Published on October 16th, 2014 | by Sophia Longhi1
El Camion Mexicano, Soho
Recently celebrated as one of the top ten classic cocktail bars in London, as featured in a list compiled by cocktail connoisseur, Jared Brown of The Guardian, Soho Mexican joint, El Camion, is a quietly confident contender amongst the big players in the cocktail world. Uncompromisingly laid-back, it refreshingly lacks the exclusive, straight-backed feel that some cocktail bars can have – and, has living bar legend, Dick Bradsell, as head bartender. But El Camion has something else up its sleeves; a Mexican restaurant menu that has kept loyal fans flocking straight back over the years to Brewer Street. It seems to have survived, almost solely, off a word-of-mouth trade on the competitive streets of gastro Soho. The long and short of it is: those who like it, love it.
With bright, colourful decor, it’s summer all year-long here, which might partly explain why El Camion goes a long way with Londoners. The relaxed, fiesta-feel vibe welcomes you immediately and, with the walls adorned with Mexican memorabilia, such as painted skulls and mariachi instruments, the evening escape to Mexico begins.
There is a choice to sit upstairs in the restaurant or downstairs in the famous Pink Chihuahua bar. The restaurant is nice and quietly buzzing with early evening dinner guests starting to trickle in, but the Pink Chihuahua bar intrigues us – it sounds like a place where parties happen. I’ve no doubt it is.
We follow the pink light down the stairs and a pink, glowing grotto of fairy lights, wacky decor and candle-lit tables greets us. We choose to tuck ourselves away in a booth, which could easily fit up to eight people around it, but is still intimate enough for two, and start off with a couple of cocktails: the Espresso Martini and, of course, the Pink Chihuahua.
The Espresso Martini, created by Bradsell, is one of my favourite ever cocktails and, as expected, it was excellent. Rich, smooth and fabulous, it is dangerously moreish and although always perfect after a meal, it made for a lovely aperitif. For a palate cleanser with a kick, the Pink Chihuahua works extremely well – it’s fruity, zesty and tingles the mouth like a sherbet dip – and it’s pink!
Corn tortilla chips with guacamole and salsa were the perfect accompaniment to the cocktails and great to munch on while we waited for the food to arrive. They are worth ordering just for the guacamole alone. It was everything you would want in a guac; fresh, chunky, garlicky – I could have eaten it by the spoonful.
The starter, the Mixed Botanas, spoilt us for choice – and I would heartily recommend it to any indecisive (or greedy) diner who likes to try a bit of everything. The mushroom and spinach tacos were a fantastic veggie option – light and full of flavour – and I was also a big fan of the jaladas, otherwise known as ‘poppers’, which are big, fat green chillies filled with cream cheese, coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. Creamy, crunchy and juicy, they were a delight. Although a life-long meateater, I was very impressed with the vegetarian choices, which far from compromise on taste. The platter caters for the meat lovers too, of course, and the chorizo and cheese quesadillas were good, but it was the Yucatan Beef tostadas that really stole the show. Crunchy, crispy tostada with a deliciously sloppy filling with fresh coriander on top – this was soul food at its best.
After a very satisfying starter, we tried two of the most popular main dishes: the Chicken Tinga Burrito and the very aesthetically pleasing Grilled Fish Ensaladas, that comes on the prettiest bed of salad I’ve ever seen, with bright red chillies encrusting the fish like jewels. First of all, the burrito. There’s an option on the menu to ‘Make It Wet’ – which we were advised to do, so we did. But what did that mean? Well, to answer my question (and my foodie dreams), the burrito came covered in a sweet, rich, enchilada sauce, which complimented the spicy BBQ flavour of the chicken. It was dreamy. Wet burritos are definitely the way forward. The portion size was very generous, and along with Mexican rice and salad, it was a wonderfully hearty dish.
The Grilled Fish Ensalada was the lighter choice and the fish was cooked to perfection – moist and tender with a crispy skin. Like with all of the dishes, ‘fresh’ is the word that comes to mind, and if you thought Mexican food was all about melted cheese and stodgy refried beans, El Camion will force you to think again. The food is delicious and along with the relaxed, fun atmosphere, El Camion has struck it just right – and it’s easy to see why their fans stay so loyal.
It would have been rude not to finish with a couple of shots of tequila. Not one, but two shots each. For those expert or just curious, there is a full mezcal and tequila menu if you care to peruse… after all, El Camion does stock hundreds. We finished the meal in the appropriate way, rubbing our stomachs and groaning – and planning when to come back with our friends. That Mixed Botanas can’t eat itself – and there is a tequila menu to conquer!
El Camion, 25-27 Brewer St, W1F 0RRShare This Post