(Theguardian) – Tacos are a street food favourite, but more authentic Mexican restaurants are popping up
Returning from Mexico, a land whose food heritage is Unesco-protected, travellers share tales of life-changing meals – and no one does this more than chefs. Indeed, René Redzepi is so enamoured of the nation’s cuisine that Noma’s final residency will take place in Tulum next year. And judging by the number of Mexican chefs invited to guest at top UK restaurants (including Enrique Olvera of Pujol and Jorge Vallejo of Quintonil), ours are equally fond of the country’s cooking.
It’s been nine years since Thomasina Miers launched Wahaca with the intention of introducing British palates to Mexican flavours. This year, the group fed more than three million people. The rest of this restaurant sector has also expanded at pace, largely due to mushrooming burrito bar chains. In 2016, Waitrose’s website witnessed hits on Mexican recipes increase exponentially, up 867% for pork fajitas; while Tesco reports that 50% of UK households plump for Mexican due to its relative ease and family friendliness.
Except, what with fajitas being Tex-Mex, and burritos barely known outside the far north it seems we’ve mostly been scoffing an ersatz US take on its neighbour’s plates. But with three Mexican restaurants opening in London within weeks, are these imposters soon to be found out?
The new disparate bunch includes El Pastor, by the Hart brothers of Barrafina-fame, and Crispin Somerville; Breddos Taqueria, the concrete incarnation of the street food outfit; and Corazón by Laura Sheffield, a former manager at Corbin & King.
“It’s like buses, three come along when you’ve been waiting ages for one,” says Breddos’s Nud Dudhia. Their first permanent site sees them take years of street experience and feed it into a menu that nods to regional fare, yet remains theirs.
“Essentially what we’re doing is take ancient recipes and techniques and apply modern flavours and ingredients,” he says. “We’ve mostly gone with the Yucatanian style of cooking, so no electricity or gas, just fire.” Alongside familiar items such as their signature rib-eye and Baja fish tacos, Breddos’s menu features Oaxacan pizzas known as tlayudas.
El Pastór, a dream of the Harts and Somerville since they ran El Colmillo nightclub in Mexico City decades ago, boasts an entire floor devoted to tortilla production, including nixtamilisation, which ensures smoothness of texture via a soaking in limestone solution. “It’s this corn tortilla thing that is so massive,” says Sam Hart. “We’ve got a handmade grinder with volcanic stone rocks and criollo corn, sourced through a third-generation tortilla-maker who works directly with farmers. Criollo is under pressure as hybrid varieties have higher yields, so, in a tiny way, we hope to keep the native breeds alive.”
El Pastór’s menu centres upon Mexico City’s famed al pastor taco, a result of Lebanese migration, which led to the vertical schawarma method being applied to a tower of pork known as a “trompo”. Other dishes include chicharrón de queso, a rolled cheese crisp, and sopa de tortilla. “At El Pastór there will be 10 or 12 freshly made salsas. They’re a big part of what we’re doing, as we feel that the joy of Mexican eating is that you get a taco and then start adding things to it.” says Hart. “It’s like a friendly competition of who can turn theirs into the most delicious thing.”
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For Corazón, Laura Sheffield says: “This is the food I grew up eating. I felt there was room for someone to do it with a little more style; stripping away the Chihuahuas and sombreros and tapping into a part of Mexico that’s beautiful in a way Londoners will appreciate.” Wary Brits barely know the cuisine. Sheffield selected Corazón’s menu accordingly. “We are serving pozole [pork stew] and sikil pak [pumpkin seed dip], really authentic dishes, but then we also have a steak tartare taco.”
As well as this trio of restaurateurs others, such Edson Diaz-Fuentes, are hoping Britain falls for the full scope of the country’s cookery. Last summer, he opened Santo Remedio, with that very purpose. “My aim was to offer things no one had tried, or expected, like aguachile, green ox tongue or pig’s ear confit. I want to change not only perceptions of Mexican food, but also people’s lives by supporting local farmers.” Sadly, following stellar reviews, an electrical fault forced him to close, but he hopes to reopen soon. In the meantime, he’s cheering on the others: “The trend seems unstoppable, and that’s good for everyone. Mexican food can be so healthy and nutritious. Hopefully, with Noma in Mexico, they will show how diverse it is.”