This one's for Kiki. Mumbai's Mexican restaurant revival...Sancho's, Xico

Lobster with guacamole and corn chips
Sancho's Bandra
As the heading of the post will tell you, we loved Narcos Mexico on Netflix. No guesses on who our favourite character in it was!

We started the new year with a meal at a new restaurant. 

I am talking of the new avatar of Sancho’s in Mumbai. It is located where the Korner House restaurant in Bandra used to be, next to Olive. We had had a lovely Mexican meal at the old Sancho’s a few years back on my birthday and I was keen to try out the new one too. We did so on the first of Jan this year. I thought that I will write a post on that and then try to compare notes with another Mexican meal that I had in mid 2018 at a restaurant called Xico, which was opened earlier last year.

Sancho's returns to Bandra

The new location of Sancho's is more spacious and brighter than what I remember of the earlier one.  The vibe seems quite ‘Mexican’, I.e., family oriented. I am going by the sort of images that one comes across in travel and food shows featuring Mexico. They have opened the glass partitions between the indoor section and the outdoor section at Sancho's and this makes the place seems more seamless now. The restaurant was reasonably full, given that it was the first of Jan, and there were quite a few families with kids around. Yet, the overall feel was quite pleasant and thankfully not too raucous or loud. Most kids had been handed over phones and tables by their parents to watch Peppa Pig on it seemed!

They have opened the partitions at Sancho's and there is a better sense of space 
compared to what it was when Korner House was housed here

Our favourite from what we ordered that afternoon was the beer batter fish (red snapper) tacos. The fish was full flavoured. The tacos were very thin and ensured that the fish got the centre-stage. It’s a refined  flour taco though as they couldn’t procure corn masa flour from what I gathered from the waiting staff. The filling of cabbage, onions, tomato gave a zestful balance to the fish and each mouthful made you want to quickly take another. 

Beer batter fish taco

The flame grilled tiger prawns were excellent as well. The prawns were a tad less than over done and were reasonably juicy. Each was coated with a spicy marinade that combined seamlessly with the prawns. It was served with a beautiful, dense and moist hummus which made for a very well balanced dip to go with the chilli heat enrobed prawns.

I remember watching the lovely episode on tacos, on David Chang's Ugly Delicious on Netflix, when this dish was served. He showed how the tacos format in Mexico today has become a canvas to show off the food of immigrants who have settled in Mexico today. That, apart from the traditional Mexican flavours, you have a lot more today including Korean and Iraqi. The latter had hummus in it from what I remember. I found this example of immigrant based fusion ironical given how the late Anthony Bourdain used to most lovingly write about New York's restaurant industry being staffed by hardworking staff who had migrated from the Mexico. 

That's the circle of life I guess. Human beings travel. And they create bond of friendships through their food.

Flame grilled prawns at Sancho's

We chose a basic cheese quesadilla to end the meal with at Sancho's. A mozzarella stuffed maida paratha which came alive when paired with the guacamole and the salsa served on the side. There were chicken and prawn options too

A couple of nights later, I watched the acid episode of Iranian settled in the US, Samin Nosrat's Salt Fat Acid Heat, again on Netflix. There she spoke about the use of citrusy flavours in Mexico flavours which add an acidic element to it. The quesadilla that I had tried at Sancho’s had a slight tanginess to it and I realised why it was so after seeing the show. She also spoke about how the meat and cheese based dishes in Mexico sometimes do not have enough flavour in themselves and how the guacamole or the salsa served on the side bring them alive. Well, that's what happened with the quesadillas at Sancho's. The mozarella was stringy and inert and it was the dips that woke up the dish. Interestingly, there was a slight ghee like flavour to quesadillas at Sancho's. I wonder why.

Cheese stuffed quesadilla at Sancho's

Funnily enough, the guacamole served on the side with the quesadilla at Sancho's had more body and texture and flavour than the guacamole with lobster, which we’d ordered at the star, had. I had found that to be a bit flat, runny and salty. I felt that I didn't get the flavours of either the avocado or the lobster in it. K liked it though. 

The  chtapata taste of the food at Sancho’s 
makes it a natural fit with our Indian palate

And on the other side of the sea link

Guacamole on the table at Xico

A natural question on reading what I have just written, would be to ask about how Sancho's compares with Xico, the other Mexican restaurant to have opened in Mumbai recently. 

Xico is located at Kamla Mills at Lower Parel. The ambiance is more like a tapas bar from Spain and doesn't have the space advantage that Sancho's has.  I had gone there on a media invite and the dishes that I had at the two places were different from each other so I am not sure how fair a comparison would be. Plus, we avoided meats at Sancho’s and stuck to the seafood as we had eaten quite a bit of meat around new year’s eve and Christmas, while at Xico, I had the meaty stuff. Xico too was packed the day that I went and it was a Sunday and crowds consisted largely of families.

Still here goes. An extract from my Facebook post on Xico from 18 Feb 2018.

Sesa tacos at Xico

'Loved the intensity of the flavours and the heartiness of the dishes that we tried (at Xico). The seso, a Lebanese influenced (pakora like) goat brain soft taco made with corn masa (dough) & the feta like quesa fresco cheese, which is made in house as are most of their cheeses I am told (was a favourite). Enjoyed the mutton trotter menudo (soup) which had pork and chicken too today, tripe and roughly minced meat and an egg, and which brought back flavour memories of Vali Bhai at Bohri Mohalla and its paya soup. The freshly made guacamole, the charred corn mix, the happy and messy comfort dish of chilaquiles (corn chips with pulled pork and Mexican crema and bean mash), won me over. I enjoyed the French toast and a tasting of the fried grasshopper from the chef's stash. Perhaps I was too full by then but the vegetarian enchilada calabaska was the only dish that I didn’t really take to. ’

Mutton trotter munado at Xico
The guacamole at Xico, which was done at the table, had a lot more body and intensity of flavour than the one I had at Sancho’s. 

Plus their tacos was made with corn masa. Once you taste the corn masa tacos, versus the maida ones, you will treasure the added dimension of texture that the flour brings to the dish.  Something which images in shows such as Ugly Delicious, Salt Fat Acid Heat and even the Mexico episode of Somebody Feed Phil seem to promise. Xico scored on this count too.

If I was to sum it up, I would say that the flavours of the dishes that I tried at Xico seemed to be more robust and different from what one was used to compared to what I had at Sancho’s. That could be a function of the dishes we chose. Or of the fact that Xico has an expat American chef, Jason James, at the helm and I think the food benefits from that.

Back for good?

Mexican restaurants have flirted with the tastebuds of city's diners from as far back as the late 1990s from what I know, if not before. That is when I had just come to the city. The President hotel had one. There were a couple of smaller Mexican joints in Bandra and my friends and I had eaten at those. There's a restaurant called Sammy Sosa, with branches in the Oshiwara and Malad, which I believe is quite popular. Places such as Cream Centre, Bombay Blues and now multiplexes have made nachos and salsa popular, especially among vegetarians. Sancho's had a good run earlier on. However, I do not thing that Mexican food has been able to make a significant dent into the preferences of Mumbai's food lovers yet. Which is surprising given that there are so many elements that are common within our cuisines...the culture of sharing plates, mix of citrusy flavours, chilli heat and sweet in the same dish, the presence of tacos (which Bombay Canteen has compared with a thepla in their pulled pork tacos dish), the abundance of tomatoes which feature in our cuisine so much today, kidney beans...and so much more.

Xico with its bold and robust flavours and Sancho's with its chatpaata ones could help change this. 

Let’s see what 2019 shows. Wish you a year of some really happy and joyous meals ahead.

Wishing you a year of happy meals. K and me at Sancho's, 1st January, 2019

Also of interest:
1. My post on my meal at the earlier Sancho's 
2. My post on a Mexican meal that I had at Mamasita, a restaurant popular for its Mexican food in Melbourne

- 4 dishes and 2 fresh lime sodas and a water cost around Rs 4,100 at Sancho's. They charged Rs 200 for a bottled Indian water so you might want to specify regular water if like me, you find this unnecessary as I do.
- The meal at Xico, as stated earlier, was hosted. The pricing here too would lead to a meal of around Rs 3 to 4,000 for two without alcohol. Sites such as Zomato have online menus so you could get an idea of the prices from there.
- Both places have an extensive bar menu