All the cheap eats in Tulum town were a nice option to have, but the town wasn’t the reason to come to Tulum and wasn’t the nicest place to hang out. Although attractive as it is down by the Caribbean coast the dining options certainly got decidedly more expensive, even for fairly basic food.
The vibe down here is different to the town too, with a upmarket bohemian feel to the place, the tree canopied road, the narrow lanes, the slow moving traffic, on the pedestrian and cycle heavy, street and the presence of higher quality accommodation showed a different type of guest stays here. The more moneyed holiday maker rather than the traveller, the people who come here to relax and enjoy rather than to experience too much culture. These higher rollers seem to have demanded a certain design aesthetic, for the chic boho coastal look is nailed by many of the shops and stores down here.
Judging by the prices I am not sure if those that come here are too concerned about their finances, this is easily the most expensive area in Mexico I have seen.
This moneyed crowd do provide the basis for higher cost, and higher class restaurants, I was lucky enough to get a table in two of them, both pricey for anywhere, astronomical for Mexico. Both had the same USP, not an uncommon one on this stretch of beach without mains power, cooking exclusively on wood fired stoves and grills, a smart option when all the power comes from a generator.
Hartwood was the first of the two restaurants I ate at, a particularly tricky place to get a reservation for, they only accept reservations a month in advance, but open at 5:30pm for walk in diners, so we joined the queue waiting at the door at 5pm. We got in, but there were plenty at the back of the queue who didn’t.
The appeal here has to be the food ethos, all the produce used is as local as possible and all of the cooking is done using a wood fired heat source, wood fire heats the oven and the embers are used for grilling. The dishes are Mexican inspired, but served with contemporary design, a cool concept indeed and an experience I was interested to try.
The blackboard menu changes from day to day, depending on the produce available on the day, much depends on what the fisherman have caught and what the farmers have growing. The sea is under 100 metres away and with the coastal chic all around us we focused on the local seafood options.
This was a great starter dish, the lime cured snapper tender, with a light raw fish chew. The citric flavours were not too strong and ate complimented by the addition of fresh avocado, radish, serrano chilli and cucumber, the chilli adding a little zing but not enough heat to overpower any of the subtle flavours. I thought the use of a little sweet pickled onion was smart, using a different astringent flavour to counter balance the lime, the fresh anise herb blasts from the small herba santa leaves were simply lovely.
The beautiful char on the prawns struck me instantly, the sweet aroma coming from the charred heads and tails reminded me of making bisque, with its heavy prawn aroma. The fermented pineapple sauce had a relish like quality to it, with a sweet and sharp flavour hints of the red chillies filled my mouth seductively and the unmistakable taste of peanuts used to thicken the sauce created the most original satay flavour I have eaten in sometime. I chomped through a few beetroot greens, added for texture and colour to reach the flavour paste of red mole resting under the prawns, rich, spicy and sadly short lived.
Filete de pargo
The charred fillet of red snapper was fresh and moist, a really pleasant and refreshing dish to eat, the beet and swiss chard salad crisps, the candied pineapple jam a cracking mix of tart and sweet and the cumin and habanero cream adding a little zing and a richness at the same time. The grilled avocado, lime and yucca squares seemed more of a nod to the traditional than for any creative benefit.
Whole salt roasted beetroot. Spiced avocado cream
Simply put this beetroot side dish was one of the best beetroot dishes I have ever eaten, it appeared to be simply plucked from the ground, roasted whole with plenty of salt and served all blackened and charred on the delicious avocado cream.
The savoury part of the meal had been pretty damned good, so it was well worth while investigating the sweet elements available. Of the three options available, two dishes appealed the most.
Smoked chocolate mousse
Served in a half coconut shell, topped with a cocoa and oregano crumble and candied orange it was rich, a little too dense to be called a mousse but the faint smoke flavour and the hint of habanero ganache hiding in the bottom of the cup added a delightful chilli chocolate flavour to the mix.
Simply topped with poached and glazed zapote and candied sesame. The overly sweet zapote and candied sesame eating well with the under sweet and rich flan, really I just find it hard to go past a good flan this one was rather good indeed.
Having tried Hartwood I was quite keen to try the other restaurant of similar style and calibre, many of the reviews of one mentioned the other, normally those guests had tried both restaurants, having missed out on a walk in set in Hartwood they walked the short distance to Arca to try their luck.
Arca itself is a more refined space specifically designed boho chic, with a design feature that would not look out of place as an upmarket restaurant anywhere in the world. The look of the place and the menu available certainly looked smart, the service was prompt and efficient but once it came to the delivery of the food I can’t say I was too happy.
The food here is all wood fired, but all came out a little over charred, leaving a taste on my palate after the meal I’d have described as burnt. It was tolerable when eating and even a little expected when eating in wood fired venue but inexcusable when a restaurant is charging American prices.
From the menu we ordered a few dishes to share. They certainly all looked the part, but the finish on the cooking let them all down.
Roasted bone marrow tamarind and pasilla glace charred scallion salsa, pickled red onion flowers, house grilled bread was served on coals, still sizzling. It looked great, the glaze was excellent and the marrow gooey and delectable, the bread however over toasted.
Lobster esquitte, grilled lobster tail, heirloom corn, chipotle butter, pickled red onion, watercress, cheese from Chiapas. Credit where credit is due, this dish was excellent.
Grilled octopus al pastor guajillo adobe, lentil puree, lentil chips, grocella and xcatic salsa, epazote escabeche radishes. All the garnishes of this dish where tasty and full of flavour, masking the char on the octopus a little, but after a while the char came back to haunt me, it was like the octopus had been burned during the tenderising process, not just at the end when it was given to the coals, it was obviously over charred, and even avoiding these little tendrils I was left with an unpleasant taste.
Obviously we didn’t bother with desserts, didn’t feel like throwing good money after burnt food.