Grandma’s Home Cooking
Good Mexican food in the UK is hard to find so the attraction of Ella Canta is the as-close-to-Grandma’s-home-cooked food, not to mention the outstanding service
Review by Andy Barnham
I love Mexican food; from the colour and the spiciness of the food, to crisp light Mexican beer (Pacifico for me please!) and also the odd shot of tequila. However, I make no bones about it, Mexican food in the UK is generally not very good and given the choice I much prefer to sip tequila rather than shot Jose Cuervo with salt and lime.
One explanation for this could be the fact that Mexicans don’t tend to travel far from home. Wherever you go in the world, there are always Chinese restaurants and Irish bars; case in point are my parents’ upcoming travels to Micronesia for which my Chinese mother has already established there are multiple Chinese restaurants to frequent. However Mexican food is harder to find primarily due to the fact there aren’t large communities outside Mexico and North America. The knock-on effect is that there is little market for Mexican ingredients. And whilst I’ve never visited Mexico, I always make a point of eating Mexican food when I travel to the USA as it’s so much better than in the UK.
Which brings me to Ella Canta which sits at the southern tip of Piccadilly in a ground floor corner of the Intercontinental Hotel over-looking No 1 London and Hyde Park Corner. If you’re used to loud and vibrant wall murals, you’re going to be disappointed with a lack of natural light accentuated by dark glossy wood. Whilst there are playful and colourful nods sprinkled around the restaurant, the decor is certainly not the attraction. The attraction is the as-close-to-Grandma’s-home-cooked food and the outstanding service which will leave you gushing long after you leave.
Ella Canta has just started a brunch menu, themed around local Mexican dishes ideal for a hungover morning. And introduced by our Mexican waiter Vladimir (I’m sure there is a great story behind that name choice), you’ll be going back for more. Incredibly friendly and engaging, you’re not going to put a foot wrong with Vladimir’s recommendations, both culinary or from the bar. Had your fill of bad chewy octopus experiences? He’ll have you trying the triple cooked Octopus Tostadas and you’re going to love it. On the fence about flavoured margaritas? You’re going to try, finish and re-order all four; especially the ones you thought you’d skip such as the lavender or the pistachio.
The brunch is laid out as per a three-course meal with starter, main and dessert with unlimited margaritas or bubbles to accompany. Moving from sour to fruity, the flavour profile of the four margaritas is balanced and subtle but keeping the identity which makes the cocktail so identifiable. Just as the decor isn’t what you’d expect, the same is true of the menu; no nachos or fajitas in sight. Instead try the house guacamole which includes two salsas (one spicy and one not) garnished with a genuine grasshopper. Try the slow cooked Suadero style beef, where the fat reduces and then helps caramelise the meat. Vegetarian? Don’t worry, Vladimir will take care of any allergies when you order and there are ample non meat dishes to choose from. So go for the Chilaquiles of fried tortillas in salsa topped off with eggs (why have I never had these before?!) or the tamale, cheese and black mole.
A 90 minute seating time is allocated per table and be warned, it goes quickly. Although helpings aren’t large, they’re certainly filling, and I doubt you’re going to need to eat anything else for the rest of the day. If you’re used to British high street Mexican as a standard, you’ll find this is a level up in terms of choices but also in particular the sheer authenticity and love that goes into each dish. There’s just no escaping the attention that has gone into the mix of flavours and textures which you’ll be scratching your head at – but will leave you wanting more. From the churros with some real bite and texture, to the coconut and vanilla custard with caramelised pineapple, to the strong Mexican coffee with guava foam and cinnamon stick.
Enquiries: Ella Canta, One Hamilton Place, Park Lane, Mayfair, London W1J 7QY / 0207 3188715 / www.ellacanta.com/