Most of us have encountered Mexican food via the grim Tex-Mex chains that serve up burritos and refried beans to young diners on a budget. This gives us a sad impression of that country's cuisine. There is a witty line in an otherwise ordinary science fiction movie called "The Demolition Man" in which a man is frozen in stasis and awakened many years in the future. When asking about what restaurant to eat at he is horrified to learn that "Taco Bell was the only restaurant to survive the Franchise Wars... and
now all restaurants are Taco Bell". Certainly in London there is not a Mexican restaurant worthy of the name, and although I have eaten some quite decent Mexican food around the USA, I have yet to visit Mexico itself, so have had limited exposure to that country's food in a form more adventurous than chimichanga and its brethren. Consequently I was intrigued when a Spanish friend recommended a new Mexican restaurant in Madrid serving authentic regional cuisine.
Punto MX opened in the early summer of 2012, with head chef Roberto Ruiz from Mexico City moving to Madrid on a mission to to educate Europe about the cuisine of his home country. He previously ran a restaurant north of Mexico City, but Punto MX is his first venture outside there. The restaurant is in a residential district of Madrid, with a bar on the ground floor and the main dining room in the basement. The dining room is smart and modern, with wooden floor and white tablecloths on its well-spaced tables. At one end of the dining room a lady called Maria makes corn tortillas with a tortilla press and grill. This is one clue that Punto MX is not your regular Mexican joint: all the tortillas here are made by hand and to order, and it showed.
I started with guacamole, which in a little piece of theatre is made from scratch in front of the diner. A mortar and pestle contains avocado, and the waiter makes up guacamole from an 18th century recipe, adding onions, coriander and Serrano chilli, with a little salt, lemon and oil. The avocados are sourced from a range of suppliers and countries depending on what is best at the time, but are always Hass avocados (developed by an amateur horticulturalist called Rudolph Hass in Calfornia in the 1920s, and now the most common avocado). The guacamole is gently mixed, not reduced to a mush. It had good flavour, served with corn crisps. At the end of the day there is a limit to how exciting guacamole can be, but it was nice to see the restaurant making some effort to do this well.
The kitchen sent out a little glass of shrimp broth flavoured with tomato and dehydrated chilli, the soup having plenty of shrimp taste, the spicing quite gentle but lifting the flavour nicely (4/10). This was followed by shrimp with a chipotle sauce served on a type of corn tortilla called sopes, a thick tortilla with pinched sides. The shrimp was tender, the chipotle sauce subtle and the tortilla itself was excellent, a world away from the industrial tortillas that are usually used in Mexican restaurants, at least those that I have eaten at (4/10).
This was followed by tuna tacos, the fish caught near Cadiz, served with onions, avocado and Serrano chilli (a chilli pepper originating from the Mexican regions of Puebla and Hidalgo) on a tacos base. The balance of the avocado, onions and chilli was nicely judged, the tacos excellent, the tuna lightly seared and having good flavour (5/10). Next was wagyu beef tacos. The beef (raised in Spain) was served with grilled onion, avocado, coriander leaves, grilled green tomatoes with jalapeño peppers and shredded red bell pepper. This dish worked particularly well, since the onions had been caramelised and gave a slight sweetness to the dish, balancing the spiciness of the peppers. The beef itself was excellent and the taco had very good texture. Irrespective of cuisine, this was a carefully designed and lovely dish (easily 6/10).
This was followed by green chorizo tacos, on a base of melted smoked cheese and avocado. The chorizo was made from scratch by the kitchen from Iberian pork, with publano peppers and coriander seeds. This was served with a smoky sauce of deliberately burnt tomatoes. The high quality pork used in the dish meant that the chorizo had excellent flavour, the sauce working well with the meat (5/10).
Duck enchilada was made with spiced confit duck, served with a sauce made of zucchini seeds, Serrano and jalapeño peppers. The duck itself had lovely flavour, with a little crisp skin, the sauce spicy but not overwhelming the duck (5/10). By this time I was distinctly full (portions were generous) but I did sample bone marrow that had been prepared in an ember oven, served with coriander and onions and more of the burnt tomato sauce, offered with impressively soft warm corn tortillas. This was another interesting dish, the richness of the bone marrow balanced by the spices. Dessert was a deconstructed cheese cake with a separate biscuit base with guava sauce and yoghurt ice cream. This was pleasant, if not quite to the same level as the savoury dishes (3/10).
The bill came to €64.80 (£52) a head with plenty of beer to drink and for more food than a wise man would eat. It would certainly be possible to eat here for less than this, but I was keen a reasonable range of dishes. The staff were excellent, enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and as a bonus for me, most speaking excellent English. I was really impressed with Punto MX. I have tried a lot of "gourmet" Mexican restaurants in the USA over the years (including one with a Michelin star), but this was far and away the best Mexican food that I have eaten. Now all that needs to happen is for a branch to open in London.