Power of She at Ella Canta: it’s all about the women

by Jo Lamiri - Sunday March 17, 2019 4:03 pm

The blurb may ‘call on Mexico’s female icons to ‘lead a parade of colour, flavour and honour’ but, in fact, these dishes are a celebration of Mexico’s home cooking.

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There’s a focus on females this month at Mayfair’s Ella Canta… appropriately enough, since Martha Ortiz is one of London’s hottest female chefs (if she were a chilli on the Scoville Index, she’d be a scorching Scotch bonnet for sure).

But this is not your typical London-style Mexican cuisine. Thankfully there’s no refried beans (which always seem to resemble cat puke), tangle of tastes nor over-liberal use of limes and chillies.

Instead, diners get a five-course tasting menu that piques the taste buds. A glass of Perrier-Jouet Champagne opens proceedings (“Champagne, madam?” has to be one of the most ridiculous questions ever!) as you look at the menu.

For refinement, visit the à la carte menu, with its sophisticated takes on tamales, tostadas and tequila. The Menu of She seems to be less about Mexico’s clean, vibrant dishes than Friday night comfort food: hongos al ajillo, espuma de queso (wild mushrooms with ajillo, cheese foam) – actually, it was a sauce – was very enjoyable, for example, and a riff on queso flameado, a Mexican fondue-type dish of melted cheese and chorizo.

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The appetiser of octopus ceviche was a real palate prepper, accompanied by a neat little crispy tostada. This was followed by queso asado a la parrilla con salsa de chile papilla mixe (grilled cheese, chilli sauce) which rather disappointingly featured halloumi instead of the more usual provolone.

In Mexico, this dish is often served when friends get together. But be warned: the grilled cheese sits in a lake of very spicy chilli sauce. The intriguing cactus garnish was a little like diced green peppers in texture, but sweeter.

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At this point I was somewhat sidetracked by a truly sensational cocktail. This margarita was pepped up by the addition of ginger syrup and pear purée, then dusted with pepper. Others feature exotica including butterfly pea flower, avocado honey and anise liqueur.

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My favourite dish on the menu was up next: arroz a la tumbada con juiba frita, seafood rice with crispy tempura of soft shell crab, with a lime wedge for squeezing. The rice was soupy, more like a risotto, and the crab was sweet and succulent.

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A prettily pink palate cleanser of guava ice cream and compote heralded the richness of  magret de pato con mole poblano, duck breast, mole poblano.

This is the sauce made with seeds, spices, chillies and chocolate for which Mexico is often maligned. Chocolate in a savoury sauce? But it was a good foil for the duck, the accompanying cauliflower cooked in duck fat.

Dessert cooled things down. After a series of carb and protein-rich plates, helado de miel, higos, nueces caramelizades, crema de maiz – ice cream, figs candied pecans and corn cream served on a pancake brought light, refreshing elements.

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The Menu of She celebrates the female icons of Mexico. So it was fitting that the end game involved Frida Kahlo kisses.

These two red chocolate lips filled with fruit purée sat alongside a charming little wooden painted contraption that revolved via a small handle on the side.

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Women’s heads, in pairs to represent female solidarity, turned full circle, representing life’s ups and downs. Heartwarming stuff. And not a refried bean in sight.

The five-course tasting menu, Power of She is available at Ella Canta until 31 March, £70 per head, to include a glass of Perrier-Jouet Champagne and £5 from every meal will go to support Mazi Mas, a social enterprise in the UK that helps women from migrant backgrounds to build careers in the food industry. Visit ellacanta.com

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