I really didn’t know what to expect for my visit to Mexico City; but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous.
After all, I was heading into the great unknown, although what I did know was that my intended destination was one of the murder capitals of the world. My trepidation didn’t diminish after receiving a travel alert notifying me that there had been 1,600 murders in the month before my visit.
My first taste of Mexico City was the view from the aeroplane seat; with arguably the world’s largest and most sprawling city spread out below me for what seemed like an age. Nervous as I was, the excitement was building; after all, I was going to a part of the world where I’d never ventured before.
Swanning through customs in what felt like record time, the clean and modern airport was so far removed from my expectations that I felt my head swim; although, it could also have been the fifteen hour flight as well 🙂
I was picked up in a brand new Prius from the airport and we were on our way to my hotel; I only remember parts of the trip, jet lag catching up with me ensuring much of the hour long trip was in a sleep deprived doze. I’m sure you know the feeling.
Bag checked at the hotel, I needed to get out and stretch my legs, also wanting to get my first on-the-ground glimpse of the city. I was staying right by the Paseo de la Reforma, ensuring that I saw one of Mexico City’s most famous landmarks immediately. It was also one of the central places of protest in the city; and of course I’d landed right in the middle of a forming protest.
With heavily armed police on one side and a large crowd of protesters on the other, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and made my way back to my room for shelter and refuge. As it turned out, the protest was typical for Mexico City and was just teachers demanding a better deal…
It wasn’t until the next day that I was making my way to Biko; at the time ranked the 43rd best restaurant in the world that I really got a feel for Mexico City; and it was far safer than I could ever have imagined.
Unsurprisingly, my favourite area, and the general location of Biko was Polanco, known for its upscale restaurants, cafes and bars; also home to the rich and famous of the city. Reminding me of Toorak in Melbourne, the area was modern, clean and very funky. It was also very quiet and safe; probably something to do with private security guards on almost every corner; even more likely that the assault rifles they all carried had something to do with that warm safe feeling I had!
I was the first to arrive for my lunchtime sitting at Biko, the entrance on street level plastered with images of the food and techniques used in the restaurant. As I entered the building, the journey into one of Mexico’s top restaurants began; I immediately felt welcomed by the warm greetings of the wait staff. That feeling persisted when I was seated in an incredibly modern looking dining room and was shown my menu for the day.
Which was of course, completely in Spanish.
The menu was fairly easy to interpret, there were four sections; menú degustación, self explanatory; lo de hoy, which translated to what today; lo de antes, as before; and postres, dessert. While there were some dishes and ingredients that called to me from the a la carte menu, it was the Biko tasting menu I was there for; and without delay, I got the meal underway.
Kicking off with an interesting and unique amuse bouche, I was presented with a simply stunningly presented dish of watermelon ceviche. The chef had carved out a sphere of watermelon and placed it next to its origination square; then covered the bright red with equally bright green from lettuce. Topped with toasted almond slices, then finished with cherry tomato and a vinaigrette, the dish was simple and fresh. As I devoured the dish, additional complexity and layers presented themselves with an almond paste. The quirky combination of flavours working well and whet my appetite for the meal to follow.
The first formal dish started with a visual bang! The foie gras, elote y regaliz looked beautiful, with two rounds of foie gras covered with a light caramel sauce and chocolate balls contrasting against dollops of black liquorice puree. Normally not a fan of liquorice or aniseed flavour, I was surprised how well the strong flavour helped balance out the sweet hit of the caramel sauce and the creamy foie gras. More like a dessert than a starter, the dish had an earthy quality that helped elevate away from that designation. There was texture from the chocolate balls and a thin toasty that had hits of cocao; further co-opting the palate into a juxtaposition of dessert slash starter.
I was in complete awe as the next dish was presented, much more like a work of art than food, the la hora del bogavante y el vermú was one of the prettiest dishes I had ever laid eyes on. A lobster cake was the centrepiece, but the star like decoration adorning the plate was intensely eye-catching. A warm vermouth sauce was poured at the table, which immediately soaked into the lobster cake; spheres showing of the molecular gastronomic skills of the kitchen provided a sweet hit to contrast the sharpness of the vermouth sauce. The cake was a little salty and a little sweet, but it didn’t really scream ‘lobster’ to me; while the overall flavour profile of the dish was lovely, I really wanted to have that lobster hit.
So far, the plating had been pure modernism; but the next dish was a little more retro. The crema de hongos, epazote y tortilla came presented in a traditional looking bowl, textures of mushroom, green ‘Mexican tea’ flavoured tortilla pieces and a mushroom puree were quickly covered with a creamy mushroom sauce poured at the table. My overall impression of the dish was earthiness; the mushroom was warming and had a slight peppery heat. It was nice, but not mind blowing, and lacking just a little oomph that I’ve had with mushroom soups in the past.
We were back to the exciting presentation with the lubina cecina de yecapixtla y pimientos asados, Sea Bass with roasted local red peppers. The fresh fish sat atop a squiggle of red pepper puree and then was finished with an intricate circular tuile; the contrasting colours looking wonderful on the plate. The overall effect was quickly destroyed though, a sauce was again poured at the table, crushing the tuile to a sticky mush. The impeccably prepared fish was light in flavour and most curiously, well balanced against the strong red pepper flavour. I’d initially thought that the fish would be lost, but not so. It was super yummy, ever so slightly on the sweet side an devoured in a few quick bites!
I was really conflicted with the meat course. The name on the men really did not describe the dish itself; pluma negra or black feather was actually Iberico Pork, covered in a black gooey guacamole sauce and served with a piece of roasted beetroot which was piercing a bright red pickled onion. I found the dish to be very confusing; the flavours not working in harmony at all. In particular, the sweet Iberico Pork was drowned in a black sauce that was totally overwhelming. The beetroot through the onion was clever, but really, really hard to eat; I was worried that the onion would shoot off the plate as I tried to eat it. No, it was not a dish that I understood, or particularly liked.
We were on a lot safer ground with the first of Biko’s two desserts, which was again breathtaking in its presentation. Called El mundo dulce de los quelites, the dish was a bright and vibrant green; the colour coming from a Spanish version of spinach. Soft foam surrounded a quenelle of super creamy ice cream, which sat on a bed of soaked bread and toasted leaves. There was a subtly to the dish, I caught hints of mint, which played against the sweetness of the foam and ice cream. I found the dish to be quite sweet and refreshing, but perhaps just a little too subtle; I think I’d have liked a little more dominant flavour to have shone through.
I got my wish with the final dessert of the meal; and while the name of the dish was nothing like the dessert presented to me, it was still interesting and inventive. Buñuelo de jengibre roughly translates to ginger donut; the ginger I got in spades, but where was the donut? Presented more like a birds nest, there were bits of matcha mixed with ruby flavoured tapioca sitting along side a layer of ginger ice cream. It was a delicious dessert, well balanced and full of little surprises; but it really looked like dried pasta than a donut; so could have been a ‘lost in translation’ moment.
So my time at Biko was coming to an end, and I was able to sit and reflect on a meal that had been quite interesting, but not flawless. I’d really enjoyed elements of the meal, with good flavours and creative presentation; but I found it hard to get past the main dish of Iberico pork – it just wasn’t a dish worthy of a top 50 restaurant.
Food aside, I’d been impressed with the service; especially given the language difficulties throughout. While my waiter had done his best with English, it was still difficult to effectively communicate the dishes to me (but lets be clear, his English was far superior to my Spanish!)
It was a memorable meal though, and it has to be said, incredible value compared to other fine dining establishments in the top 50 (or 100) restaurants in the world. Coming in at approximately USD $60, it was a far cry from the USD $300+ meals that dominate the worlds50best list.
However, I wasn’t super surprised to seek Biko drop out of the top 50 restaurants in the 2017 list; it’s current ranking of 65 possibly still a little generous.
Anyway, my meal at Biko was enjoyable, as was my time in Mexico City; a place that I never thought I’d see myself visiting but a place I’d definitely travel back to (with the girl in tow).