One sure-fire way to send a destination straight to the travelpage headlines is to have Rene Redzepi open a pop-up restaurant. As he did with Noma in Tokyo, then Melbourne, so Tulum in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo is next for the Copenhagen-based culinary maestro and his team.
The seven-week Noma pop-up residency runs from 12 April to 28 May in an outdoor restaurant sitting between the jungle and the Caribbean Sea. The multi-course tasting menu and alcohol pairing costs US$750 (RM3,322) per person, including local tax and service charge.
Tulum’s hedonistic, bohemian vibe draws visitors from around the world seeking to kick back in sustainable comfort through yoga sessions on the beach, eco-chic boutiques and healthy dining. The resort’s feel of being in tune with itself comes in part from an extraordinary history, shown by its remarkable clifftop Mayan ruins. Go early in the morning to avoid the crowds and see the sun rise over the ocean, a beautiful spot with a distinct sense of spirituality, regardless of your religion or thinking.
The beach that runs underneath the ruins is one of the key reasons people head to this part of the world. Its sand is the stuff of dreams, the softest white baby powder, the water a perfect azure, while the lack of any large developments ensures it never feels crowded. Among accommodation options on the coast, Nomade is the most chic and sought-after thanks to its low-key celebrity clientele, great menus across two restaurants and a promise to delight body and soul. Its location also makes it perfect to visit the multitude of cool boutiques that have sprung up in the last few years. Some sit in recycled shipping containers, others have barely thatched roofs, but all offer fashion, jewellery, art and homeware that is reassuringly expensive and sustainable in equal measure.
One of the reasons Redzepi fell for Tulum is a restaurant called Hartwood. He called it “the place I dream of" and after having dinner there, I agree with him. Chefs cook on open flames in a space cut out from the jungle, as tables lit by oil lamps cast atmospheric glows amid the darkness. The day’s menu is read from chalkboards by the wait staff, while the international clientele kick back with first-class cocktails. Octopus is grilled simply but beautifully, covered in vibrant salsa and fresh lime, but it’s the vegetables that steal the show. A salt-baked beetroot with peppered cream was truly sublime and a salad of jicama was way better than its translation as ‘Mexican turnip’ would have suggested.
For the perfect nightcap, Ahau is a bar a few steps away from the founders of the Burning Man festival, bringing all the right ecological and alcohol credentials.
Oh, for the love of tacos
But of course coming to Mexico and not eating tacos is borderline criminal, especially when they are as life-changingly good as in Tulum. The best from a week of research came at a humble spot called Honorio. People wait in line patiently before taking away piles of freshly pressed and griddled tortillas, made by a battalion of ladies, and topped with sensational combinations such as slow-cooked Pibil pork marinated in oranges, fall-apart beef or peerless roast pork with crispy chicharron crackling. Don’t expect plates or cutlery, but do expect to get your fingers dirty with some of the most vibrant flavours and ingredients in town. Sensational. Honorio is situated in the pueblo part of Tulum, inland from the beach. It’s not the prettiest part of the town, but to miss its myriad charms would be a huge shame. Local markets and churches alike explode with colour, while there’s a younger feel to some of the bars and cafes, away from the more expensive beach road. One place not to miss is Ki’bok with coffees that would credit the best baristas in Sydney, but with an even more laid-back vibe to it.
There’s no doubt that Tulum’s star is continuing to rise and the Noma pop-up will only add to its popularity. But my unmistakable emotion on leaving was the desire to return, for longer.
The last word should go to Redzepi who perfectly sums up both his project and the area’s unique appeal, “Exposed to the climate, Noma will be hot, steaming and unpredictable. Billowing smoke and the orange glow of flames will define us as all cooking will take place over the fire. It will be wild like the Mexican landscape as we share our interpretation of the tastes from one of the most beautiful countries we’ve come to know."