Tuesday, 13 April 2010

La Perla

28 Maiden Lane

A friend is moving to Texas so we decided to mark his passing with some Tex Mex at the Texas Embassy cantina on Trafalgar Square. Unfortunately, I had to cancel our booking after I checked their menu and discovered they don't appear to use fresh lime juice in their margaritas. Instead, since Mexico is almost Texas, geographically speaking, we shifted our sights to La Perla, an interesting looking Mexican restaurant that specialises in tequila - and even sells its own brand.

The first thing to report is the incredible happy hour - 4pm to 7pm every day. Arriving at ten to seven, we acted quickly and ordered the following for between £3.15 and £3.75 each:

Ocho tequila sour
: This was a long, refreshing tequila drink, served in a pint glass with soda water, lime, "blood" orange bitters and plenty of ice. The taste resembled a slightly watery margarita, which come summer wouldn't be something to sniff at.

Pisco sour: This was my first taste of Pisco, a young brandy made from muscat grapes. It was mixed with sugar, lemon juice and a dash of angostura bitters, and served on the rocks, producing a dry, bitter-sour apperitif-style drink that is probably not for everyone.

Pear and vanilla margarita (left): My favourite! Vanilla-infused tequila, agave nectar, fresh lemon juice and pear puree shaken and served on the rocks with a lime garnish. I was half-expecting the vanilla to lend the drink that familiar taste of processed essence, but this was altogether different. The bartender said they make their own "vanilla tequila curado" (essentially a silver tequila that has been naturally flavoured) by adding split vanilla pods to a bottle and letting it sit for a couple of weeks. It made a delicious drink that was sweet without being overly sugary.

During dinner, a couple of us ordered La Perla's bog-standard House Margarita (right), featuring that Jose Cuervo gold mixto nonsense (I know, but at £3.15 it was practically free!). It came frozen and with a salt rim, without prompting, which I guess is how they like it, but it tasted fine (particularly after our aperitifs) - plenty of tequila and just enough lime.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about La Perla (full menu here) is the existence of its own premium tequila line, called Ocho, a collaboration between Tomas Estes, the founder of Pacifico Group, of which La Perla is part, and the Camarena family distillery.

We ordered 35ml pours of Ocho's reposado and anejo tequilas to share after dinner. I have to say I was surprised by how fully the agave flavours came through. Both still retained a sharpish cactus-like taste - even the anejo, whose ageing in oak (for between one and three years) is usually enough to smooth the peppery edges a little more than was evident here. They were enjoyable, certainly, but not necessarily something to rave about.

La Perla Covent Garden was a top find, and for reasons of equality and justice, I should probably visit the other branch off Tottenham Road before too long. Then there's their sister venue, Cafe Pacifico, also in Covent Garden. And thus the wheels of booze keep turning.

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