Megan Walsh takes a trip down memory lane in the new dockside taqueria
I’LL never forget my first taste of proper Mexican tacos. Coming in at just £1 for five, I scoffed them down on a busy roadside somewhere in downtown Mexico City, the first stop on what would go on to be a seven-month stint travelling through Latin America.
Until that moment, my only experience of Mexican food had been in the form of badly executed Old El Paso fajita kits, or Tex-Mex restaurants that served more dodgy fajitas. But that day in Mexico City set the scene for what was yet to come for me; an epicurean curiosity that developed into a visceral and long-lasting love affair with all things Mexican.
The sweetcorn in Mexico will change your life and Madre’s grilled elote will do the same
I spent four glorious weeks eating my way through the food markets of Oaxaca, chomping my way across Chiapas and eventually reaching San Cristóbal. When I left, I was truly gutted: I’d just experienced some of the best food on the planet and I was 100% certain I’d never taste the likes of it again.
Three years later, I’m back in Liverpool and the food scene is thriving. New places are popping up just about everywhere. Bold Street is packed to the rafters, the Baltic is booming and now the food revolution has reached the Albert Dock, ready to insert some life back into what was has become an overlooked part of the city.
Madre is the Dock’s newest resident and the latest venture from the Belzan/Volpi/Cinder lot, in collaboration with the founders of London’s Breddos Tacos. By now I think it’s safe to say that team Belzan can do no wrong. In fact, they are wizards in my eyes. But how good are they at Mexican?
Eager to find out, we kick things off the right way: two frozen margaritas (£8) and a never-ending bowl of the best guacamole (£6). None of that pureed nonsense, it was chunky and zesty and came with a pile of freshly made black corn tortillas – the first time I’d seen black corn outside of Oaxaca, which I took to be a very good sign.
The sweetcorn in Mexico will change your life and Madre’s grilled elote (£5) will do the same. Everything I’d hoped for and more, the charred husks in their tangy mayo could have passed for the same messy cobs I’d so often grab when on the move in Oaxaca. Just don’t get put off by their messiness: they’re dangerously good.
Cured fish isn’t for everyone, but the ceviche (£5.50) was the perfect palate cleanser before our main event. The delicate flavours were infused with a strong heat from the chilli, making us reach for another sip of our ice-cold margaritas to tame the flames.
Although tempted by the larger ‘to share’ plates (and extremely intrigued by the declaration of a pig’s head on the menu), we’d come here for the tacos and I could have had them all. Settling for three, we went for the fall-apart fresh baja fish (£6.50), ever so lightly battered on a bed of spicy jalapeño mayo and salsa, followed by the Mexican chorizo (£6.50); the cushions of smokey paprika sausage packing a spicier punch than I’d expected.
At this point I was 70% guacamole and 30% corn, which meant there would be no room for dessert. But finally, there was the sprout taco (£5). What’s that, you say? Brussel sprouts, in a taco? We were sceptical too, but wow. Who’d have thought that little Christmas cabbages could work so well topped with coriander and sprinkled with onion? A wild card order indeed, but it might have just won star of the show.
There’s one thing about Madre that cannot be ignored and should in fact be celebrated. Fillings aside, what really makes these tacos is the quality of the tortillas. The size. The texture. The ingredients. They’re the real McCoy and you just can’t get them like this anywhere else. One bite sent my mind spiralling back to the very first day of my travels, when my love affair with Mexico was only just beginning.
So let me be the first to answer my own question: how good are the Belzan lot at Mexican? Turns out, very good. Madre is the real deal. The best and most authentic Mexican food this side of the Atlantic and I’m already itching to return.
We ended things the way we started them: with two frozen margaritas, only this time strawberry and jalapeño (£8.50). My first experience of a spicy jalapeño beverage certainly won’t be my last: this visit to Madre being the first of many, I’m sure.
Madre, Atlantic Pavilion, Royal Albert Dock, 6, L3 4AE
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Guacamole 10, elote 9, ceviche 8, fish taco 9, chorizo taco 7, sprout taco 9, Margaritas 9.
Muchas gracias, mi amigos.
Tacos and Margaritas, what could be better?