery underneath. I was expecting the corn mixture to be a little more creamier, but the addition of heavy cream and cheese tasted great.

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Lucky I had dined on a light soup lunch, which is why I miraculously still had room for dessert. I had Churros (cinnamon. sugar, dulce du leche). This was one heavenly dessert; the pastry was hot, rendering the cinnamon dusting all the more fragrant. The best bit was dunking fat Churros fingers into the sweet caramel sauce, which was so good, I could have eaten it as a standalone sauce.

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My dining partner had Mango and Passion-fruit Cheesecake, which was light, airy and delivered a wonderfully deep tropical hit. The strawberry coulis was very good too, however the presentation was a let down. The slice of cheesecake seemed a little smushy, and the whipped cream was a teeny tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it squirt. The flavours of this dish were beautiful and flavoursome, it’s a shame the presentation was a little underwhelming.

I loved my visit to MEXIco Restaurant. The menu choices are great, meaning there is something for everyone. It is little wonder why this place is popular. A few points struck me throughout the course of the evening. Firstly, despite the seemingly never-ending queue, the staff remained unflappable and seated diners swiftly and efficiently.

Secondly  General Manager Marcos Rousseaux runs a tight ship; I felt as if I was standing inside a giant clock watching the cogs run smoothly as if slick with castor oil. I adore good customer service and Marcos and his team definitely deliver a superb dining experience. A special shoutout to Claire, ultra cool and highly knowledgeable waitress who made us feel so welcome, that I nearly set up camp in the restaurant and contemplated calling it my second home.

And that’s what MEXIco Restaurant is all about – home-cooked soul food, for the soul. I will most certainly be back for the sublime service and puffy tacos. See you there.

Star Rating 1-10 (1: “I’d rather eat my own shoe, I hated it that much” – 10: “I’d pillage for a meal here”.)

Food: 8

Value for money: 9.5

Ambience: 9.5

Rate or Slate? Rate.

Address: Level 2, Intu Centre, Derby DE1 2PL Tel: 01332 341 248

Website: http://www.mexicorestaurants.co.uk/?gclid=CIqZi8i5os4CFciRGwodTiwC_w

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