Know your Vida from your Bruxo? Or perhaps you’re looking for an agave expert to introduce you to the world of mezcal? Here are the three best mezcal London-style cantinas for trying tequila’s smooth and smoky daddy.
Located minutes from picturesque Tower Bridge, this vibrant cocina is famous for its inventive yet authentic dishes, such as guacamole with grasshoppers. With a selection of over 25 different mezcals, Santo Remedio is an excellent place to give this spirit a spin.
Mexico City native and chef/proprietor Edson took me through his three favourites, available as a sipping selection on the restaurant’s menu. Corte Vetusto Ensamble, with its crisp, citrusy finish, is distilled in copper and clay for its signature taste. I found Papadiablo Especial to be silky and sweet, while Leyenda San Luis Potosi had a peppery and herbal minerality.
Accompanied by orange wedges dipped in chilli, this is an excellent introduction to mezcal’s diverse flavours. Alternatively, start your meal with one of their specialist mezcal cocktails, such as the Piña Al Carbón with chargrilled pineapple, or the Mezcalita Verde, a gorgeous green concoction with cucumber, parsley and jalapenos. Finish up with the digestive Dangerous Don, a mezcal distilled with coffee beans that are so smooth and delicious I was instantly a fan.
This Soho establishment has two restaurants with separate entrances and styles, depending on your mood. Try the all-day cantina on Moor street for breezy, Tex-Mex vibes or book a table in advance to access the secret door on Old Compton Street. You’ll be guided through a rather saucy entrance (with neon lights suggesting that there’s a peep show inside) into a plush cellar restaurant that’s popular with celebrities.
Maciek, their resident mezcal expert, served me up some sensational tacos and a smoky Mezcalita (rimmed with chilli, salt and lime) before taking me on a tasting journey of how agave spirits are aged. La Bodega Negra’s selection of 15 mezcals includes all three of the hip, small-batch brand Ilegal, which showcases this process perfectly.
The crystal clear Ilegal Joven is unaged, with a zesty citrus taste, while the golden Ilegal Reposado, is aged for four months in charred oak barrels and whose smooth velvety flavour was my favourite. The full, rich Ilegal Añejo, is a deep yellow colour, having been aged for 13 months in either oak or used bourbon casks. The strong, sweet and smoky flavour was surprisingly more reminiscent of scotch or cognac than tequila.
Housed in a former banana warehouse, this legendary Covent Garden restaurant has served up fine Mexican fare to Londoners for nearly 40 years. Their in-house mezcal expert and General Manager, Carlos, started me off with one of their Mezcaritas (a smoky twist on the classic margarita) and a curious concoction they call a ‘Bru-groni’. Consisting of smoked rosemary, Campari and mezcal, this was a deliciously smouldering reinvention of a Negroni.
Behind Cafe Pacifico’s bar, you’ll find over 45 different types of mezcal waiting to be savoured. Under Carlos’ guidance, I sampled the classic Del Maguey Vida (with its soft cinnamon aftertaste), the fruity/mineral Alipus San Andres, and some Bruxo No. 2 Pechuga, which is distilled through a chicken breast. Thankfully, they had some seriously more-ish ‘enfrijoladas’ (corn tortillas smothered in black bean sauce, feta and pomegranate seeds) to help me balance out this spirited tasting session, which is bookable for couples and groups through the restaurant.