Cantina Laredo, Top Class Mexican Cuisine For London’s Covent Garden
Cantina Laredo – opening Summer 2010 in London’s Covent Garden
Lucky David Constable gets a chance to sample the menu for the first Cantina Laredo restaurant in the UK – opening Summer 2010 in London’s Covent Garden.
Known for its variety of flavours and colourful decoration, Mexican cuisine can be given a somewhat unfair rap in this country, often being associated with throwing cheese and jalapeño peppers over Doritos and floury flaps filled with beef, pork, or chicken and some brightly coloured gack. Simple fillings with too much fat, salt and stodge, and then all off to the backyard to get drunk on margaritas while blindly swinging at a hanging piñata. Nachos – associated with a casual get together with friends or for dipping in-and-out during the football or at the cinema – are in fact more popular outside of Mexico than in the country of their origin.
This impression of Mexican food has happened for a number of reasons: firstly because there is a lack of fine Mexican restaurants and chefs in the UK, therefore cheap and humdrum food is churned out in family affordable outlets and as street food, and secondly the Americanization of Mexican food. This means that the use of non-traditional ingredients, as exemplified by ‘American Mexican’ food, has found its way to our shores with people creating a hybrid of cultures and thus resulting in Tex-Mex. Such dishes and ingredients are far removed from any traditional sense of Mexican cuisine. The likes of Nachos and Tortillas for example, which have become an almost stereotype or Mexican staple, are in fact rarely eaten in Mexico, whereas they are wildly popular in North America and in the UK.
Enter Cantina Laredo:
“Inspired by the unique confluence of culinary traditions found along the Rio Grande, bringing fresh and vibrant tastes of real Mexican cuisine to discerning diners.”
Having already established the brand in North America, the first Cantina Laredo restaurant in the UK will open in London’s Covent Garden in the summer of 2010 with the simple aim of sourcing, preparing and cooking traditional Mexican food. Honouring the Mexican tradition of investing time and passion into sourcing, preparing and cooking fresh, wholesome food, each of Cantina Laredo’s twenty cooking sauces (including the sixteen-ingredient, sweet and spicy Mole and the complimentary Roasted Tomatillo and Roasted Tomato Salsas) will be made from scratch, each day.
My own experience of Mexican food is a rather limited and embarrassing one. Having never had the fortune of visiting South America I have been influenced by my Chipotle experiences throughout the states on North America and various incarnations of the food in this country, from Tex-Mex to buying pre-made guacamole and in-a-bottle margaritas. Shame on me. So when I was invited to meet with Chef Ruben Lozano (the author of the Cantina Laredo menu and with over 40 years’ experience of Mexican cuisine), you’ll understand that I felt somewhat under-prepared and vulnerable for such an introduction.
As it turned out, Ruben and the team behind the new London restaurant couldn’t have been more welcoming. Jackie Ginsberg and her three sons have worked tirelessly with Ruben in seeking a fitting location (St. Martin’s Courtyard – the restaurant will in fact neighbour Jamie’s Italian) and researching the menu and ingredients, tweaking the odd dish from the US outfits to suit British tastes. Authentic dishes have been given gourmet flair and the finest tequilas (30 of the world’s very best, 100% blue agave varieties) have been tried and tested (of course, Mexico and tequila are as common a match as the English and the Pot Noodle) to be served alongside traditional margaritas and mojitos, as well as a fine selection of Mexican beers. The crowning glory of the cocktail menu is the ‘Casa Rita’ margarita, made with freshly-squeezed lemon and lime juices and served frozen or on the rocks. Alternative variations on this frozen classic incorporate mango or pomegranate purée.
Across the enormous menu – consisting of almost everything you could wish for – there is an equal emphasis on colour, aroma and flavour from dishes such as the palate-freshening Ceviche (a traditional dish of tiger prawns, grey mullet and bay scallops marinated in lime juice) and the hearty Camaron Poblano Asada (a classic Mexican poblano pepper filled with a mixture of sautéed tiger prawns, mushrooms, onions and cheese and wrapped with a grilled skirt steak on a bed of chimichurri sauce) to the mouth-wateringly-scented, sizzling skillet of home-baked Mexican apple pie, served with brandy butter sauce and cinnamon ice-cream (which I tasted and devoured in all its sweet, sizzling glory).
I watched the Camaron Poblano Asada being prepared and finally tasted the dish as Ruben stood and watched anticipating my reaction. The dish uses skirt steak (also referred to as Roumanian Tenderloin or Roumanian Strip), which is butterfly cut to transform the thick, compact piece of meat into a thinner, larger piece, and seasoned before grilling. Skirt is rarely used in the UK, despite being a cut prized for its flavour. The steak is then wrapped around a poblano pepper filled with sautéed tiger prawns, mushrooms, onions and Monterey jack cheese, then served on a bed of chimichurri sauce with Mexican rice and sautéed vegetables. The result looked extravagant and exotic with the pepper stem sticking up from underneath the delicious steak and swirls of green chimichurri sauce patterned across the plate. It was near perfect and transformed my taste buds, mixing the depth and flavour of the steak with the freshness of the prawns and followed by the vigour of the chimichurri sauce. It was a memorable dish and understandable why, in the North American restaurants, it is their signature dish.
Scrupulous thought has gone into every aspect of the restaurant’s opening.
The food is marvellous and backs up their commitment to an authentic and indigenous approach, and despite some heavy pricing, I’m rubbing my hands at the very thought of trying the Camaron Poblano Asada and Mexican apple pie again, as guacamole drips from my cactus-coarse beard and balmy aromas take me away to a place I’ve never been. Somewhere on the shores of the Rio Grande.
Cantina Laredo, Unit 22 St. Martin’s Courtyard, Upper St. Martin’s Lane, London, WC2H 9DL