“…but the moment you cross the little wire gate and you’re in Mexico, you feel like you just sneaked out of school when you told the teacher you were sick and she told you you could go home, 2 o’clock in the afternoon.” – Jack Kerouac, The Lonesome Traveller
Mexican restaurants and bars have been packaging that sense of freedom and abandon for decades. So much so that the product has become completely removed from the emotion. When was the last time a multi-coloured hat, watered-down Jose Cuervo and an inexplicable number of beaded necklaces made anyone feel anything more than nauseous? If Mexicans went in for Knights in shining armour, they’d look something like Tomas Estes. As the Mexican Government appointed Tequila Ambassador for Europe, Tomas has taken it upon himself to bring the richness and diversity of Mexican culture to the continent. That much is apparent in the wonderful contrasts between his three London establishments: Pacifico, La Perla and now, El Nivel. An homage to Mexico’s first licensed bar, El Nivel stands on the shoulders of giants. In this case literally, sitting one floor above La Perla. In true hispanic tradition, eating accompanies the drinking but plays far from a bit role. The pork belly was the standout dish amongst an eclectic and imaginative menu. Despite the food and thematic nods to Film Noir and 30′s hispanic regalia, the star of the show is never far from sight. More than anything else, this is a love letter to the world’s most popular cactus; the Agave. It’s not the most huggable of plants but when it produces Mezal and Tequila like this, all is forgiven. This is the real taste of Mexico. El Nivel doesn’t offer cheap escapism but it does offer an unrivalled slice of life across the border, or a glimpse of that feeling, 2 o’clock in afternoon, sneaking out of school.