The Green and Red Bar has all the ingredients for an epic night
Colombian writer Alvaro Mutis once wrote, "Tequila has no history, no anecdote confirming its birth. It is so from the beginning, because it is a gift from the gods and, usually, when they promise something they aren't telling tales." This liquor often inspires almost pathological love-hate relationships; few will doubt its potency more than once.
True tequila comes from the area surrounding the town of Tequila in the western Mexican state of Jalisco. Like champagne, only liquors produced in this region may be called tequila. It is distilled from the sap of the blue agave plant, which has been a source of mescal, a large family of alcoholic beverages, back to the days of the Aztecs. Thanks to rigorous licensing by the Mexican government, both the name and the ingredients are sacrosanct: tequila must have a minimum of 51% agave to be called such. Many inferior tequilas contain other sources of alcohol-producing sugars, such as sugarcane or maize. The best tequilas, of course, contain nothing but blue agave.
And if you want to sample this liquor, there isn't any reason to go anywhere other than the Green and Red Bar near Shoreditch. Someone who loves tequila will have quite a lot of difficulty not spending a fortune there. Actually, someone who's never sampled the drink could too. Chances are both of them would come away happy. And drunk.
That's not to say that moderate spending won't yield exceptional results. With hundreds of tequilas to choose from, there's something for everyone. For a nice light shot, try the blanco type of tequila. Meaning "white", this type is not aged and is a bit less rough than its elder brothers. The reposado and anejo types are aged between 2 months and 3 years in oak barrels. This gives them a more rounded, warmer taste but they can easily burn the throat of those unwary customers who try to take the shot neat. Of these, try Green and Red's house margarita with a blanco tequila, or try a small dram of the anejo or reposado with some of the sangritas. These non-alcoholic spicy drinks are the traditional accompaniment for tequila and taste a little like a hotter Bloody Mary. They serve to cleanse the palate and provide counterpoint to the smooth liquor.
None of this is to say that you shouldn't try the food there. The totopos con guacamole are a very good mild taste to go with a margarita or sangrita, though the guacamole has too much cilantro in it. For a starter, try the Camarones Puerto Vallarta. These char-grilled shrimp are served in a light plum, tomato and Serrano sauce. They have not been shelled, so be prepared to get your hands a bit dirty. It's definitely worth it.
The food is good when it finally arrives. The prep time can be lengthy, especially with some of the more complicated menu items. This may be purposeful, to be honest. What better way to get customers to sample more of the hundreds of libations?
When it comes time for the entrée, be advised that the carnitas are fantastic. This is a square of slow-roasted pork belly served with ribs coated with pasilla chilli and orange salt. It's not something that a person on a diet should purchase, as it is a bit fatty. It is, however, exceptionally tender, while the ribs are an interesting blend of American and Latin American cooking. All of this comes with a spread of ingredients and tortillas for making your own tacos; one of the best things about Mexican food is this sort of do-it-yourself attitude. Sampling and trial-and-error quickly teach you about the proportions and ratios that make your perfect taco, so the meal actually gets better as it goes along.
Finish off your meal with another shot of tequila or perhaps one of their varieties of Cuban cigars. Ranging from 5 to 18 pounds apiece, there's one for every sort of smoker. A standard meal for two will likely run you about UKP60-80.
- Nicholas Carter