By all accounts Mexico in the Britomart complex is one of the most popular venues in town with customers prepared to wait for ages to secure a table. The new branch of the enterprise in Takapuna received a slightly less than warm welcome from some reviewers but the enthusiasm for its format obviously remains undimmed. On a chilly midweek evening we were still told that we would have to wait 45 minutes before we could secure a table for four.
As we sat with our drinks we could see why. The place has atmosphere plus: Crowded lively decor with every Mexican cliche in sight and crowded lively clients with a marked bias to the younger end of the market but with a sprinkling of older punters. The waitresses contribute to the decor with huge flowers in their hair and they're kept pretty busy winding their way in between the long benches and canvas chairs which make up the dining room.
This is essentially a place to meet, drink and talk, doing your best to make yourself heard over the buzz, and the food is there largely to provide fuel to keep the conversation going. Nevertheless it has to be good enough to make the experience more rewarding than going to the local pub and, by and large, it was, with the hallmarks of freshness and zest.
The style is, of course, that of many small servings, like bar snacks with attitude, and for this to work the organisation has to be good with the food turning up in a regular supply chain. I must confess that such was the hubbub I was a bit dubious they would pull this off. But everything we ordered arrived so efficiently we hardly noticed it, which is exactly what you want.
We started with a black bean and smoky bacon dip with warm tortillas, pleasant without being a stunner, and a special of scallops with a tangy accompaniment, enjoyable even if the scallops were of such a size as might have raised the eyebrows of a suspiciously minded fisheries officer.
The pickled vegetables were sharp and vinegary and lacked that mellowness of flavour which normally makes them one of my favourites but the patatas de maiz, deep-fried polenta sticks, were very moreish, like a Mexican version of superior hash browns.
We ventured on to three taco varieties, the caramel pork which were tasty and I could have done with a bit more of the filling, the chicken which came with a mole verde that rather lacked punch, and the beef rubbed with spicy achiote paste, declared to be a success.
Of the specialities we sampled, the Mexico fried chicken was disappointing, dry and with a slightly stale tasting coating, all too reminiscent of fast food grabbed in a small town while enduring a long drive.
The mussel and prawn vinaigrette was acceptable, if little more, but the ceviche with watercress, cucumber, coconut, jalapeno and lime was good and stood up well to the ultra-fresh versions we had just been relishing on a Pacific trip.
At this point we had planned to move on to another round, with the churros con xocolate in our sights. But to our surprise (as two of the party are notorious for their inclination to the piggy), we had had enough and for a comparatively modest outlay.
The food was unassuming but more than adequate and we had enjoyed a very pleasant evening, perhaps cheered by drinks we might not usually choose, like the sparkling sangria which survived the dull evening chill unexpectedly well. Roll on summer which should see this promising new slice of Takapuna blooming into even more vibrant life.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $167 for 11 dishes and nine drinks.
Our drinks: Wine is available but it's not really the point here. There is, appropriately, a strong tequila list. The tap Cartel Mexican beer was decent and the sparkling sangrias and the margaritas went down well...
Verdict: Busy, noisy and efficient with a real sense of fun.