Why The Humble Taco Is London’s Latest Food Trend
Al Pastor taco with acorn fed wild Iberico press and pineapple arbol salsa at Bad Sports. Photograph by Mr Delvin Ainsley, courtesy of Bad Sports
Three of the best places to taste the Mexican tortillas in the capital.
First came the burgers, then came the hot dogs and the fried chicken (the city was already pretty good at pizza) – but now, to cap off London’s half-decade love affair with the kind of casual, high-quality fast food we used to longingly admire across the Atlantic, we have tacos. Contrary to some giddy reports, it is not yet a revolution, rather the appearance of a number of decent taquerias introducing a ready and better supply of authentic (and innovative) tacos in the capital. From a late-night sports dive bar, to a street-food stall turned restaurant-proper – here are three of the best recent openings (and what to order at each of them).
Al Pastor taco, caramelized pineapple, guacamole taquero, white onion and coriander at El Pastór. Photograph by Ms Helen Cathcart, courtesy of El Pastór
The Hart brothers (Messrs Sam, Eddie and James Hart) know how to do restaurants. Quo Vadis and the Barrafina mini-chain are among London’s most reliably excellent places to eat. A similar level of conscientiousness and nous (and input from Mr Crispin Somerville, who ran El Colmillo with Mr Sam Hart in Mexico City) makes El Pastór a fantastic interpretation of a taqueria from the Mexican capital. Corn is imported from Oaxaca, nixtamalised (first soaked then cooked in alkaline solution) and milled on-site. The resulting tortillas are dense, mealy and more than a mere vehicle for their toppings. Happily, the toppings and garnishes are inspired by what you might actually find in Mexico: a protein and minimal garnish, whether a salsa, chopped onion, lime and/or smattering of chopped coriander. Best is “al pastor” – a pineapple-basted pork shawarma, in effect: deliciously fortifying both as a taco and, folded with melted cheese, as a “gringa” quesadilla. As are chicken in chipotle-cumin adobo rub – fiery, smoky and piquant. And carnitas – slow-cooked pork with a featherlite “crackling”. Take time to work through a mezcal list, the like and length of which is not normally seen outside of Mexico.
6-7a Stoney Street, London, SE1 9AA
Bad Sports Taqueria
Smoked bavette steak taco with Galician bavette beef, chimichurri, radish and jalapeños at Bad Sports. Photograph by Mr Delvin Ainsley, courtesy of Bad Sports
In the sense that it’s a late-night cocktail and beer bar screening NFL and NBA games, Bad Sports, probably, is the most authentic stateside-style taqueria of London’s new crop. A fun, heady atmosphere and the pared-back canteen-like interior make this a place to drink, eat, drink (repeat). At weekends the downstairs bar stays open until 2.00am. Not that the tacos are an afterthought: classics include a brilliantly smoky sea bream fish taco and the “al pastór” makes an appearance here too – as we might expect, though, it is “dirtier” than at El Pastór. There are inventive riffs on classics too, such as duck carnitas. Having previously worked at Hawksmoor and Foxlow, chef Mr Liam Davy, one of the founders, brings first-rate meat cooking know-how as well as quirky consideration to a playful drinks list: buckfast negronis, bad martinis (infused with pineapple), and, most fitting, margarita slushes – a sharp, cooling foil to the heat from the food.
184 Hackney Road, London, E2 7QL
Wood grilled quail with Alphonso mango and birds eye chili salsa at Breddos. Photograph courtesy of Breddos
Breddos is the most recent darling of London’s street-food scene to acquire a site-proper. After having become, with Bao, the main reason to visit the Netil Market weekend street-food collective, it is testament to the taco’s universal appeal – and Breddos’ success – that the restaurant is already rammed each night of the week. The corn tortillas here are done properly and taste like the real thing, yet the toppings venture into the non-traditional, via the likes of Sichuan peppercorn seasoning on pork belly taco or, elsewhere, a tostada of sea urchin and clams with miso and avocado. More predictably, there’s a California-style “baja” fish taco with sliced cabbage, white onion and chipotle-lime mayo, and masa-fried chicken with tomato and hot habanero: the two best bites on the menu. The service here is energetic and professional and mention must be made of the house beer on tap – Zirkus – available in 1/3 or 2/3 pint, served from plastic kegs, in frozen glasses. It delivers startlingly cold lager – all too often a rare thing these days.
82 Goswell Rd, London EC1V 7DB