Melville’s Mex­i­can cook-off

CityPress - - Trend­ing - Gar­reth.van­niek­erk@city­press.co.za 7th Street, Melville, Jo­han­nes­burg

Two Mex­i­can restau­rants, blocks apart? I couldn’t be hap­pier, but it seems a mighty ask from the peo­ple at La Santa Muerte on 7th Street, Melville’s new kid on the block. Is there such a huge de­mand for Mex­i­can in Melville? For the Hell’s Kitchen team, which has started this sis­ter restau­rant next door, that’s of lit­tle con­se­quence – the bold, boor­ish and slightly sex­ual (more on that to fol­low) ap­proach to din­ing builds the au­di­ence from the bot­tom up.

At the uber­hip black steel and ex­posed brick spot one Sun­day af­ter­noon, my part­ner and I or­dered two sim­ple dishes – a chicken bur­rito and a beef taco. Both ar­rived with two of their own nou­veau sal­sas and a bowl of gua­camole, which, I think, are enough to judge the qual­ity of any Mex­i­can cui­sine.

The gua­camole was just the right blend of creamy and chunky, but it looked like it was made with slightly past-per­fect av­o­cado – a lit­tle more pale and brown than the vi­brant green I had come to ex­pect from the Mex­i­can ver­sions I tasted in the US. The salsa? One pineap­ple ver­sion and an­other more clas­sic tomato-and-onion style were both fiery, but too much so. The sweet­ness of the pineap­ple ver­sion did cut through the burn – but even then, it was too hot to fin­ish.

The home-made taco and bur­rito wraps were beau­ti­fully fresh and light, but (and I hate to rain on the smoke­house pa­rade) there is only so much woodsmoked food a palate can han­dle. It’s not the smoky flavour it­self, as in the in­stance of the chicken bur­rito, but that the smoke over­pow­ers ev­ery other flavour the dish is made of. The steak taco was a tri­umph, though – a gen­er­ous por­tion of de­li­cious­ness.

The prices are quite steep for lunch (ex­pect up­wards of R80 for a bur­rito/taco), but – and this is the cru­cial thing here – com­pared with neigh­bours Café Mexi­cho down the block (whose prices are sim­i­lar, if not more ex­pen­sive), there is just no beat­ing La Santa Muerte for qual­ity.

Melville may be known for its grotty dives, but Café Mexi­cho is get­ting a lit­tle too real to in­spire an ap­petite any more. Per­haps a lit­tle healthy com­pe­ti­tion from the new­bie will be enough to get them to clean up their act.

If you’re not yet fa­mil­iar with the no­to­ri­ously naughty Hell’s Kitchen bar (lo­cated next door to its new sis­ter restau­rant, La Santa Muerte), its ram­bunc­tious par­ties, il­lu­mi­nated by seedy red­neon signs read­ing “be naked when I get home”, are quickly be­com­ing Joburg’s last out­post of un­pre­ten­tious boo­gie. If you feel like a dance, give the fiery ginger beer a try and add a shot of the home-brewed cinnamon moon­shine while you’re at it to get those takkies squeak­ing.

There’s also a sneaky hid­den room where some lo­cal shlebs can of­ten be found do­ing things they wouldn’t tell their ma­mas about.

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