Continued from A Constant London Hunger part #1…
Did someone say cactus taco? Days, weeks or maybe months ago now I’m sure Monkey spoke of a cactus taco. I can’t say I’ve ever eaten cactus – aside from the fruit on the streets of Morocco. So I insist on trying this. I don’t know where I’ll put it, but I’ll find room.
This is merely a snack stop at the brightly coloured Wahaca Mexican cantina restaurant. We’re at their Wardour Street branch – it’s enormous, loud and a little-off-the-wall (we fit right in). Do check out the donkey and their crazy website and see what they’ve done with shipping containers down at their Canary Wharf site.
Cactus taco (£3.95) grilled cactus taco with courgette, grilled cheese and guajillo oil. So what does cactus taste like? Soft and much like a zucchini. Monkey tells me the flesh is the ‘paddles’ of the Prickly Pear cactus – it’s full of vitamins and minerals and apparently reduces cholesterol (I’ll take all the help I can get after today).
Monkey is drinking beer, a Chelada – a Pacifico Clara with lime juice and a salt rim which he likens to beer tequila style. I’m going for something a lot milder, Horchata, the Mexican classic – a refreshing almond and rice milk with a touch of cinnamon (£1.75) – my thinking is that the cinnamon will aid digestion!
And because we love a sweet potato fry – we order the Crispy fried chunks of sweet potato, dressed with smokey arame loses mojo de ajo (£2.95).
Wahaca – 80 Wardour Street, London WIF OTF – 020 7734 0195
Barrafina is a Spanish tapas restaurant and bar, located in the heart of London’s West End. It comes highly recommended to me by Westie, so I must – I must, squeeze in a plate or two at their bar. The good thing about eating, continually, throughout the day, means lunch can be – well anytime we want it to! And we can avoid the queues.
I feel like I’m back in the Mercat de La Bouqueria in Barcelona. Perched on a high stool at an already full and loud bar. Paper mats and menus and cutlery are laid out swiftly and the broken-English menu interpretations begin.
We look for inspiration on either side of us – it all looks good. Pimientos de Padron (£4.70) to start. Small green peppers from the capsicum family grilled and sprinkled with coarse salt. They look harmless enough, but we’re warned that every now and then you’ll get a really hot one – which I do, first up. Apparently it’s the season for hot ones!
I’m amazed watching everything happen behind the counter in front of us – including the kitchen, a well-fed chef and the kitchen sink. The space is so narrow – everything has a place and the staff move quickly between open draws and doors and each other, like a perfectly choreographed ballet – anything left out-of-place would upset this balance.
Some Salt cod fritters (£6.50). The best I’ve ever tasted. Lovely moist shredded fish with plenty of flavour from fresh herbs, lightly fried with a crispy batter.
As we’re torn over just what tortilla to have, we go with the Jamón and Spinach Tortilla (£6.90) that’s being enjoyed by the couple to my right. Perfectly undercooked, a little runny, creamy and delicious. Then tender Octopus with Capers (£8.90).
It’s not only the food that’s great here, it’s the service. The boys are all a little short (and maybe even a little hairy) but they have crystal blue eyes and the loveliest of manners. Our waiter in particular. Everything he serves he does with an infectious smile – so proud of each dish he’s placing in front us. And then when he clears our plates (and we’ve licked them clean), “Good?” he asks, “Amazing!” we reply and his face lights-up. It makes me happy.
You know I’m a sucker for dessert, especially anything custard based! I ate many (MANY) a Crèma Catalana (£4.50) in San Sebastian, and can’t go past it today – the silky, caramelised sugar topped Spanish crème brulee.
Barrafina – 54 Frith Street, London W1D 4SL – 0207 734 0195
We literally waddle across the road to our next stop, literally – we can see our last seat at the bar from the one we take up in the window at Ceviche. I’m paranoid our lovely waiter at Barrafina is going to spy us and be led to believe we left his care hungry, un-satisfied. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Peruvian inspired Ceviche is a pisco bar, with small plates of food to enjoy with your drinks, owned by Peruvian-English restaurateur Martin Morales. Peruvian food is really a melting pot of Amerindian, Spanish, African, European and Asian cuisines with a focus on fresh local produce like seafood, corn and potatoes.
We perch at the bar, but the large dining room out the back is filled with Peruvian posters and photographs and of course some Latin-infused music is being played over the PA.
I’m drinking their signature drink, a Pisco Sour, made today with added strawberry. Pisco is Peru’s clear grape brandy and the sour is made with lime, egg white, sugar syrup and Amargo Chuncho bitters. I had my first pisco sour (and probably a few too many) many years ago in Peru but Monkey’s not mad about the idea of drinking egg white and orders the Eucalyptus Chilcano – eucalyptus infused pisco with ginger ale, lime and Amargo bitters. These will go perfectly with the Don Ceviche (£6.75), rough chunks of sea bass marinated (cold-cooked) in lime juice and Amarillo chilli “tiger’s milk”, served with more limo chilli and red onions, so clean and fresh.
What’s caught my eye are the skewers of tender, smokey charred beef heart Corazón (£6.25), beef heart, served quite rare, with white corn and an Amarillo chilli sauce. Heart is a hugely popular in Peruvian cooking but the elastic texture of this pure muscle is an acquired taste. And I’m pleasantly suprsied. Monkey cooks with this all the time, but I can’t say I ever have. The quick cooking and slight charring from the grill make it really hearty (pun-intended) but not too intense like I was expecting.
I’m glad we said no to the mac ‘n’ cheese at Spuntino, because It makes it perfectly acceptable to order the Huancaína Macaroni here – Peruvian cheese and amarillo chilli sauce with macaroni pasta (£7.50). I just hope this ooey-gooey photo does it justice.
Ceviche – 17 Frith Street, London W1 – 020 7292 2040
Last but not least was dinner at Roti Chai. It was the smell that led me here and I think a pivotal moment in mine and Monkey’s new found friendship. How could I tell him that I wanted to eat whatever food was creating these amazing smells wafting down the street as we passed behind Selfridges. After everything we’d been through that day, everything we’d ingested. What was he going to think of me? We circle the block, stopping in at various providores (just looking) and after 20 minutes, I make my move… after dropping many a hint that “I could eat again… if you could??”.
Now I know we’ll be friends for life because of course he could, happily. And I’m actually going to direct you to his blog post about our meal there, because he is half Indian and I was all ears at the dinner table as we ate Papri Chaat, Railway Curry and Tarka Daal so please keep eating here.
Roti Chai – 3 Portman Mews South, London W1H 6HS – 020 7408 0101
Having eaten all 9 of my delicious Paul A. Young chocolates – the last on my tube ride home – I can confirm that my favourite was definitely the ‘Sea salted caramel’, followed in second place by the ‘Sitchelton cheese and sweet bramble’ and then the ‘Marmite truffle’ (pictured). Paul, I don’t know how a vegemite truffle would go down here?
And as I flick back through the days images on my iPhone, my stomach groaning – I think about the Romans. They were definitely on to something with their vomitories… I really should have lived 2000 years ago.