El Pastor

Address:  6-7A Stoney St, London SE1 9AA
Bookings: no booking
Day: Tuesday
Meal:  Dinner
Price: £
Rating: 5.5/10

Screen Shot 2017-09-17 at 10.52.56I once had delicious Mexican food as a child. Once. Every other Mexican restaurant since has been a disappointment. In vain I have searched for the perfect taco, the delectable burrito, the delightful quesadilla. Instead, I have had to sift through endless portions of wet, greasy, rubber-cheesed stodge from Wahaca and Chilangos. Even La Bodega Negra, the popular Mexican restaurant in Soho, left me unmoved. 

So, when I heard that the owners of Barafina, one of my favourite restaurants in all of London, had opened a Mexican restaurant in Borough Market, I gathered up my partner in culinary crime and headed straight for it, feeling sure that the long voyage in search of great Mexican food was finally at an end… it is not.

As with Barafina, El Pastor cannot be booked ahead of time. Despite it being early-ish, and mid-week, all of the main tables were already occupied when we arrived, and so we were seated on some stools at a little table by the door. 

Screen Shot 2017-09-17 at 10.52.03These stools felt as if they had been designed by an ergonomic genius to be maximumly uncomfortable. They were also so ridiculously high that I felt myself suffering from vertigo as I sat perched on one, sipping a pineapple juice as I tried desperately not to look down. The problem was compounded by the fact that one of the stool’s legs was shorter than the other, so that each time I shifted my weight the whole thing rocked violently, threatening to send me hurtling down to the floor below.

We ordered up a batch of tacos, half of them chicken and the other half marinated pork shoulder. My partner in culinary crime took a bite of the chicken taco before recoiling in horror, the spicy heat of the thing turning her mouth into an inferno, and sending her diving onto the nearby bowl of guacamole in desperate search of some sort of coolant. 

Screen Shot 2017-09-17 at 10.52.25This guacamole was, incidentally, the best thing about the restaurant; thick and full-bodied, infused with lime and viscerally fresh, we made our way through 2 bowls, dipping tortilla chips compulsively into the green paste. 

Next to arrive at the table was a greasy little cheese quesadilla. It sat small and plaintive on the plate, a bit of cheese oozing unappealingly out of the corner. The tortilla casing was utterly flavourless, and we ended up prising it off to eat the moderately nice cheese inside.

Screen Shot 2017-09-17 at 10.54.23Lastly, we ate a tuna tostada, sprinkled with lime and sesame seeds. This was nice enough, but by then it was far too late to salvage El Pastor. 

So the search goes on. Did I merely dream it, all those years ago as a child? Is there no such thing as excellent Mexican food? Or are we just looking in the wrong places? To all our loyal readers, point us in the right direction, show us the way to El Dorado.


Barrafina

Address: 43 Drury Ln, London WC2B 5AJ
Bookings: no bookings allowed
Day: Wednesday
Meal: dinner
Price: ££ (including alcohol)
Rating: 8.5/10

Screen Shot 2017-08-10 at 20.50.53Barrafina probably serves the best tapas in London. If somewhere north of Spain does it better, then please inform us in the comments section below and we will be eternally indebted to you.

There is a life, an energy and an exuberance to the dishes at Barrafina that you rarely find in a restaurant, and very rarely across such a breadth of the menu, and so consistently, visit after visit.

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Going there for a mid-week dinner, we ordered portobello croquettes, which were piping hot and erupted with flavour at the prod of a fork, the creamy mushroom interior rich and powerful.

Screen Shot 2017-08-10 at 20.49.34Eruptions were a theme of the night: we ordered a stuffed courgette flower – probably the highlight of the whole dinner – which overflowed with goat’s cheese laced with honey at the slice of my knife. The dish was so delicious we ordered two, to prevent warfare breaking out over how to split a courgette flower exactly in half.

The tapas comes thick and fast at Barrafina, and everybody sits perched up on a bar, facing the hustle and bustle of the kitchen, a whir of waiters and cooks, chopping, frying, pouring and serving, all the with energy that characterises a kitchen staff who know they are part of something special.

Screen Shot 2017-08-10 at 20.50.20No sooner had we mopped up the last atom of goat’s cheese with a crust of bread, then the next dish was sliding across the bar top towards us. We’d ordered a selection of miniature mushrooms, onions and carrots, soaked in chicken stock, an egg with a stunningly orange yolk heaped across them. This dish was a work of art to behold, but was the only mildly disappointing one we ordered, a slight blandness pervading it.

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We then tucked into the most filling of our plates, two chunks of iberico pork, sliced from Spanish pigs grown fat on acorns, and placed some swede puree and carrots.

Finally, I broke the habit of a lifetime and ordered a savoury dessert, a selection of Spanish cheeses, insisted on by my partner in culinary crime. She wasn’t wrong.

No review would be complete without an element of complaining, and Barrafina cannot get off the hook entirely. It doesn’t take bookings (which is irritating, but forgivable), but then commits the cardinal sin of not letting you leave the restaurant whilst you wait for your table.

In the age of mobile phones, there is nothing easier in the world than taking a number and releasing a diner to enjoy the distractions of Covent Garden whilst they wait for their table.

Screen Shot 2017-08-10 at 20.49.48But Barrafina does not do this. It insists you stuff yourself against a wall and wait in a line for a table to become available, something we did for over an hour on Wednesday night, becoming more and more filled with a visceral fury at a family of four who finished their meal and then proceeded to sit for a further thirty minutes without a morsel of food or drink passing their lips. Instead, they just chatted, and occasionally glanced at their phones, oblivious to the suffering and hunger of forty people who stared at them with simmering rage.

It was only the amazing food we subsequently had that calmed us down. But if anyone from Barrafina reads this, PLEASE reconsider your waiting policy, and you may just find yourselves on the receiving-end of a complaint-free review.