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Cactus Blue, Fulham Road SW3 6HR Tel:020 7823 7858

Susie Rowbottom takes a tequila or two in her stride

Deep cedar green
Golden edged hue
Shades of silver
Cactus Blue

Cactus Blue is located at the quietly fashionable end of the Fulham Road, glass-fronted and sophisticated. Beyond the impressive facade there is a magnificent under-lit marble bar, around which one can perch on springy bar stools and happily spend an hour enjoying a bottle of rather good house wine (La Croix Blanc Vin de Pays d'Oc, £9.75), or sip cocktails (Champagne Cocktail, £5.25). The lighting in the evening is subdued and relaxing, the ambience warm and soothing, reminiscent of the desert after sundown. An Indian artist from Santa Fe was responsible for the stylish decor, using native American artefacts, paintings and fabrics. The look is modern ethnic - there's attractive ironwork including a fabulous gem-studded chandelier and a balconied upper restaurant area around the square bar giving a lofty feel. The cosy restaurant downstairs is buzzy without being noisy, full of desert tones and burnished copper glinting in the candlelight - all adding up to plenty of atmosphere.

You can be guaranteed that you have never seen a menu quite like this before, and you may need guidance, which the waiter will be happy to give. The food is eclectic, New Mexico meets Europe interpreted by Chef Andrew Barber, who trained under celebrity chef Nico Landenis. He used to be at The Fulham Road, which gives the clue that this is no fast food joint.

Faced with a delicious choice of appetizers with unfamiliar names (quesadillas and tamales, for instance), we were relieved to be given a selection to try. All the food looked as amazing as it sounded, Tamales come wrapped in a decoratively sculpted maize husk. Cactus Blue do all their own home curing, and the Tequila Cured Wild Salmon with Potato Flour Tortilla, Creme Fraiche and Black Caviar, (£5.25) was sublime. Amongst the quesadillas (a sort of stuffed pancake) is a fascinating sounding Roast Squash, Peppers and Jack Cheese version, with Chile, Lime and Sour Cream Dip (£4.75) - truly delicious. I would have liked to try some Cactus Blue Mussels with Vera Cruz Salsa (£4.95) or the equally exoctic Blackwater Crab Stack, Papaya Salsa, Ginger and Flat Parsley Jus (£5.95) but I forged on to the main course.

I plumped for Pumpkin Seed Crusted Tuna with Spiced Mashed Potato, Crispy Onion Rings, Smoked Mango and Corn Salsa (£11.95) - not a dish for the faint-hearted! I was assured the tuna would be pink - it wasn't, but this was the only disappointment, I never knew mashed potato could be this exciting. My companion had a Grilled Chicken Fajita with Smoked Peppers and Black Beans (£11.95). Tortillas came attractively wrapped in a banana leaf, with little pots of sour cream, tomato salsa and guacamole, and the dish involved a fair amount of dexterity for the self-assembly, but the spicy result was worth it.

The wine list definitely veers towards the New World, so feeling in the mood for experimentation we went for a white from Mexico (Baja California Fumé Blanc, £14.00), which was a fragrant, well-balanced accompaniment to the robust flavours of the food: we had chosen well!

From the dessert menu (all at £4.25) I opted for Slow Baked Tamarillos with Mascarpone and Biscotti. I was told that tamarillos are a sort of tree tomato from Brazil, they tasted like a sharp, bittersweet plum - perfect if, like me, you don't care for over-sweet puddings. The classic Key Lime Pie, by comparison, was for the sweet-toothed. For chocaholics there is a Mocha-Chocolate and Pecan Tart, which might also have tempted me.

Cactus Blue pride themselves on their selection of 40 sipping tequilas - these are aged for four to six years and infused with flavours such as aniseed, so you don't have to slug them down in one gulp. We risked one each as a digestif - Herraduro Anejo (£4.50) and Perfidio Crock (£6.50). The latter has been aged in oak barrels for six years, with a resulting smoothness that I wouldn't normally associate with tequila. Worth trying.

The service was very good, appropriately latin and not at all obsequious. The average cost of a three-course dinner for two with wine came to a little under £60 - extremely good value when you fancy something a little different.

Susie Rowbottom, 23 February 1998

Cactus Blue, 86 Fulham Road, London SW3 6HR Tel:020 7823 7858

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