IT WAS time to go Down Mexico Way - with a visit to the Lone Star State thrown in.

Having sampled some of the more conventional restaurants in the New Forest we were delighted to find ourselves in Del Rio, a Tex-Mex restaurant in the heart of Lyndhurst.

Tex-Mex is a fusion of US and Mexican cuisines, famous for its liberal use of meat and shredded cheese, plus beans, spices and peppers.

Del Rio looks tiny from the outside but appearances can be deceptive.

The restaurant is long rather than wide. Having passed several tables and the bar I was starting to wonder just how far back the building went when we were shown to our table, a cosy booth almost opposite an inner sanctum where the chefs were hard at work.

Every few minutes a waiter emerged from the kitchen carrying a sizzling dish, each one more exciting than the last.

Dubbed the only Tex-Mex restaurant in the Forest, Del Rio is run by Debbie and Duane Lewis, who also manage four pubs in the district.

They wanted their new venture to be exciting and different and have succeeded in creating a mouth-watering menu that combines the hearty red meat of Texas with the spicy flavours of Mexico.

Del Rio has a stylish, trendy-looking interior far removed from the traditional and slightly staid appearance of many other eateries in the Forest.

The walls are covered with cowboy-related images and the furniture is characterised by fun colours that stand out but are also easy on the eye. Even the condiments are colour-coded - red for salt (rather appropriate, given all the health warnings) and green for pepper.

Del Rio also boasts a cosy sofa area where customers can relax over a glass of wine, a cold beer or one of its legendary cocktails.

But what of the food?

The menu was divided vertically - Tex on the left, Mex on the right.

My main course - a flat iron steak - was thick and juicy and so tender that my steak knife was almost superfluous. A spicy highlight was a large portion of train wreck fries - chips topped with cheese, bacon, jalapenos and ranch dressing.

My dessert was a delicious plum crumble accompanied by pouring cream, not the "shaving foam" variety often found elsewhere.

My wife had a risotto followed by a huge slice of raspberry-flavoured cheesecake that defeated even her hearty appetite.

Being a big cheesecake fan I volunteered to finish it for her. It was just a little too sweet for my taste - and a few raspberries sprinkled on the top would have been nice.

Our verdict? Friendly and attentive staff, a great place to meet up with friends - and food guaranteed to get the tastebuds tingling.