A Mexican Trail

Hannah Nesbitt went on a gastronomic adventure to Isla Mexican Kitchen, where traditional flavours and cultural heritage take centre stage.

With its prime location situated on the picturesque Porto Arabia boardwalk, Fact dining awards nominee Isla Mexican Kitchen makes a great spot for some traditional dishes, overlooking the boats on the marina. The indoor seating allows you to immerse yourself in the vibrant and warm traditional Mexican décor, your eyes will be drawn to the bold and busy hand-painted murals on the walls and the papel picado – cut paper banners, strung across the ceiling. Wrought iron chandeliers add to the rustic feel, providing a homely and cosy glow. In contrast, the outdoor terrace provides large colourful tables, with festive string lights adding to the lively and joyous spirit of the restaurant.

Mexican food is steeped in centuries of tradition, with recipes being passed through generations of families, retaining its historic ingredients and displaying the country’s rich cultural heritage and love of flavour and spices. Isla Mexican Kitchen is no exception to this, offering a vast menu of traditional Mexican dishes.

One of Mexico’s most famous street foods is the taco. With more than a thousand varieties, each chef and region offers their own take on the traditional dish, with flavours being combined to make modern twists.

Chef Jesus talked us through his choice of ingredients and their significance in the creation of each dish. With 10 tantalising taco options on the menu to choose from, we were spoilt for choice. The small, bite-sized portions made it easy to mix and match, perfect for sharing with family and friends, ensuring you get to taste all that’s on offer. Despite the presence of chilli in many dishes, the flavours remain balanced, with a subtle kick.

The restaurant’s bestselling option – Taco De Deshebrada, was a firm favourite of ours. With slow cooked shredded beef adobo, marinated in a complex combination of spices and flavours to create a rich and juicy filling, it was clear to see why this is a winner with returning customers.

For those seeking a vegetarian alternative, there’s the Tacos De Rajas Con Crema. It was served on a white flour tortilla and was a delicious alternative to all the meat options on the menu. This taco contained a mix of onions, peppers and mushrooms with crunchy sweetcorn in cream.

Ceviche is the traditional Latin American method for preparing fresh fish. Originating from the Puebla region in Mexico, this classic dish at Isla contained only the freshest of ingredients, with the catch of the day, red snapper, being the star ingredient. The thinly sliced radish and sprigs of coriander garnish added texture and bite.

The main dish, Mole con Pollo, was surprisingly unique and flavoursome. Created by combining more than 30 ingredients, including chilli, nuts, seeds and spices, it was served with a tangy tomato mix and Mexican rice. It was an intriguing addition to our evening. Most surprising in the long list of ingredients to this chicken dish was dark chocolate, adding a bitter-sweet taste and a smooth creamy texture. The thick, rich sauce smothered the tender chicken pieces, which heightened the overall appeal.

During our visit, which coincided with the Holy Month of Ramadan, we were treated to an exclusive Iftar set menu. Wholesome yet simple dishes were carefully combined to create a delicious meal to break the fast. On the menu was a delicious roasted and charred tomato soup. The smoky flavour and smooth texture were complemented by the crunchy contrast in the Flautitas de Birria, a Mexican take on a spring roll – flaky filo pastry, stuffed with birria lamb and topped with firm halloumi and fresh tomatoes. The main course on this menu was half a roasted chicken and Mexican rice with beans. The simplicity of the dish allowed for the delicious flavours to be the main event. A green salad with a light and zingy lime dressing was the perfect accompaniment.

A spectacular ending to our Mexican feast was a dessert carousel, once again inviting a sharing concept. A colourful fruit medley was accompanied by Tres Leches and Mexican flan, churros and a trio of ice cream. The two more substantial and filling desserts were the Tres Leches and the Mexican flan, a creamy custard-based dish with a crunchy caramelised surface.

The churros, a classic Mexican favourite, boast an age-old recipe handed down from chef Jesus’ grandmother. The sugar-frosted dough was perfect for dipping into the ice cream, while the fresh fruit provided a lighter alternative. Each course highlighted the depth of Mexican flavours and the skill of the chef in creating them. ✤