Melville’s Mexican cook-off
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.