El Rey Mezcal Bar
El Rey is a mezcal bar in Kensington Market. It's the latest venture from Grant van Gameren ( Bar Isabel and Bar Raval ) and team; Julio Guajardo and Kate Chomyshyn run the kitchen and Owen Walker's behind the bar.
The space used to be Kensington Cornerstone . Now, the 30-seat saloon by Solid Build & Design incorporates raw brick, arched doorways and terracotta accents for a rustic kind of vibe. An enviable collection of cacti and succulents, along with a collage of Mexploitation images, add pops of colour throughout the room.
The focus at the bar is the ever evolving lineup of mezcals, categorized by species and annotated with places of origin and tasting notes typical of the terroir. There are 35 or so batches of mezcal on offer when I stop in, though the collection is growing as van Gameren meets with mezcaleros to taste and import unique, small batches of this spirit.
The cocktail collection is summery, but will likely change with the seasons. The Mexploitation ($14), for example is a Mai Tai-like libation served in a tall terra cotta vessel. Poured over crushed ice, the blend of tequila and rum is fortified with sherry and sweetened with horgeat, a house made syrup featuring the flavours of horchata; toasted coconut and rice with warm spices.
Foodwise, there's a collection of bar snacks, including morita popcorn ($3) and cacahuate ($6), a snack mix of crunchy peanuts and grasshoppers.
More substantial plates include the ceviche verde ($21), featuring scallops and halibut marinated with chilis, lime and orange juice and finished with fresh herbs.
Sikil pak ($12) is among the off-menu features on offer today. It's a pumpkin seed salsa topped with grilled asparagus and topped with a salsa comprising cured cactus, chopped tomatoes and ancho peppers.
The guacamaya ($9) is perhaps the showstopper of this trip; it's a chicharron torta built on a bolillo bun baked fresh at Bar Isabel. The crispy fried pork skins come dressed with creamy avocado and smoked salsa costena for contrast.
The front patio, flanked by tropical plants, more than doubles El Ray's capacity. The picnic tables will no doubt be the hottest ticket in town this summer.
Photos by Jesse Milns.