The terms Mexican and fine dining are not necessarily two things you would expect to hear in the same sentence. When it comes to the UAE dining scene, Mexican cuisine tends to revolve around the Tex-Mex hybrid of loaded nachos, burritos and refried beans. The likes of Loca and Little Mexico are doing solid business from glorified fast food but with the arrival of Peyote to DIFC’s Gate Village, we have a new venue that looks to challenge the perceptions of Mexican cuisine.
Navigating the Gate Village has always proved problematic for team Out & About UAE but we make it to Peyote in one piece. Arriving just after 7pm on a humid Ramadan evening we’re the only guests in the entire venue, but two hours later the venue is at full capacity and pulsating an energy that reminded us of after work drinks in London’s Canary Wharf.
As we await our dining partners arrival in the bar area, it’s immediately evident that Peyote is trying to do things a little differently. You won’t find any of the stereotypically kitsch nick-nacks that tend to populate Mexican restaurants, so those looking for cacti, pinatas and sombreros will likely be dissapointed. Peyote ditches the vibrant colour scheme of the Mexican cantina in favour of earthen tones and recessed light fittings made of entwined rope, in a space resembling a modernised hacienda.
The name Peyote derives from a small spineless cactus found in the Chihuahuan desert and renowned for its hallucinogenic properties. So it seems only fitting that our waitress recommends the Nopales, a salad of chargrilled and salt cured cactus (non-hallucinogenic), mixed with cherry tomatoes, a crumbling of cheese and an oregano vinaigrette. To our palette, the cactus resembled a green pepper and wasn’t really distinguishable in terms of flavour or texture, though our dining companion was strong to disagree on this statement, noting an almost acrid flavour. It’s safe to say the cactus dish marked the only misstep in an otherwise exemplary meal.
Peyote’s menu is divided into various sections (antojitos, ensaladas, ceviches, tostadas, tacos etc) and diners may feel compelled to order one dish from each, based upon the sharing style concept that the restaurant promotes. We had the same idea, but you’ll find that the prices stack up very quickly. With the ratio of what you’re actually getting compared to value for money, skewed a little too far in the restaurant’s favour.
We begin with gluten free corn tostadas (the closest thing you’ll get to nachos at Peyote) served with a variety of dips that includes a smoky salsa negra, a vibrant salsa verde and an addictively sweet peanut concoction, of which we ordered multiple refills. A staple of Mexican cuisine, Guacamole proves a good dish to gauge the quality of a Mexican restaurant and although we missed the tableside preparation featured at similar establishments in the city, the creamy blend of avocado, red onion and tomato is very good (Waka’s applewood smoked Waka-Mole still remains our favourite). Jalapeno Fritos, a take on vegetable tempura, batters red and green jalapeno chillis in a dish that packs quite a bit of heat.
Ceviche’s have long been the focus of Peruvian cuisine but are also a staple dish of many Latin American countries including Mexico. Of the five available on the Peyote menu, we sample two, and find both to be examples of exceptionally balanced flavours and Peyote’s most memorable dishes. The Laminado De Hamachi is a plate of sheer beauty, with slices of hamachi layered with huitlacoche (a Mexican truffle that grows naturally on corn), small dollops of avocado puree and a ginger vinaigrette. The flavour profile is an interesting one that masterfully balances the acidity of the marinade against the delicate nature of the fish, though an additional texture would’ve been welcomed. Meanwhile, the Ceviche Blanco presents a scallop in its shell, with cilantro oil and a coconut aguachile. This coastal ceviche is both refreshing and particularly spicy and comes highly recommended by team Out & About.
Of the two varieties of tacos we ordered, the Tacos De Res came up trumps. A duo of small purple corn tacos, topped with cilantro cress, salsa verde and a tender beef short rib that transpired to be delightfully moreish (we just wish there were more of them).
For our main courses, we selected one dish from the Carne (meat) and Marisco (seafood) sections. The Barbacoa De Cordero proved to be another standout choice. Lamb shoulder cooked in a banana leaf for 24 hours so as to become unbelievably tender and sealed with the flavours of the salsa tatemada, a ‘charred’ salsa made from roasted tomatoes. The Merluza Al Axiote (grilled Chilean sea bass) is a plate of contrasting flavours that offsets a fiery habanero butter against a pineapple axiote that presents an almost seductive sweetness to the palette and the perfect complement to the subtleties of the fish. From the sides, don’t miss the Esquites, a tangy Mexican street corn mixed with homemade mayonnaise and quesco fresco. Proving to be simplicity at its very best.
With little room for dessert, we perked up at the sight of Churros. Served on a plate bearing the Peyote flower design in dusted sugar, the golden crisp dough bucks the trend of disappointment we’ve so often encountered with this dish. The churros are served with the obligatory dark chocolate (not too bitter) and cajeta, a confection of caramelised goat’s milk similar in nature to dulce de leche. We also enjoyed the Oaxaca Chocolate, a warm chocolate and chipotle mousse encasing a raspberry sorbet and a sprinkled with raspberry crumb. The flavours of chocolate and raspberry complement one anther well but the chipotle could be dialled up a notch, as it was barely noticeable.
Peruvian cuisine has defined Dubai’s dining landscape for the past two years and Peyote marks a similar turning point for Mexican cuisine by refining traditional street food and transporting it into a contemporary fine dining environment (with prices to match). Diners may feel a little cheated by the price point but the quality of the dishes speaks volumes.
Much like the recently launched Lima down the road in City Walk. Peyote marks a Latin American concept, from a Chef recognised by Latin America’s 50 best restaurants (in this case, Executive Chef Eduardo Garcia of Maximo Bistrot) that’s been successfully transported from London to Dubai. Boasting some very impressive dishes, Peyote could well be the best Mexican restaurant in the Emirates! No longer will Mexcian cuisine mean being subjected to nachos slathered in processed cheese and microwaved burritos. For that we should all be thankful.
We were invited to dine at Peyote. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE. Interior image used courtesy of Peyote.