I learned to cook when I first lived in London, and over the course of several visits, I have developed an appreciative palate for English mustard, sausage and Sunday roasts. Although I will never be a Marmite-convert, the goodness of plainly buttered toast is undeniable. Despite the rumors, British food is tasty. So is Indian food in Britain. And French food. And Italian. But Mexican food is not something that Britain does well. As someone whose summer survival diet was based on tacos al pastor and salsa, I am appalled at the consistent lack of decent Mexican restaurants and the presence of those with menus that, among bangers and mash, also include guacamole!? This is not Mexican food, people.
I think about food for most hours of the day, which allows for an infinite amount of time to fill my head with daydreams of salty margaritas, greasy corn tortillas and even refried beans. After discovering the most delicious dive-of-a-taqueria in Kansas City, I have been missing the kind of spicy that only comes in the most authentic of Mexican restaurants. Mindful of the fact that one of my course tutors is from Los Angeles and also happens to love Mexican food, I asked whereabouts one might get a close taste of cilantro — not coriander — around town. Anna suggested Taqueria. After reading many reviews — “it’s as close to Mexican as you’ll get” — I emerged from Notting Hill station with my friend Kate (despite growing up in Canada, Kate fell in love with Mexican food after living in California for five years. She’s been jonesing too). We meandered down Pembridge Road, missing the weekend crowd that veers left to enjoy the tourism of Portabello Road. At Westbourne Grove, we took a sharp left and followed the smell of corn, garlic and onions all the way to the charming front of Taqueria.
A photo Kate took.
Most wishes don’t come true, but when our lunches of shredded chicken and tacos al pastor came out, we had difficulty containing our relief and excitement. It wasn’t perfect — my corn tortillas could have been a little crispier and the pork was under-seasoned — but the grilled pineapple was perfect. We were pleasantly surprised by the refried beans, which instead of pinto were black, and the plate of avocado and lime was refreshing and crisp. In the spirit of never giving anything away (as they seem to do in this city), the restaurant does not serve complimentary tortilla chips. We ordered a salty bowl, but they left much to be desired. It was highly unlikely that the chips were homemade — they lacked the certain light, bubbly crispness of the real deal — but the crunch was enough to satisfy our appetites.
After basking in our post-lunch spread, we paid our (reasonable) bill and said goodbye, promising to return again soon. I don’t know about Kate, but despite being left with taste of spicy pineapple on my tongue and being the right amount of full, I was a little disappointed. No, you certainly can’t have it all. But surely the world’s most international and cosmopolitan city would know how to do Mexican food. I will go back because I am certain there isn’t anywhere else in the city of London that does tacos al pastor as well as Taqueria, but come December, I will be very happy to visit my Kansas City haunt, where I will eat salsa so hot it makes me choke and wash it down with a Mexican Coca-Cola.