Review: A true flavour of Mexico at Barrio Comida - what to expect from new sister restaurant La Mesa

There can be few restaurants which can boast the laid back atmosphere of a neighbourhood taqueria with views of one of England’s finest buildings. But Barrio Comida isn’t your average dining experience.

Thursday, 7th October 2021, 3:45 pm
Barrio Comida brings the atmosphere of a neighbourhood taqueria to Durham

After chef Shaun Hurrell garnered a huge following from his Barrio Comida pop-up in Newcastle Quayside, he launched the first stand-alone restaurant in February 2020.

A little off-the-beaten track in Durham, in the shadow of the students’ union in Church Street, it’s a short hike from the centre of the city but its position perched high above the Wear means you get to enjoy stunning views of the mighty Durham Cathedral whilst tucking into tacos and tequila.

It may be surrounded by English history, but the restaurant transports you to the heat of a neighbourhood taqueria with its stripped back fittings, deliberately faded hand-written typography on the walls and open kitchen where you can see the fresh corn tortillas being made daily on a specially-imported machine.

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Barrio Comida, Church Street, Durham

Chef Shaun hails from California which, bordering Mexico, shares much of its food culture so authenticity was key when it came to bringing a flavour of Mexico to Durham.

Meaning ‘neighbourhood food’ in Spanish, Barrio Comida’s menu is filled with casual dining dishes designed to be shared and enjoyed with friends and family.

Although pandemic restrictions have now been lifted, the restaurant is still using an app ordering system. Granted, I’m a little technologically challenged with some of these apps and I miss a tangible menu, but this one is easier to use than most.

Tacos are served in pairs and there’s some solid choices from which to choose, such as Birria De Res – Northern style braised beef, served with a

The restaurant was purpose built and first opened in February 2020

cup of its own consomé (£8); Al Pastor – Mexico City style spit roast adobo pork and pineapple (£7), as well as a monthly vegetarian special.

There’s also dips and sides to order for the table, starting from £3, such as pork rinds, tortilla chips and, of course, guacamole.

Each table also gets four varieties of salsa, of varying heat levels, which are given as standard so you can tailor your tacos.

Service was quick and soon after ordering, we were getting stuck into the Pescado tacos (£7), which come laden with Baja-style fried fish and plenty of shaved cabbage salad, xnipec onions and crema to provide a medley of flavours and textures. You’ll probably struggle not to spill any toppings, but this isn’t dainty food: it’s designed to be devoured.

Floor to ceiling windows offer views of Durham Cathedral

The Pollo Al Carbón (£7) also impressed with its charcoal grilled chicken, full of flavour, topped with the kick of salsa macha and a smooth guacamole taquero.

I also really enjoyed the Frijoles Negros – braised black beans, queso and crema (£4) which, although looking like chocolate, is a velvety, savoury dip which is a great alternative to the more obvious guacamole.

Durham is notoriously pricey but our £80 bill, with wine and margaritas, was really fair considering the quality and amount of food.

Drinks

Hand-written signs all add to the aesthetic

Attention to detail continues with the drinks menu, which features some Mexican staples, as well as tipples from further afield.

The house margarita (£8) is a must: El Jimador blanco with reposado, lime, triple sec, agave nectar and a salt rim. But there’s also a good choice of flavoured margaritas, negroni, pina colada, mezcal and more to try if your liver can handle it.

There’s a full wine list on request, but the house choices are way better than most. The white, Ciello Bianco, (£21 a bottle or £4.50 by the glass) is an organic, hazy white packed with fruit that went down a treat with the tacos.

Beer-wise, expect Mexican / California options such as Corona on draught and Modelo, priced from £4.50

La Mesa

Opening a month before the pandemic meant Barrio Comida couldn’t quite get into full flow until now.

Chef Shaun Hurrell in the open kitchen

The purpose-built restaurant was designed with a basement dining room, La Mesa, which can finally open its doors from October 8.

A totally different aesthetic to its upstairs neighbour, La Mesa, translated as ‘the table’ has a subterranean vibe that wouldn’t look out of place in New York with its industrial chic fittings, neon signage, studded leather bar stools, low lighting and ‘hidden’ feel.

Featuring one long chef’s table for communal dining, it will host a set six-eight course tasting menu which will change week to week depending on the seasons and the produce sourced, priced £59 per person with optional wine pairing.

It will operate on Friday and Saturday nights only and will offer a completely alternative dining experience to anything else in Durham featuring dishes inspired by Mexico, as well as closer to home.

Places are reservation only, and are released week to week, at https://www.barriocomida.com/

The pescado taco
A selection of tacos and sides
Tortillas are made daily
La Mesa opens this weekend