Chijmes, like Boat Quay and Clarke Quay, are enclaves which go through cyclical periods of hip popularity, passe ghost-town-ness, and revamping facelifts. I've seen Chijmes undergo just about five different overhauls, since it was converted from a convent school to a lifestyle hub, just so to keep the heritage complex vibrant and the crowds over-flowing.
After the recent reconditioning, Chijmes is in vogue again, with a slew of unique restaurant and bar options launched over the past year. Where it was a depressing desert on a Friday night just 2 years ago, it's now a trendy, exciting destination to toast TGIF.
The most happening restaurants are alfresco, facing the astro-turf lawn, where live gigs lend to Chijmes' convivial atmosphere. Note that it tends to get a little deafening at times, so sit a little further away if you actually want to hear what your party is saying.
El Mero Mero is a Mexican restaurant is smack-dab front-and-center where the action is. Great for watching people mill about the courtyard, and awesome for soaking in the buzzy levity. I had a girls' night out-only and loved the ambience, but while the band that night was pretty decent, they sometimes got so loud we found ourselves shouting at one another just to carry on a conversation.
Food-wise, El Mero Mero was commendable. I can't speak to the authenticity of the food, because I've never been to Mexico, but I sure liked it a lot. Even if the kitchen put parsley/cilantro/coriander leaves in half the dishes, despite clear instructions to the contrary.
Service was rough though, and we struggled to get their attention at all, whether to get and refill our iced water, or to take our orders in the first place. We sympathized: the staff looked shorthanded and were clearly frazzled zipping around fast as they could.
The Guacamole ($18) blended avocado with pico de gallo, which mellow creaminess was lifted by a squeeze of the lime.
The guacamole was sided by freshly made tortilla chips, still warm from the oven, and 2 amazing dips, one a spicy green tomatillo sauce that was fiery and a muted salsa that was refreshing.
The Volcan De Queso ($17) breaded and fried cheese sticks, was set in a saucy green tomatillo salsa and served bubbling in a pre-heated earthernware pot. Freshly toasted flour tortillas were excellent in mopping up every last drop of the delicious gravy.
A must-try, the Crunchy Fish Taco ($16) stuffed with blue warehou fish, avocado cubes, oodles of sour cream, dollops of spicy chile, and shredded lettuce was scrumptious. It was sweet and fresh and brimming with clear and crisp flavours.
The El Mero Mero Ceviche ($18) of octopus, prawns and wild fish, cured in a lime and spiced tomato, and studded with avocado, was the best ceviche I've ever had in my life (to confess: I've only had 2 ceviche in my life so that's not really the most accurate marker). The seafood was swimmingly fresh, and clean sweetness was perfectly tempered by the piquant brightness of the sauce.
The Wild Mushroom Tacos ($30), soft corn tortillas laden with shimeiji, guajillo chili, cotija cheese, and coriander, was earthy and juicy.
The Atlantic Grilled Octopus ($28) imbued with the most amazing char from the josper charcoal grill, was plated with corn cream, black garlic paste, and tajin ash. That being said, the octopus would have been a smashing slamdunk if it was taken off the grill about 30 seconds earlier.
The muted sweetness and smoky notes of the Roasted Poblano Pepper ($26) was contrasted by the sweet corn sweet sauce, pungent epazote, and heat of serrano chiles.
For dessert, a must-try was the Roasted Pineapple ($14) caramelised with raw sugarto soften its bite, and served with papantla vanilla ice-cream.
The Tequila Pecan Pie ($14), was nutty and toasty and sumptuous, even if it was barely reminiscent of the liquor. This was accompanied by cinnamon ice-cream.
I was bursting at the seams, and beginning to feel the stirrings of a food-coma, so I got the Raspberry Sorbet ($6), which zesty tart notes was quite the fantastic wake-up call.
El Mero Mero
30 Victoria Street
Tel: 6337 1377
Open Sundays to Wednesdays from 12noon to 3pm for lunch; 5pm to 11pm for dinner;
Thursdays to Saturdays from 12noon to 3pm for lunch; 5pm to 1am for dinner