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Where is Quiquiriqui hiding? With its red-and-white clad exterior, assorted spitted meats and salad bar, The Golden Grill looks pretty much like any other kebab shop in Shoreditch.
There’s certainly nothing to suggest it might be concealing a genuine Mexican watering hole in its depths. Nothing except for the staff, whose weary directions “around the corner, second door to the left,” suggest they’re rather accustomed to these late night looks of bafflement.
Through the secret entrance and down a flight of stairs insulated with egg cartons lurks Quiquiriqui (pronounced kee-kee-REE-kee) – or “cock-a-doodle-doo” in Spanish. It’s been open nearly four months now, and claims to be the country’s first authentic mezcaleria. I’m expecting bright colours and the tacky displays of Mexicanness that customarily accompany such claims, but I’m surprised and somewhat humbled to find, instead, an unassuming room furnished with salvaged timber, tiles and chalk-scrawled walls. A handsome jukebox reclines on the left, and, backlit in the bar at the end, shelves of mezcal bottles await our attention. Mezcal is a spirit made from the roasted, crushed and fermented hearts of the agave plant. Tequila is a variety of mezcal, but not all mezcals are tequilas. The drink has been steadily gaining popularity around the world, and we’re here to find out why.
We’re met by Jenny, one of the owners and founders of Quiquiriqui. She hands us a Corona each and pours nips of mescal into small earthenware dishes. We’re trying it the traditional way: straight, served with slices of orange dusted in a mixture of salt, chilli and ground-up worm (there’s a vegetarian option for the slightly scoleciphobic). Our first sips are smoky, rich, sweet and complex – kind of like drinking tobacco. We try a few more: some are bright, some are peppery, all with varying degrees of smokiness. There’s a booklet at the bar with a rundown of each mezcal on offer; phrases like “a clod of wet earth” and “some mention an old boot left in a pine forest” go some way toward describing the flavours. Jenny tells us that mezcal production occurs almost entirely out of doors, with the roasting done in huge earthen pits, and the taste is heavily influenced by factors like the variety of agave and the amount of sunlight it receives during growth.
We’re here on a Wednesday so the vibe is fairly mellow, but from Thursday through Sunday Quiquiriqui has DJs playing old rock, modern Cumbia and vintage electro until late. It’s the kind of venue that can handle a few or a fiesta – just so long as you’re there for the mezcal. A blackboard by the bar offers a few stern directions: sip it don’t shoot it, don’t ask for any beverages ‘sin mezcal’. There are a few mezcal cocktails on offer (on the condition that you don’t just drink cocktails…) but I’m not really sure why you’d bother: each mezcal is pretty much a cocktail in itself. After a few tasters of this peppery-sweet, fierce yet oddly mellow spirit, I’m beginning to suspect the truth of the Oaxacan saying, “For everything bad, mezcal, and for everything good, as well.”
More at quiquiriqui.co.uk
words Marion Rankine