Get serious at Motel Mexicola.
Serious, elegant and authentic and Motel Mexicola aren’t words that often appear in the same sentence, but don’t be fooled. The multi-coloured, popular party venue opened with an eye to serving authentic Mexican food and they have swerved but never strayed from this mission.
Many who claim to love Mexican food have possibly never eaten the real thing. Nachos, crispy tacos and the like are not a staple of Mexican food, they never have been. Instead the food of Mexcio is diverse, earthy and defined by ingredients that are very local.
Taking over the kitchens of Mexicola was an eye opener for Executive chef, Steven Skelley, who had a far more traditional chef background. To get up to speed, he has bought endless cookbooks and travelled extensively through Mexico, eating and yes, drinking.
Entering Motel Mexicola is an experience in itself. It’s almost like a movie set; lights, colour, music and a lively crowd are part of the mix no matter what time you arrive. The frenzy intensifies as the sun goes down and the neon lights come up but it’s pretty busy all the time, serving well over 1,000 people every day.
One thing that many overlook though is the serious side of the flashy Motel, the food. The menu really doesn’t pull punches or linger for long on those who crave the tex-mex they grew up with. Straddling this divide is a constant challenge for the kitchen team but their dedication to authenticity has to be admired. They are not talking down to the crowd.
The new menu at Mexciola definitely has its strengths, and favourites. Looking around at the early dinner sitting there are plenty of quesadillas going round. Kids are prancing about on the stage/dance floor and parents are lingering over their margaritas with one eye on their offspring. However it’s early, and the more serious crowd are already lining up outside to kick things off for the adults.
The menu is divided into sections at Motel Mexicola and the waiters are an integral part of the order, explaining the dishes, breaking down the ingredients, reading the diners to see how far they will go. It’s a very well oiled machine.
“We are very much into a sink or swim concept with our menus, which change constantly. We tend to bring out all the new dishes on party nights, where we might have 3,000 people in the venue. The kitchen is under enormous stress on those nights, not to mention the bar, but it’s a great way to kick off a new menu,” explains Skelley.
There’s really no holding back here, especially with the chef at your table to talk you through the menu. We start with something that is seemingly simple but also tells a great story of Mexican food. It’s a tostada, a small open taco topped with black beans, blackened chili and topped with a fried egg and fresh salsa. Being a sucker for anything with runny egg, I am in love with this small parcel of explosive flavour. It is topped with crispy chicken skin, which adds flavour as well as texture.
I am warned that it will explode but I manage without making too much of a mess. This is a new one from the menu of tostadas that includes seafood and slow cooked pork, items that appear in different forms over and over on this menu.
The man on the floor, and a real live Mexican, Alvaro appears and looks thoroughly disappointed at my choice of beer. Naturally he is suggesting cocktails, and there are quite a few new ones on the menu he encourages me to try. We opt for a classic margarita, but this isn’t satisfying the gregarious host. He then shows up with shots of tequila and shots of a Bloody Mary mix that we are told to drink one after the other. It works. Motel Mexicola is definitely better with tequila.
Next we try a dish that seems a hybrid of Asia and Mexico, but I am assured that it is based on a thoroughly authentic Mexican dish that Steven has combined with a lightly seared tuna. The thin slices of just-seared tuna are the perfect play with a fresh, chili scented salad, resulting in a dish that is fresh and light.
The mains menu is small, with only five dishes, but it packs above its weight. Birria De Borrego is a dish that hails from the state of Jalisco in Mexico and is a celebration dish as well as a cure-all comfort dish. In this case it features a slow cooked lamb shank, falling off the bone and floated in a dark and delicious soup base made with a heady mix of spices that vary from cardamom, cinnamon, clove and garlic. The meat falls off the bone and a spoon is offered for the broth. It is served with a side of spiced green tomato purée, fresh hot tortilla and Mexican rice. You could easily feed a family with this one. The leftovers were packed to take home for lunch the following day. This is a stand out dish.
Another main that was recommended is a prawn dish, Camarón de coco. Also served with tortilla for wrapping, this is a lighter dish featuring coconut-crusted prawns that are deep fried and served with a mango salsa, tomato salsa and a red cabbage salad. Filling but very fresh and the prawns are a treat.
According to Skelley, the biggest challenge for them is the chili. They’ve tried going local but it simply wasn’t the same. The variety and depth of flavour of the different types of chili used in Mexican dishes can’t be replaced if you want to produce really authentic dishes. So they beg, borrow and procure through whatever means to get the real thing. Many of the Mexican chili are very subtle, it is more about flavour than heat.
It’s easy to see why this motel gets fully booked, it’s infectious, especially after a few of those margaritas. People are having fun. Everyone’s eating, drinking, it’s like one big party. Lots of people have come in groups, the bar is full by 8pm and upstairs, the mezcal bar is filling up as well. And this is Monday folks.
There is no way that Alvaro is letting us leave without dessert, and another margarita. By now I’m regretting I haven’t got my party pants on because the atmosphere is getting to me. I want to dance on the tables and pour tequila down my throat. Thankfully, or not, I am too full and dessert definitely puts the moxxa on anything slinky. A plate of freshly made churros arrives accompanied by two dipping sauces; dark chocolate and a salted butterscotch. As if that is not already overdrive, a dessert of chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate mousse arrives with it. Game over!
Absolutely Motel Mexicola is a party venue, a great place for holiday-makers and locals to congregate and have a great time. There is also a more serious side to it and the menu is proof that if you stick to your guns and produce food that is authentic, true to its roots and ultimately delicious, people will respond. Trip Advisor can’t be wrong, can it?
The new menu is well worth exploring. Discover what real Mexican food is about and take this tour, rest assured, you will enjoy the ride. S.D.