This local little restaurant and bar keeps its customers happy serving authentic Mexican food and badass tequila cocktails until late. You'll need to make a reservation, even on a school night, as the small tables fill up quickly.
Tucked in a little enclave of Victoria Park village, Machete is probably only known to you if you frequent the excellent Ginger Pig butchers or high-end chippie, the Fish House, opposite. More on a bike route than a tube line, Machete has somehow remained under the radar in its first year or so of opening, but you can tell that locals are proud of their quirky, boho Mexicana favourite. Music moves from reggae to mariachi and swing, through to the barman's favourite Primal Scream album at the end of the night. The bar takes up most of the front part of the room (and is actually bigger than the cubby-holed kitchen behind it) but that just illustrates why the food is simple and uncomplicated, and the cocktails are showy and fun.
There's a funky, tattoo-style chic to this place; they've tapped into the bold colours of a Mexican paint palette, with a few cacti springing up, but they've also added their own touches with plastic colanders for lampshades, canteen-style metal plates, and a friendly terrace out the back with mismatching tables and chairs.
The menu covers off all the street food classics, with nachos, burritos, tacos, ceviche, quesadillas and salads. There are just a couple of options of each and the menu doesn't change that often, but Machete does what it knows best: understated dishes that hang simply on the best ingredients.
The octopus ceviche (£9) is more sophisticated than traditional sea bass ceviche (£8.50); the octopus is tender and really shines amongst the lime, tomato, pickled onions and creamy avocado. The sea bass however is cut a bit too small, and seems to disappear amongst the sharp red pearls of pomegranate and rambunctious dressing. Beef chipotle quesadillas (£8.50) have a deep, slow-cooked meaty filling with oozing cheese, wrapped in a slightly crisped tortilla. Tacos (£2.50 each) are served as so many street vendors do in Mexico, in a double layer of soft flour tortilla to catch the juicy, pork carnitas filling. Jicama is the best salad (£8); if you've never tried this Mexican tuber, it's a crisp, almost water chestnut texture with the sweetness of apples, but the confidence of any other root vegetable. It makes for a refreshing and light salad, unlike anything you’ve tasted before.
The cocktail list is almost as long as the menu, divided into tequila and vodka based creations. Viejo Amigo is a favourite (£8.50); smooth Herradura Reposado tequila is sweetened by agave syrup and cardamom seeds, with plenty of ice. Strawberry Oaxacan Mule (£7.95) is a fruity and long mezcal blend, with homemade rhubarb syrup cut through by ginger beer and lime. Mr X Mead's (£7.95) is a little too sweet with vanilla liquor, and needed a squish of lime to bring it back to its senses, and el Pincho Zombie is slightly overpriced muddle of pineapple (£9). Mexican beers are also on offer as a simpler way to wash down your quesadilla.
The Last Word
Machete delivers fantastic Mexican food, served with flair: come here for interesting ingredients, fun cocktails, and real Mexican flavours. It may have a small menu, but it deserves a large, loyal following.