Review: Tacos El Pastor
We told you 2017 would be the year of Mexican food but it turns out London couldn’t wait to get started. Taquerias have started opening all over town, which means that we are, at this moment, comprised of approximately 95% corn tortilla. You see, when we say there’s a Mexican wave, we mean there’s a flurry of new restaurants serving the authentic Mexican food we’ve been waiting for. Yes, Wahaca did a great job of introducing the UK to flavours beyond Tex-Mex but it’s about time we started seeing proper, nixtamilised corn tortillas, achiote stained meat, and salsas infused with the smoke and depth of dried chillies.
Tacos El Pastor has all of these things. It was always going to be good, coming from the Hart brothers, who opened the peerless Barrafina, bringing excellent tapas to London while simultaneously introducing us to a whole new way of eating dinner (queueing for it while getting tipsy, eating croquetas then sitting at a bar watching chefs cook flawless, expensive food).
El Pastor is in an archway on Borough Market’s Stoney Street, where metal shutters clatter upwards to reveal a canteen/restaurant/bar, which invites you to make it whatever you want. Lean on tilted cushions at the front to inhale a few tacos before shopping, be absorbed into the back at long communal tables, near the kitchen, or do what we did, and linger at the bar, order the whole menu and make new best friends with a random lady who went on tour with the Rolling Stones and used to attend Christmas parties at The Pentagon.
Corn tortillas can be a shock to the uninitiated, and the flavour is sometimes described as 'soily', but once you fall for them, the addiction is hopeless. At Tacos El Pastor they come in both blue and yellow varieties, filled with the true flavours of Mexico. All the tacos are the real deal, including the signature al pastor, a shawarma-style grilled meat introduced to Mexico by the Lebanese. Pork is cooked on an upright spit, rubbed with dried chillies, their flavours ranging from citrus through to chocolate, stained red with achiote, an annatto seed paste with spices.
Everything sings and dances with vivid, sun-drenched flavours; highlights were tender, fatty short ribs with guajillo (a deeply aromatic chilli), pineapple salsa and pink pickled onions. Carnitas is confit pork with lip sticking, gelatinous cuerito (pig skin), bone marrow, chicharron (famously fluffy pork scratchings sold as twisted honeycomb sheets on the streets of Mexico), and ‘salsa especial’. To be honest, all the salsas are especial, some deep red and smoky (chili de arbol), some bright green and fresh, some eye watering but addictive (habanero and pineapple).
Seafood dishes seem to skip in the mouth, so clean and bright with herbs, they speak of relief from sweaty Mexican summers, not a windy lunchtime in Borough. Beers are available straight up or ‘michelada’ which means served in a glass with spiced lime juice and a salted rim. Again: bring on the summer. We sink these, plus a couple of markedly different and interesting mezcals and feel so good about life that it’s time for dessert. Palate cleansing pineapple with chilli and mint is followed by a kind of house made Bounty Bar, reminiscent of the chocolate-covered coconut ice of our childhood.
There’s just so much to love about Tacos El Pastor – the food straight from the streets of Mexico that gets you so messy and full and grinning like an idiot. What we love is how they’ve gone all out, devoting a whole mezzanine level to grinding corn and making tortillas, and hiring chefs from ‘Mexico’s best taco restaurant’ to make sure the food tastes right; it’s the kind of attention to detail we expect from these restaurateurs and they haven’t let us down. Go, perch, bury yourself elbow deep in the (perhaps) unfamiliar flavours of this exciting cuisine. Just go early or be prepared to queue because, guess what? You can’t book. This is London, after all, and anyway, it’s all part of the show. Encore.
Tacos El Pastor, 7a Stoney Street, SE1 9AA. Open Mon - Sat 12-3pm, 6-11pm.
Last Updated 20 December 2016