Category Archives: Mexico
Almost everyone I know has a tequila story which invariably involves one or all of the following: bouncing off walls, falling off furniture, early-onset dementia (a.k.a. can’t remember getting home) or a clanger of a hangover. In my twenties I had one particular run-in with tequila that ensured I would not go back for more for over a decade, and even now only in Mexican restaurants, with food, in moderate consumption whilst discussing the attributes of a reposado versus an anejo. My, how times change.
Cue last summer, when Monsieur and I found ourselves perusing a drinks menu at a bar in Cap Ferret. It had been a long, hot day of filing my nails (not really) at the beach and an ice cold lager was now overdue and requisite imbibement.
Scanning the list of beers, I spotted one I didn’t recognise.
“What’s a Desperado?” I asked my Walking French Dictionary, a.k.a. Monsieur,
“You.” he quipped. Ha-blooming-ha, Frogman.
“No seriously, what is it?”
“It’s a DesperaDOS,” he corrected, heavy on the last syllable, “it’s beer with tequila in it.”
As ever, when confronted by something different on a menu, as yet untried and preferably not involving animal innards, I was intrigued. I became DESPERATE to try the DESPERADOS so ordered one, tapping my feet beneath the table in impatient anticipation.
At long last my Desperados arrived, cool with condensation and deep red saloon-style branding running up its side. For some reason its overall presentation made me think of ”Lucky Luke”, the cowboy who shoots faster than his shadow.
A wedge of lime sat in the bottle of the matching Desperados glass, obviously provided just in case a passer by was in any doubt as to what I was drinking. I reverently poured my recent liquid acquisition down the side of the glass, admired the perfect head and sipped. Ah, yes, just as I’d hoped, this would be a beer to remember.
The consistency was similar to a Corona, but the flavour was sweeter. Not as sweet as a lager shandy, perhaps, but sweeter in a citrussy sort of way, and, as lime doesn’t have this strong an influence on the taste of a Corona, this particular tang couldn’t be attributed to the presence of lime alone. The tequila was definitely in there, doing its work, but in a subtle, barely-there fashion, instead of a smack-your-head-in-with-force manner of a good-idea-at-the-time shot of the stuff at the wrong end of an evening. All I can say is this: it’s a very good thing that it isn’t widely available in England, or I’d be carrying this brew around in a brown paper bag.
As for the after-effects: apart from feeling refreshed in both body and spirit, there were none. Admittedly, I didn’t drink enough to bounce off walls or terrorise locals; I consumed the grand quantity of one bottle. As such, I can highly recommend tracking down a Desperados or two (can’t give expert advice on heavier consumption), especially if you find yourself near water on a balmy evening. Despite its unfortunate and misleading name, this is a truly transporting thirst-quencher. Drink it from beneath your sombrero before tucking into a cactus salad and platter of mole and you may just spot a cartoon cowboy out of the corner of one eye. I did. My first Desperados may have been consumed on the West Coast of France, but like magic it took me all the way to Mexico. At the bar price of €4.50, that was one delicious and affordable trip and as the days lengthen, I look forward to making it again. And again. And again and again and again (you get my drift).
Here’s a foodie joke that popped into my in-box this morning. I like it…
THE FINAL WORD ON NUTRITION
After an exhaustive review of the research literature, here’s the final word on nutrition and health.:
1. Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
2. Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
3. Chinese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
4.. Italians drink excessive amounts of red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
5. Germans drink beer and eat lots of sausages and fats and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
6. The French eat foie-gras, full fat cheese and drink red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than us
The Joker’s CONCLUSION: Eat and drink what you like. Speaking English is apparently what kills you.
Epic’s conclusion: stock up the cellar, eat more foie gras, go to Wahaca more and book for 2009 Oktoberfest.
For quite some time I’ve been dying to try Wahaca, a real Mexican restaurant in London’s Covent Garden. Not only has it been voted the winner of London’s Best Cheap Eats by the Observer Food Monthly Awards 2008, but a Californian foodie friend has been recommending it to all her pals for ages. “It’s not Tex Mex,” she insists, “it’s REAL Mexican”. That was it. I’ve been salivating in Wahaca’s direction ever since the first mention.
The brainchild of Masterchef winner, Thomasina Miers, and her business partner, Mark Selby, Wahaca’s aim is to bring affordable, fresh and sustainable food to the table, the recipes inspired by street food in Mexico. There’s a no reservations policy. You turn up, leave your name and number with the doorman, and come back at the time he gives you. Considering you need to queue just to talk to the doorman, this can be a time-consuming system, but the reputation of this laid-back Mecca for Mexican means that even the hardiest of reservation-makers will relent and follow the Wahaca Rules.
First question: what does Wahaca mean? Wahaca is the anglicised phonetic spelling for Oaxaca, a region of Mexico. Oaxacan cuisine is known for its diversity, mostly because its population is diverse. Oaxaca’s reputation as a food producer spans chocolate, cheese, mezcal and moles. If you like roasted grasshoppers, they eat them there. It’s also known as ’The Land of Seven Moles’, for the Mexican sauce called Mole which is a complex blend of many spices, and which varies greatly depending on available ingredients, regional influence and grandmother’s hand-me-down secret recipe.
I reached Wahaca (following two flat viewings and a big delay on the Central Line; God bless our underground system!) just before 7pm. I queued for just under 10 minutes and was told to come back at 8pm. Monsieur was somewhere in Covent Garden having drinks with his friends so I walked around for a while, mainly because he didn’t want to wait until 8pm to eat and wanted me to find an alternative to ease our plan of going to the cinema later, but I admit I wasn’t a committed scout. After all, when the alternatives include TGI Fridays, or Italian theme chain restaurants or pubs full of a Friday night crowd, or extremely traditional British old-school cookery restaurants (a bit heavy for evening eating) or Belgo’s, where we’ve eaten plenty of times. No, moules-frites washed down with Kriek wasn’t tickling my tastebuds that night. It would have to be Mexican, wait or not wait. I met Monsieur back at Wahaca and we went inside to wait in a tiny little area at the bottom of the stairs. We were 15 minutes early for our seating time, but that didn’t worry the buzzy maitre d’ who whizzed us through to our table after just a few minutes.
Monsieur’s first comment to me was this: “They should have a bar. If they had a bar here, everyone would spend money on drinks while they wait for a table. They’re missing out on some serious income here.” I had to agree.
Our waiter was a long-haired ponytailed chap who had that air of having backpacked his way around the world and was now waiting tables until he could afford to take off to trek the Himalayas. I don’t know if my guesswork is accurate, here, but the way he helped us decipher how to order (the idea is to share different plates) indicated that he knew a lot more about Mexican food than your average English waiter, most likely from personal experience of The Real Deal. Before we had time to settle, our order had been taken and in a Mexican flash our guacamole and tortilla chips arrived. The only complaint here would be that we probably needed a serving each, so great was the Wahaca guac.
Our classic Margaritas were served on the rocks in sturdy tumblers with deliciously salted rims, just as they should be. Then the plates started to arrive. We had a couple of crispy tostadas, one pair topped with tender ceviche and another with nopalitos, a salad of cactus with tomato salsa and Lancashire cheese. (Yes, the cheese came from Lancashire to save food miles and sustain local producers. That’s another Wahaca ethos for you.) The taco we chose was called Fish Pastor – each of the three soft tacos contained this fishy mix which looked like shredded chicken tikka, but was in fact fish in an achiote marinade with relish. What’s achiote? It’s a paste popular in Oaxacan cuisine, with a deep rusty colour and distinctive (although not particularly strong) taste, made from the seeds of the Achiote plant’s inedible fruit.
(nopalitos left and ceviche tostadas right)
So far, so good, but the test was about to come. Would Monsieur like his classic enchilada? It would appear so because one minute it was there, steaming in a terracotta dish with a tempting ooze of melted cheese on top and when I looked across the table again, most of it had disappeared into Monsieur’s happy tum. Yes, the enchilada had passed the Monsieur Test. As for a shared side of green rice flavoured with coriander, garlic and onion, I will have to add it to the Epicurienne At Home Repertoire. It was seriously tasty.
Now we had to race to make the cinema (where, incidentally, we started nodding off after half an hour due to end-of-week fatigue), but I would gladly have stayed on for another margarita (perhaps the one flavoured with hibiscus?) and some chocolate dipped churros, had we had no further plans. I’ll have to wait for next time, when I think I’ll also try the Coloradito mole.
I have to say that as far as real Mexican food goes, Wahaca has some serious competition. Happily for this establishment the restaurants I’m thinking of are in New York and Paris, so if we need a Mexican fix in London Town, we’ll be visiting Wahaca again.
PS A few days after our visit to Wahaca, Monsieur had plans for dinner with a friend. They got there at 7.30pm and the wait was already an hour and a half. It was a Tuesday. I guess that tells you everything.