22 Rivington Street, London, EC2A 3DY www.santoremedio.co.uk
Areeba! Nick finds a Mexican restaurant that doesn’t make him go’meeeehhh’.
Look, I’ll come right out and say it; I’ve never thought that much of Mexican food. I ate a fair bit of it in California when I was there for a year in my’teens, but of course it was only Taco Bell and even my American cousins knew that was hardly the real deal.
Then there was a place in Covent Garden in the 80s where we’d occasionally go for lunch, I think it was the only Mexican restaurant in London at the time. It served various kinds of beige mulch on red hot plates. We just drank the beer because the pubs closed at 2:15 but if you were eating, you could still drink in a restaurant.
Then came Wahaca, the first one so badly designed acoustically that every time a diner dropped a fork it sounded like someone was putting a dustbin through the front window. I never did work out what Mexican Market Eating was either, but then I’ve never been to a Mexican market.
And so, kind of begrudgingly, I have been persuaded to come here to Santo Remedio. The menu sounds interesting; octopus and ox tongue, for example, and not just the usual shredded pork drowned in chili sauces etc. There are no babies in bacofoil, aka burritos, thank goodness.
It’s a compact/bijou/very small, (delete as appropriate)’taqueria’ but cheerfully decorated and the staff, along with chef owner (ex Wahaca) and wife, are as sunny as Christmas Day in Sydney. A quick resume of the specials (which I immediately forget because they all are in Spanish) is given, and we’re off into two cocktails.
A margarita on the rocks for her and a’mescalita’ for me. I still get a silly schoolboy thrill when I hear a drink has mezcal in it because I can’t shift the notion that it might be naughtily hallucinogenic. This is a spicy little number and redolent, slightly, of a garden pond. Which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy it because I do.
Guacamole next, how many culinary sins have come bearing that name? Not this one because it’s smooth, citrusy and chunky in equal measure, the avocado is butter soft and has no distressing black bits and comes with nacho chips of white and blue corn. The latter a bit of a rarity, an Ark of Taste product and much more interesting than the usual triangles of recycled cardboard often found elsewhere.
We also use these chips to scoop up some salsas; tomatillo salsa verde and pasilla salsa roja. It’s obligatory in a review of Mexican food to use the words’vibrant’ and’authentic’ at some point, so they go in here. And to be fair, the salsas did meet both criteria very well.
One special I did note and ate was pasilla chillies stuffed with plantain and avocado leaf black beans, served on a blue corn tortilla. This I liked a lot, the chillies and plantain forming a bit of a paste that was sweet and gently spicy all at once.
We went for a selection of sharing dishes generally and one I particularly wanted to try was Baby Potato Flautas, because one can get too meaty in a Mexican restaurant. These were rolled tacos filled with baby potatoes that had been lightly smashed and mixed with JalapeÃƒÂ±o, coriander, spring onions and doused in lime juice. Served with avocado salsa, pink pickled onions and’artisanal’ Gringa Dairy Chihuahua Cheese.
They were a bit messy to eat, Z gave me a hard stare when I suggested in my bleary middle-aged way that I might try and use cutlery, and a fair bit went up my sleeves but they ended up as probably my favourite dish of the night.
More taco action came in the shape of Beef Barbacoa Tacos made with six-hour slow-braised beef with chili ancho and pasilla, all served with salsa roja. This I was less fond of, I think I may have had enough slow-braised meat for one lifetime now, it’s become a bit of a clichÃƒÂ© across London. We washed these down with Mexican beer, not I am pleased to say, Sol but Negra Modelo a light brown beer, slightly sweet to work with the chili.
Less predictable on the plate was Octopus with Yerba Santa and JalapeÃƒÂ±o Mojo de Ajo. This was a grilled octopus appendage with roasted carrots in ancho dressing. The octopus was as soft as any I’ve had in Galicia, where they know what to do with an octopus, and it had a good smoky char and slight pepperiness from the’Holy weed’. The sweet roasted carrots were a good thing, but the hard and rather inedible skin on the squash less so.
And then we had the ox tongue, which many people have raved about on social media, but were they just trying to be all butch I wondered? As it turned out this was served inoffensively sliced and with pipiÃƒÂ¡n rojo, a paste made from roasted tomatoes and peanuts.
The sauce unsurprisingly made me think of satay and the tongue tasted rather like undercooked liver, but then that’s no bad thing in my book. I felt the peanut sauce was a bit overpowering for the meat, but definitely a dish you won’t be finding served in a High Street and worth seeking out.
Churros with luscious cajeta (goat caramel) revived memories of late nights in Spain stumbling back to the rented villa as dawn broke, and an unusual coffee with orange and cinnamon reduction at the bottom of the cup was a bit of a livener to send us out.
I still feel Mexican food is a bit samey overall, too many ingredients come around again and again, but Santo Remedio is definitely a lot better than average with cooking up on another level of interest entirely.