Tequila: the victim of its own success? Having cemented its status as the down-in-one, high-five, good-time party shooter, this beverage distilled from the agave plant now sees its appeal diminishing next to its cooler, craft-produced cousin mezcal, a sipping spirit for connoisseurs. At this new bar in Covent Garden there’s not only shelfloads of mezcal but also sotol, raicilla and bacanora, lesser-known spirits from Mexico. And there’s even one or two tequilas, but certainly not of the lime-in-the-eye, salt-up-the-nose variety.
There’s a conscious turning-away in El Nivel from the usual sombreros and cactus decor, which is no bad thing, but perhaps the avoidance of cliché goes too far. Apart from a big wooden bar holding all those rare bottles, it looks like a formal and rather dated dining room.
Food plays a big part in this bar, and it’s not nachos and quesadillas. The ‘Mexican tapas’ include the odd Asian influence – teriyaki, Chinese pancakes, shiso – and although some dishes were okay, others were almost unpleasant (a burnt-tasting beef stew, overly sweet sauce with enmoladas), and all were expensive.
Our tip – sit at the bar and enjoy the great cocktails. A smoky and salty Mezcal Fix (£9) also contained roasted pineapple syrup, Cynar artichoke liqueur, lime and ‘saltwater spray’; the Durango Gimlet (£9) was a seemingly straightforward mix of traditionally made Ocho tequila with grapefruit cordial that tasted a whole lot more interesting than just two ingredients.
London’s more than ready for mezcal and its agave amigos, and this bar from Tomas Estes (the official Mexican tequila ambassador to Europe: really) is a fine place to sample some. But if it loosened its collar even a little, we’d be in more of a hurry to head back.
By Euan Ferguson