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Thursday, 12 June 2014

El Nivel, Covent Garden

 (Easy Rider!)

Mezcal is having a moment in London's better bars. Deservedly so. It may still be a niche product in the UK today, but long ago and far away, tequila's sexy sister had me from hello. On a wild night south of El Paso, we first locked lips in a backstreet bodega. What drew the 20-year-old me to Mistress Mezcal was her ability to render me para' without the usual loss of speech, use of limbs and the inevitable chucking-out time up-chuck shame. Hers was a more subtle, cerebral high; comfortably numb, as if shot full of peyote, quaaludes and stardust to a damped-down trippy soundtrack of Santana, The Doors, Hendrix, Curtis Mayfield,  America's A Horse With No Name and a dose of dirty dancing salsa. Like the best burlesque artistes, mezcal sheds her layers slowly, reeling you in, intriguing, tantalising and, ultimately, leaving you begging for more. If your experience of mezcal is of the worm-infested acid touted by tacky tramps in stetsons variety, get yourself an education at El Nivel, a pared-down 30's Latino-style bar, lurking, unannounced, behind what looks like a cupboard door to the left of the entrance to La Perla restaurant. Named after the Mexico City cantina wherein renegades Che Guevara and Castro conspired, la Perla (an upscale departure from its Café Pacifico group siblings' format) aims to revolutionise attitudes to Mexico's oft-maligned national spirits - mezcal and tequila. Collated by the Café Pacific head honcho/ Jack Kerouac manqué, Tomas Estes (pictured) - an authority on all things agave (see http://fortequilalovers.com/tomas-estes/ ) - they are served here with top notch antojitos, or "little cravings" as the the collective noun for Mexican street food translates. Purists sip theirs neat, but mezcal is magic in cocktails too. Ease yourself in with La Poderosa (Vida mezcal, agave nectar, lime, cardamom and lavender bitters and fizz). Follow that with a mezcal fix made with QuiQuiRiQui, roasted pineapple syrup, lime, Cynar and saltwater spray - smokey, complex and rewarding at £9. Now, you're ready to go all the way, naked. See? You're hooked! When it comes to mainlining mezcal, like Curtis sang it, "I'm your pusherman." http://tinyurl.com/aq5lk54

26 Maiden Lane WC2E 7JS 7240 7400 http://www.cafepacifico-laperla.com