Mexican

Crazy Homies – Notting Hill

Crazy Homies is crazy, no doubt about it. Whatever you think about the name and/or the decor though, I can’t fault the cuisine. The place is routinely lauded as some of the city’s best Mexican, and for this American food blogger abroad, I’d have to agree. In fact, the only  negative part about my experience was realising that I lived about 15 minute walk away from the place for 3 years, and it took me having an American visitor/new UK transplant who was desperately missing black beans, to finally go.

I had told my compatriot the harsh truth –  that Mexican food in London is largely hit and miss. A sea of takeaway street food lunch burritos (of which there are some gems), Wahaca, a smattering of unremarkable chain restaurants and the obligatory lone nacho starter that so many dreary pubs and bars tend to have on the menu. Not the best state of affairs.

Luckily for us, Crazy Homies breaks the mould. It’s a fresh, and authentic approach that includes all the staple goods like the oh-so-tender slow cooked Pork Picadillo Taquitos (£6.95) and appropriately goopy Spiced Chicken Nachos (£7.95)  we shared as starters.

For mains, I wanted nothing more than the Beef Carnitas Enchiladas (£11.75), which – if I’m honest – was a rip off for the size of it, but was still very tasty – the black beans especially. (Side note: WHY aren’t black beans more popular here? They’re so lovely and versatile!)

The burritos on the table got similar reviews, though I can’t confess to having had a taste. This was the part of the meal where the only sounds you could hear at the table were those of belt buckles expanding.

It was a fantastic evening with fantastic food and fantastic friends. I feel slightly guilty for complaining about the fantastic price tag, considering (it ended up being about £40/head with nibbles, wine and beer), but if you go, you can certainly dine for less.

Crazy Homies on Urbanspoon

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Benito’s Hat – Covent Garden

I have a love/hate relationship with Benito’s Hat. I love their marketing and their vibe, I hate their salsa. I love their staff (now – didn’t have a great experience the first time), I hate their guacamole. I love their tacos, I hate their tortilla chips. You get the picture.

The last time I went, it was to the Benito’s Hat Goodge Street branch for a messy burrito with some work colleagues. You may remember, I didn’t rave about it – but all the people who work there are quite nice, and I’ve been in contact with the owner Ben since that experience who’s asked me a few times to come back.

The opportunity arose after I was invited to try their new line of tacos and burritos*, Lamb Barbacoa. On Monday, I ventured down to Benito’s newest location in Covent Garden to give it a try.

Barbacoa, I learned, generally refers to either goat meat, beef or lamb slow-cooked in a hole dug in the ground and lined with Maguey leaves. Wood is burned down to a pile of coals which are then poured into the hole, with a limestone slab placed on top. Once the stone is flaming hot, the meat – which is covered in water and salt and wrapped in avocado leaves – is placed on the stones. This is then covered in more Maguey leaves and woven matting to seal the oven. All this is then covered in soil and the meat is cooked for about four hours.

I went with the Barbacoa tacos. The lamb was lovely – very rich and tender just as promised. I hope they consider doing a goat version soon, as I imagine that would be just as good, if not better (Though they might have to be prepared for accusations of copying Mooli’s,but whatever). However, as alluded to above, my issue with Benito’s Hat lies with the condiments. They’re just not punchy enough. The pico de gallo and guacamole are in sore need of some lime juice. The hot sauce, while quite spicy, comes out one-dimensional. And the tortilla chips? In dire need of salt. It put a damper on what would otherwise be a fantastic dish.

That said, I really like this new Covent Garden location. It’s much more pleasant to sit down and enjoy a meal – more like a restaurant than the overly fast-paced atmosphere of its Fitzrovia sibling. I’d like to go again, and I would definitely order the Barbacoa again (though it’s only available till the end of February), but perhaps along with something else. I could be wrong, but I just can’t help but think that Benito’s is catering too much to a palette that’s afraid of what makes Mexican food so delicious.

*I was a guest of Benito’s Hat, which I bent my restaurant review policy for as I have been a paying guest in the past. The total meal value was around £7.

Benito's Hat on Urbanspoon

Wahaca – Westfield

Photo by TikiChris

Photo by TikiChris

Most Americans in London feel they are on personal quest to find good Mexican in the UK. Get a bunch of us in a room together and we’ll inevitably start talking about the burritos here or the enchiladas there – but the consensus is pretty much always that it’s never as good as home.

Well, friends, the quest is over. I give you, Wahaca.

I was invited to the Westfield location of Wahaca along with about 20 other Qypers to sample a few new items from the winter menu.  What I didn’t realise is that we would be sampling EVERYTHING. Seriously, like 11 dishes. It was amazing.

Co-owners Mark Selby and former Masterchef winner Thomasina ‘Tommi’ Miers were there to welcome us warmly and explain a bit about the ethos of the restaurant.  They offer affordable (read: super cheap) and authentic Mexican streetfood designed for a British audience – and I think that’s the reason Wahaca succeeds where so many others have failed.  It doesn’t try to imitate other popular Mexican restaurants. It has its own style.

Since 11 dishes is quite a lot to write about, I’m going to condense this to highlights.

Smoked herring

Perfect example of the whole Mexican food for an English palette.  A lovely chilled fish with fresh lime and spice served over a tortilla with olives and capers. Great little starter.

Black bean soup – Interesting presentation.  First we were served this:

Shortly followed by a lady who came around to each bowl and did this:

The result was a lush black bean soup with little surprises of fresh avocado, chicken and cheese. Yum!

Mole –

I’m not usually a superfan of mole. It’s too thick, too heavy and just generally makes me feel a bit blah.

But this?

This you could have poured into a bag and fed me intravenously. It was the most scrumdiddlyumptious dish I’ve had in a long while.  Served, enchilada-style with rice and shredded chicken.

Baja-California fish tacos –

I think I just made squeaks when I ate this. Words could not fully form in my mouth, that’s how yummy.  Each taco comes with a delicately flash-fried piece  of plaice with chipotle mayo, salsa, beans and spicy slaw. I think by the time these found their way to our table, we were about 8 or 9 dishes in. I was SO FULL, but honestly still wanted to eat the whole plate.  Delicious!

Huitlacoche

This is a quesadilla of what is basically the fungus that grows on corn (though it’s described on the menu as ‘Mexican Corn Mushroom’ lolz). I’m not generally a fan of mushrooms, but this was actually quite nice. The pickled veggies on the side were ace – a really nice way to balance out what is a pretty rich little number.

Winter Buerza Salad –

This was probably my least favourite of the night. There was just too much going on – all the tastes became a bit muddled.  Included was butternut squash, organic spelt, diced orange, ancho chilli, feta avocado,pickeld hibiscus flowers, fresh mint, pumpkin seeds, salad leaves, totopos and radish in house dressing.  Yikes.  All that and it still needed a bit of sweetness.

Vegetable PiPian –

A carbtastic overload of mushrooms, crumbled cheese and rice. The tomatillo salsa was amazingly fresh, but for me this wasn’t a stand-out dish. Many of the ingredients were things that we had tried before in one dish or another, so for me it was a bit ‘been there, done that’.

Pork Pibil –

Three lovely little pork tacos served with some nice pickled onions.  This is what Wahaca means by ‘streetfood’. Not overcomplicated, just good spicy pork you have to eat with your hands.

Churros –

Never met a piece of fried cinnamon-sugar dough dipped in chocolate that I didn’t like. Wahaca’s churros are no exception. The Americans at the table joked with Mark that we couldn’t believe they didn’t have fried ice cream on the menu like ChiChi’s. What a sham!

Congrats if you’ve made it to the end. I’m sorry I didn’t review everything, but it seriously would have been a novel. Trust me though, it was all amazing.  Do yourself a favour and try it out.

There are Wahaca locations in Covent Garden and Westfield, with one opening in Canary Wharf in November 2009.  I’m going to point out – because apparently it’s quite the bone of contention with foodies and reviewers online – that they do not take reservations or bookings, even for large parties. Even if you have to wait though, it’s worth it.

If you want to see the pictures of the other things we enjoyed, check out my Flickr set from the night.

Wahaca on Urbanspoon

Benito’s Hat – Goodge Street

benito's hat

After my last burrito conquest, it was suggested that I try Benito’s Hat, a cute little place on Goodge Street right around the corner from my office.  Even though it’s very unlikely for me to have two burritos in a year, let alone a week, I said sure.  It was free, after all (thanks to new people starting at work).

Even though I went there as a seemingly objective patron, I must admit, I’ve had a bit of contact with Benito’s Hat before. They e-mailed me a few months ago to come in and try some margarita promotion they had going on.  I found it a bit odd, because at the time I didn’t have a food blog and I only rarely wrote about food-related things on FPN, so I asked the guy where he got my name.  It turned out from a friend, which was totally cool, but when I followed back up saying ‘bring on the tequila’, the dude never e-mailed me back. That was annoying.

When you walk in, you’re greeted with shouts of ‘Next?!’ ‘What do you want?’ ‘What can I get you?’ before you’ve had a chance to glance at the menu.  Being it lunch hour, we were all a bit scared of the workers and of the clearly burrito-mad people queuing behind us.  I went very quickly for a pork burrito with avocado, black beans, salsa and rice. Unfortunately these fillings seemed a bit too much for the poor tortilla, which almost immediately ripped when the guy started wrapping it up.  He kindly offered to make another one for me, which I declined. I’m a big girl, I can handle a bit of mess. It was nice that he asked though!

benito's hat burrito insides

It was a nice burrito in theory. The ingredients were all really good – better than Freebird – but the way that it was put together (even apart from the gaping hole in the tortilla) was all wrong.  Instead of a nice layered bite of all ingredients working marvelously together, I found myself munching through tortilla+rice, then tortilla+big hunk of pork, then tortilla+half an avocado, then the slurp slurp of black beans.

It was just ok. I’d be willing to give it another try, I suppose, but I know there have to be better places out there.

Benito's Hat on Urbanspoon

Freebird Burritos, Soho

Oh, Mexican food in London, how elusive art thou.  Despite several recommendations of ‘amazing’ places I find myself constantly disappointed (Taqueria, anyone?).  I’m starting to lose hope!

Tonight I got a glimmer of it back…

I just had a chance to try Freebird Burritos at the Qype Summer Party at 93 Feet East, and while it was a very good burrito, I just kept thinking, ‘Well of course it is. How hard is it to screw one up?’  And then I remembered the sloppy mess of a burrito that I tried out of a food stall in Camden Market three years ago and promptly shut up. Burrito making, I’ve concluded, must somehow be an art.

Freebird works off of the Chipotle school of thought: Take a tortilla the size of a  newborn and stick it chock full of rice, beans, tomatoes, salsa, guacamole, cheese, lettuce and if you fancy it, sour cream;  wrap it up in tin foil and present it like a compact log:

freebird burrito soho london

I love Chipotle, so they were off to a good start.

Taking a bite, the tortilla was nice and fresh.  I’m not sure if they make them in-house, but I wouldn’t be surprised.  It was very good.  The other ingredients were tasty as well.  Even the salsa had a good kick to it. I’m also glad they had a black bean option.  Finding black beans in London has proved trying to me in the past. I usually have to go to Whole Foods for them. Sooooo much better than pinto beans.

freebird burritos soho london

All in all, a tasty little concoction. It’s not the best I’ve ever had, but it would certainly do for a drunken 4th meal if I’m ever in Soho on a Saturday and feeling vulnerable.  (That said, I hope they keep late hours. I can’t find them online. They would make a killing around 2 am on Wardour)

Or at least until Chipotle finally comes to London.

Freebird Burritos
Rupert Street @ Winnett St

Soho, London W1D