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Posts Tagged ‘Shoreditch’

Boho Mexica near Spitalfields Market

Boho Mexica near Spitalfields Market

Two weeks ago, some of my expat friends and I read this glowing review of Boho Mexica and knew we had to check it out immediately. If you know any American expats in London, you’ll know that Mexican food is our catnip and crack, rolled into one. (It’s an odd phenomenon, of course. When I lived in the U.S., I enjoyed Cal-Mex/Tex-Mex, but eating it was no big deal. Query why I’m now regularly asking visiting American friends to smuggle in salsas and “real” corn tortillas for me).

In any case, Boho Mexica is near my office, so I’ve already visited twice for lunch in the past week. Both times, I went with friends who are originally from California (Bay Area and SoCal), so they were ladies who know their way around Cal-Mex.

three-pork tacos and chicken tacos at Boho Mexica

three-pork tacos and chicken tacos at Boho Mexica

The good news is that Boho Mexica is small, charming and cheap, with most dishes costing less than £4, making it at least 33% cheaper than the Taqueria (which I’ve never visited again after spending £50 for eight orders of room-temperature, stale, oily tacos) and Green & Red (whose carnitas tacos are great but pricey). [And since we’re on the topic, I’ve never had memorable meals at Mestizo or Wahaca, and Crazy Homies would be a lot better if they used thinner tortillas.]

The bad news is that Boho Mexica’s dishes are tiny; their tastiness varied greatly; and the service at lunch ranged from relatively-prompt (and disorganized) to disastrously-slow (and disorganized). They were, however, always polite.

“Very tasty” dishes:

Pan de Elote (£3.50), which translates as “cornbread,” is here served as a warm slice of sweet cornbread topped with vegetables in a light creamy-cheesy sauce. It was a tad sugary, but I’m a sucker for sweet cornbread.

The cochinita pibil yucatan taco (£3.25) is described on the menu as a “trio of pork served with red pickled onions,” and while I’m not sure what three pork parts are in this taco, it was tasty. The pickled onions could be crispier, but I’m splitting hairs.

Tacos de pezcao (£3.75). I remember one of the things that pissed me off about the Taqueria was paying £9 for the fish taco there (and it wasn’t even good). At Boho Mexica, they use plump bits of sea bass and pile on the all-important cabbage. Oddly, on one visit, the taco was served with a tartar sauce-like condiment, and on another visit, it was served sans sauce. I liked it better without the sauce.

Tinga poblana tacos (£3.25) are tacos filled with a smoky chicken filling and topped with a zippy green salsa. We had a bit of an issue getting our hands on extra Tabasco sauce to spice it up a little more (weird because the restaurant claims to serve specialties from the Tabasco region), but with a little extra spice, these were great both times I visited.

tacos de pezcao (fish)

tacos de pezcao (fish)

“Good enough” dishes:

Carnitas tacos (£3.50). I was pretty excited about the carnitas (braised pork). While my SoCal friend enjoyed it, I found the tiny bits of crackling in the filling a bit tough, rather than deliciously crispy.

Guacamole and pico de gallo (£2 each) weren’t bad, but what ruined both of them were the stale-tasting homemade tortilla chips. Pretty unforgivable, even if the chips cost only 75p. [In the U.S. chips and salsa would be free at most restaurants.]

steak tacos at Boho Mexica

steak tacos at Boho Mexica

“Wouldn’t order it again” dishes:

Empanadas or pasties to you and me (£4.25 for two). I think of empanadas as more central/south American than Mexican, but these were stuffed with courgette blossoms and cheese, so we couldn’t resist. It turns out we should have resisted. Both empanadas, while pleasantly hot and crispy, tasted like giant pastry shells stuffed with oil.

Steak tacos (£3.50). How did this go so wrong? Where I was expecting slices of rare, juicy steak, I instead got slightly-grayish, chewy mystery meat.

Enchiladas de mole (£4.95), which I assume was on the menu to lend its Oaxacan legitimacy to the whole shebang. Now, I love chocolate-based moles, but for some reason this dish arrived at our table at room temperature. And at room temperature, the mole just *looked* unappealing. It turns out it tasted forgettable, too. Overly bitter and not enough chili smoke in there.

Agua Fresca

If you’re not in the mood for alcohol, you’ve got three interesting choices in the agua fresca section. I would’ve loved it if Boho Mexica offered a watermelon agua fresca, but the other options aren’t bad: a lightly-sweet-and-cinnamon horchata, a sweet-tangy tamarind juice, and an iced-tea-like Jamaica.

With a few juices and almost three dishes per person, our tab was £10-12 per person both times I visited. At those prices, I’ll keep trying out Boho Mexica because I have a feeling they’re capable of consistently good cooking. Improving the timing of when dishes emerge from the kitchen (so that they’re always hot when they reach your table) would be a good start.

Boho Mexica, 151-153 Commercial Street, E1 6BJ, 0207 377 8418; closest station: Liverpool Street.
Boho Mexica on Urbanspoon

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Albion Cafe, Shoreditch

Albion Cafe, Shoreditch

In the past, I’ve been disappointed by my meals at Conran restaurants (Pont de la Tour, Coq d’Argent and Skylon, for example, seemed much more about design than about food) but the Albion Cafe has won me over, serving simple dishes at good prices. In the past two months, I’ve been there twice for lunch and once for dinner. While the Cafe’s food isn’t destination dining, it’s a handy place to stop if you’ve got friends in town curious about English nursery classics, or if you’ve just spent a sunny morning at the Columbia Road flower market.

croissants at the Albion Caff

croissants at the Albion Caff

It’s annoying that you can’t make a reservation, and expect a queue on weekends for lunch. Luckily, there’s lots to snack on while you wait. The Albion Cafe’s entrance is a small grocery which, while not useful for stocking your refrigerator, sells many of the yummy baked goods on offer in the Cafe. Pastries, cakes, cupcakes, scones and cookies prettily lined up and calling out your name (and with most items costing well under a pound, why would you resist?).

cupcakes at the Albion Cafe grocery

cupcakes at the Albion Cafe grocery

With all the nibbles available while you queue, you run the danger of ruining your appetite, which would be a shame. The Cafe’s space is high-ceilinged, simple and welcoming. And the food is homey and tasty. Albion had me at hello with soft, pillowy-white slices of bread that’s baked on site. Eat your heart out, Wonderbread.

cheese cauliflower at the Albion Cafe

cheese cauliflower at the Albion Cafe

The Albion serves the kind of food you could easily make for yourself at home, but it’s cheap and tasty enough that you appreciate not having to do all that prep and cleanup. Fish and chips, cheese cauliflower, stews, Welsh rarebit, full English brekkies – all have been well-executed. TimeOut nailed it by comparing the Albion to Canteen – the Cafe is doing what now-fallen-from-grace-Canteen used to do in its heydey.

grocery at the Albion Cafe

grocery at the Albion Cafe

My meals there with a few shared starters, mains and drinks totaled about £20 a person. On my way out, I’ve always left carrying a loaf of that white bread. Now, if only Shoreditch were easier to reach via Tube . . . .

The Albion Cafe, 2-4 Boundary Street, E2 7JE; 0207 729 105; closest Tube stations: Liverpool Street or Old Street, but it’s still a healthy walk from both.
Albion at The Boundary Project on Urbanspoon

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Green & Red Mexican restaurant, Shoreditch, London

There was a time (read: all of 2007) when I couldn’t get enough of Green & Red Bar and Cantina. I must have eaten there five or six times last year. Despite its not-super-accessible-by-public-transport location, Green & Red served, in my (admittedly East-coast) opinion, the best tequila-based drinks, the best quality mole-slathered mains, and the most delicious carne asada and carnitas tacos in London. I loved the young, energetic vibe in the dining room, and the relaxed lounge downstairs was just icing on the cake.

Maybe I OD’d, but I hadn’t been back to Green & Red since 2007, so last weekend, Jon and I moseyed on down with our friends Kara and Jeff to get a taco-and-tequila fix. The service was still friendly (though harried and distracted), and the food was still good, but the bloom’s off the rose. Is it me, or is it the resto? It’s probably me, just feeling cranky about the multiple (large and loud) groups of birthday celebrators who’d taken over the dining room the night we were there. And I’d forgotten that each pitcher of margarita – full of ice cubes, too – ran north of £25 (£27.50 to be exact).

corn tortillas at Green & Red restaurant

Luckily, the tacos we ordered were still as delish as I remembered. At Green & Red, you order the taco filling you want (£12.50-£14.50 depending on the meat); you’re served taco garnishes (cabbage slaw, several salsas) and a stack of hot, soft, aromatic corn tortillas; and then it’s all Do It Yourself from there. So you can eat tacos with the filling-to-tortilla proportion you like. Extras like guac (£3.50) and queso fresco (£1.50) aren’t bad additions, but the Green & Red versions are kind of bland, so I add them more for texture than for flavor.

carne asada at Green & Red restaurant, Shoreditch, London

Jon and I always order a carne asada, which is smoky and rare like the yummy steak it is. I like that Green & Red cooks the steak and then slices up the meat (i.e., you’re not eating meat scraps or pre-chopped meat that gets dried out/overcooked). Simple and delish.

carnitas at Green & Red mexican restaurant

Carnitas is our other favorite, mostly because you get such a generous portion of pork belly (with crackling). Green & Red’s version can be a bit dry despite that thick layer of pork fat, but I throw on the cabbage slaw, queso and salsas and I’m all good.

You get a lot of meat, regardless of which taco filling you order, so Jon and I never make it to dessert, which is good, because Green & Red isn’t cheap. All the above-described food ran the two of us about £70, which strikes me as a lot for a pitcher of margaritas and tacos, however tasty. But it’s London, so I’m willing to pay for quality Mexican food. Query whether I’m willing to deal with all the large birthday groups, though.

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Columbia Road Flower Market

During a quick spell of bright sunshine on Sunday (it rained all weekend otherwise), Jon and I caught the 55 bus from Old Street tube station to reach the Columbia Road flower market. We decided it was time to try again to make our roofdeck an inviting place to sit, which means getting plants.  (Our effort last year didn’t amount to much beyond three shriveled hydrangea bushes and a sickly wisteria vine).

Every Sunday beginning at 8 am, several dozen sellers of flora and flora accoutrements sell their wares along Columbia Road, which is in an east London neighborhood that has a lot in common with the Lower East Side.

Crowded doesn’t begin to describe the jostling masses of people at the market, but (1) there’s no beating the market’s selection and prices; and (2) listening to all the cockney accents shouting out competing deals to potential customers is priceless.

It was at the market that Jon first fell in love with calling a £5 bill a “fivah.” The m.o. when you show up at the market is to move from stall to stall, checking out the inventory, listening to the deals offered (“I’ll give you three for a fivah, three for a fivah”), and then gesturing that you’ll accept one of the deals. The seller/auctioneer then acknowledges your win by throwing your plants at you. If you don’t seem the type who’s likely to catch the plants in time (i.e., you look like me), the seller tosses your plants to a sidekick who stands among potential customers, and the sidekick will then hand you the plants in exchange for your cash. It’s a fast-moving, entertaining system.

In addition to potted plants and herbs, the market vendors sell cut flowers, which are gorgeous and incredibly cheap. Every time I go to the flower market, I think about how I’d love to buy dinner party flowers at the market, but who has dinner parties on a Sunday night?

If you show up at the market near closing time (2 pm), the deals on the cut flowers get to be particularly good, but like any good deal, showing up late risks an unappealing selection of leftovers. Dilemmas, dilemmas.

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