TGIFOOD

HOLA MEXICO

Una Más brings Mezcal craft to the Sea Point strip

Beef short rib tacos. (Photo: Supplied)

Una Más Mezcaleria is part of the Sea Point restaurant revival with ambitiously authentic Mexican food and a buzz to kill for.

With many imported cuisines, we seldom get a true representation of traditional dishes and recipes outside of their home countries. Pineapples are not native to Italy, hence that ongoing debate; and if anyone tries to give you a Greek salad with lettuce it’s not strictly the way it should be served (except in winter, when it’s in season there, and that’s the only time they eat it). Tex Mex has its place, of course, and there’s nothing wrong with smashing a fat burrito, but true Mexican food is much more complex and layered with incredible flavours. 

Of all the food porn on my bookshelves, easily my favourite is México The Beautiful Cookbook. It’s ridiculously unwieldy, more in the manner of a coffee table tome, but it’s utterly gorgeous, and has the distinct honour of containing a recipe I have actually made – several times. Calabacitas picadas con elote – chopped zucchini with corn, plus tomatoes – is easy, colourful, and delicious.

I had to put the book away while writing this because I was being seduced by the language and the food and pictures, and when on deadline, it is not the time for that.

I love Tex Mex as much as the next person, but something flutters inside me when I see proper Mexican food made with imagination and creativity that extends beyond the ordinary and everyday. Don’t let anyone tell you social media doesn’t work for a business because after Una Más Mezcaleria came to my attention, I went onto Instagram to check it out; there I found beautiful images of the dishes that are anything but ordinary. I pitched the story to the editor and here we are.

Deep-fried zucchini flowers with vegan cheese. (Photo: Supplied)

Una Más Mezcaleria opened on February 14, 2022 in Regent Road, Sea Point, a partnership between brothers Sean and Gavin Binder, and next door neighbour Ricky Simon of Three Wise Monkeys. Sea Point has always had a density of restaurants, from one end to the other, but here there are new gems like this in between the likes of Three Wise Monkeys, of course, My Sugar and Ari’s Souvlaki. 

It’s a vibe, inside and on the street, and the locals love hanging out there. One very enthusiastic blonde flung her arms around me and made me promise to have a Tequila with her next time; I never did get her name but she’d previously told us she’d left the kids with her husband so she could pop down. One of her friends, a personal trainer (you find out lots of details in a short time when Tequila is involved) was wearing a short skin tight sequined dress and killer heels (she was on her way to a 40th birthday party); the other was in her nightie. She told us so, twice. I think the message here is, anything goes. Everyone was very happy. 

The Una Más margarita is made with Mezcal and watermelon ferment. Also available in classic. (Photo: Supplied)

It’s a tiny restaurant, with windows that open onto the pavement so you can sit there to watch the passing parade. By 7pm, the place was packed and pumping. In fact, only last week Una Más Mezcaleria extended its trading hours to include lunch and brunch, and not just dinner. I take this as evidence it is doing well and people want more of it, and I am not one bit surprised.

The menu is proportionate to the restaurant, which makes sense. There are four muerde (bites), four ensaladas (salads), five soft taco fillings, and two larger meals for sharing or the very hungry. Postre, or dessert, includes churros in a full or half portion, Don Pedros, Mexican coffee, and Cold Brew Martini. 

The drinks menu, on the other hand, has many, many options. Cocktails are intriguing (some alcohol-free), and there is a whole page of Tequila and Mezcal. What, I wanted to know, is the difference? Gavin sat down with us and explained. Briefly, because you must visit yourself to learn more, Mezcal is cooked in the ground, Tequila is cooked in clay pots. This means the Mezcal has a distinctively earthy, smoky aroma and flavour – and mostly not barrel-aged. I think most of us know what Tequila tastes like but we really need to grow up and stop tossing it back as a shooter. Once you learn about good sippin’ Tequila (most of which is aged – reposado: rested) and that it can be savoured like a fine whisky, you will never look back.

Between our tastings, we had orange slices sprinkled with salt and ground-up worms. Do not be afraid.

Tuna ceviche with coriander, coconut, soy sauce, pistachio, pomegranate, chilli and lime. Served with a tostada. (Photo: Supplied)

So that’s the Mezcaleria part. “We are huge Mezcal lovers and had noticed there isn’t a Mezcaleria in South Africa,” said Sean Binder. “We wanted to be the driving force behind this beautiful craft, hence opening Una Más as a Mezcaleria. 

“With everything we do in business, we strive to do things a little differently to the rest but still staying true to the spirit of the concept. Mezcal has already been recognised globally and we had always wondered why not yet in SA? South Africans are huge Tequila lovers and with Mezcal, also being produced from the piña of the agave plant which is indigenous to Mexico, it is a product with a similar “spirit” (excuse the pun!) to that of Tequila, albeit being produced in a very different way, creating a unique and very special product.”

The Binder brothers have an events company and Sean says Mezcal, Mexico and Tequila are three of their favourite things, which is why they opened the restaurant. “In all seriousness, we found that an establishment that was being true to all three of these elements simply did not exist in Cape Town as yet and we felt it was high time someone did it, for the enjoyment of those who appreciate the history and skill of a beautiful tradition.” 

Tortilla chips to dip. (Photo: Supplied)

The food truly sets Una Más Mezcaleria apart. “We noticed a lot of the Mexican restaurants in Cape Town are more Tex Mex as opposed to traditional Mexican,” said Binder. “We try to steer clear of the Tex Mex angle as it’s been done already. Not to say it isn’t fantastic food, but we are trying to be as traditional Mexican as possible and that shows in our menu and offerings. 

“We have had amazing feedback specifically from people who have lived in Mexico for a long period of time and have been told our food is as close to authentic Mexican as what Mexico itself has to offer. For example, our loaded nachos are made with queso fresco (fresh cheese) and are a lot more subtle than the grilled cheese you get in Tex Mex versions of nachos.”

Gavin is vegetarian so the menu caters well for those who don’t eat meat. The salads tend to get a bit overlooked, he said, but they shouldn’t be, I said. My friend said the lechuga gems carbonizada – charred gem lettuce – with pomegranate, queso fresco, crispy capers, aïoli, avo mousse and green chilli salsa was one of the best things she’d had in ages. She said it twice too, for emphasis. We ate vegan cheese, on purpose, because it’s the filling in the fried blossoms with coriander pesto and avo mousse.

Don’t overlook the salads, like fresas and remolacha – strawberries and beetroot. (Photo: Supplied)

Tacos come in portions of two, handy for sharing: pollo, pescado, calamares, frijoles…okay I’m just showing off now. Chicken, fish, calamari, beans. And costilla de res – beef short rib – which we had, served with green mole, coriander, pickled onion, lime, and green chilli and olive salsa. Vegan options are available for all except calamari because I assume no one has found a way to make it plant-based.

“We know that it’s the future of food and we recognise that for us to offer as many vegetarian (and vegan) options for those who appreciate delicious food, made in a sincere way, was a no-brainer,” said Binder.

The chef is Ryan Richardson, who grew up in Noordhoek and finished culinary school in 2012 at The Hurst Campus. He has cheffed at The Greenhouse at The Cellars Hohenort as well as La Colombe and has also worked alongside the likes of Neil Anthony and Matt Manning. He did food styling for a season of Siba’s Table television series as well. He also owns a private cheffing company called Private Villa Chefs. These are not shoddy credentials.

“We have conceptualised the menu together with Ryan. As already mentioned, we set out to be as true and authentic as possible, as well as giving both our food and cocktails a sprinkle of our own combined personalities. 

“With regards to our brunch/lunch menu we have included traditional Mexican breakfast dishes like chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, breakfast tacos, quesadillas with scrambled eggs and a local crowd favourite, our take on smashed avo on toast using our pepita guacamole as opposed to ‘smashed avo’.”

Pepita guacamole is made with avocados, onion, tomatoes, cilantro, jalapeño peppers, lime juice, garlic and salt. “It is an original Mexican recipe and is absolutely delicious!” said Binder. 

Churros with chocolate mole. (Photo: Supplied)

Giddy with margaritas, we were loath to rush off but we had an appointment with Uncle Marc (Lottering) so we just had time to sample the churros with chocolate mole. Here’s the thing with churros. If you’ve not had them in their lands of origin, you’re going to be happy with what you get. If you have had them over the seas, local versions are going to have a tough time reaching the bar (although that said, the first ones I had in Barcelona were dreadful). In this case I was somewhere in between because unfortunately they’ll never be the churros from a food truck at the farmers market in the village of Rojales in Alicante, Spain, which came with a shot of chocolate and a shot of whisky at 10am. However, they are churros which I would polish off if I had time, and maybe I should get over myself.

It was around this time we were making new friends (we’d already recommended the food to the table of four who sat next to us), and I could easily imagine a night necessitating an Uber, because we were having so much darn fun.

“The atmosphere of any establishment is a huge element to its success,” said Binder. “It is an aspect that so often gets overlooked and with our background in the events and hospitality game, it’s something that comes naturally to us.

“We wanted to create a relaxed environment where people from all walks of life can feel comfortable and at ease. On special nights, for example a night before a public holiday, some Sundays, or if someone wants to host a celebration of some kind at the restaurant, we will book a DJ and create more of a bar vibe with music that caters for those specific requirements.

“We are striving to create a unique experience and something different to other Mexican restaurants in Cape Town. Our food should speak to that sentiment as we aim to be as true to the tradition as possible, with a Cape Town edginess.”

Una Más signifies a welcome return to the Sea Point buzz of years gone by when you could eat your way around the world in the space of a few short blocks – and look cool while you’re doing it. DM/TGIFood

Una Más Mezcaleria is at Shop 2, 77 Regent Rd, Sea Point, and open Tuesdays 5pm to 11pm, Wednesdays to Fridays 12pm to 11pm, Saturdays and Sundays 10am to 11pm. For more information, click here. Follow @una_mas_mezcaleria on Instagram.

Follow Bianca Coleman on Instagram @biancaleecoelman

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