Thursday, 16 September 2010

Tlalocan, Battersea


It's not my fault - I was lured into a false sense of security. The last two restaurants to open in Battersea were Mien Tay (excellent local Vietnamese) and the Draft House on Northcote Road (best selection of beers in the area, and decent British grub). I thought we'd turned a corner; I thought we'd finally come to our senses; I thought - I hoped - I prayed - that this would be a triumphant hat-trick of exciting new openings and I could finally hold my head up high and give a confident small handful of recommendations when someone asked me where was good to eat in the area. Alas, I should have known better. The Curse of Clapham Junction - that curious malady that seems to infect anywhere within walking distance of the station with frozen chips and Ranch Chicken and unchanging, laminated menus, has claimed its latest victim.



I've never gone from wilful optimism to pale-faced dread as quickly as when I sat down and read through the Tlalocan menu. BBQ chicken wings, Tex-Mex potato skins, three very uninspiring types of tacos, "sizzling fajitas", some suspiciously inexpensive steaks, a variation on the theme of burger, and a chicken and bacon burrito. It felt like a lazy, populist pub menu, the kind of thing you'd find in any chain bar in any high street in Britain, and hardly the level a new independent Mexican restaurant opening in 2010 should be aiming for. Nowhere deserves another Cantina Laredo, but surely firstly Wahaca and more recently Lupita (an inexpensive and I'm told pretty decent new place near the Strand) have done enough to prepare Londoners for the reality of proper fresh Mexican food? We can cope with more than a sweet margarita and a plate of nachos, can't we?


I started with a sweet margarita and a plate of nachos. Actually, the margarita was pretty good - freshly squeezed limes in a proper glass with not too much salt. It could have been colder (using a frozen glass is a good place to start) and without the couple of small chunks of ice floating in it, but still, not bad. Nachos were out of a packet and covered in horrible soggy sweet pickles, but the carnitas were tasty enough and there were plenty of them for your £5. My companion's calamari were fine, slightly soggy old oil but the batter was thin enough for that not to matter too much; the garlic mayonnaise they came with though was hugely, overpoweringly synthetic.


Mains were more depressing. I'm pretty sure these chicken wings and rack of ribs were pre-prepared - it all had that soggy, formless texture of something cooked a long time ago then reheated to order. They were soaked in an unbearably sweet packet "BBQ" sauce which brought to mind those little sachets from McDonald's. And the chips were appalling, previously frozen and tasting of oil. My friend's beef fajita was equally uninspiring - the beef had no flavour, the bread fell apart into dry clumps as soon as it had to do any work, and although the chicken pieces were kind of OK in an Old El Paso kind of way, it all felt like a lazy way to make £12.


We skipped dessert - and, in fact, a large proportion of the other dishes come to think of it - and got the bill, which came to £25 a head. It's not a fortune, I suppose, and at Cantina Laredo it would get you little more than a cheese-stuffed pepper and a brownie, but as I am wont to do, I couldn't help thinking of how much delicious fresh food you could get at Mien Tay up the road for that amount of money. The whole enterprise just reeked of a cynical, condescending attitude to the kind of food that people are expected to eat in London, and of a terrible lack of ambition. "£5 packet nachos, £12 reheated fajitas, they won't know or want any better, they'll be queuing out the door," they seem to be saying. "Familiarity, speed, chips. That's what the people want". I hope they're wrong - somebody here needs to keep faith in the restaurant going public, but... well, who really knows.

There was something very odd about the toilet arrangements at Tlalocan that at first I couldn't quite put my finger on. I opened the door from the main restaurant to the gents, and there they were, all present and correct, but it was only as I was doing my business that I realised with a start what was wrong; as a fellow diner left the room, there I was, in my rather compromised position, staring out over a good section of the restaurant and bar area. With no corner to turn or double doors to negotiate, these must be the least discreet toilets in London. You have to admire the irony though - I was able to watch Tlalocan take the piss, while they watched me take mine.

3/10

Tlalocan on Urbanspoon

19 comments:

Oisin said...

I can confidently confirm that you have been more than fair here Chris. The whole experience was more than just a bit rubbish, apart from the company of course! Good wee joke.

Helen @ Fuss Free Flavours said...

Oh yuck. Clapham Junction is horrible for food. A Waitrose sandwich on the hoof is possibly the best option.

I thought that there was a H&S law that there had to be 2 doors between kitchen / eating area and the loo?

You see it all the time in France - not that is an excuse.

Gavin said...

Urbanspoon is getting confused again. Thinks St John's Hill is in Clerkenwell.

BribedwithFood said...

I SO wanted to stop reading after studying the menu pics, but I couldn't. I. Just. Couldn't.

Chicken wings, burgers and chips have nothing to do in a Mexican menu - I would have ran for the hills straight away had I been you!

Matt said...

Is a taco really "bread"?

Mr Noodles said...

I wouldn't be surprised if the food here was made up of pre-prepared stuff off the back of a 3663 or Brakes Bros lorry. Short of staking out offending resturants to see if the lorry pulls up in the morning, another way of finding out is to go a little off-piste.

See if they can cope with you asking for no onions or less spice. If they can, that's a good sign. If they can't, either the service is crap or the meal is so pre-prepared they can't pare it down.

Chris said...

Gavin: Useless aren't they. I've tried emailing but no luck.

BWF: We nearly did actually but in the end decided that we needed to give them the benefit of the doubt. Big mistake.

Matt: I suppose technically it isn't but you get what I mean.

Noodles: I think you're right, and that's an excellent suggestion, with one small drawback - I'm never going back :)

WalshyMK said...

Absolutely with you on Draft House, great place.

St John's Hill used to have a few good options when I lived there, like the Good Earth takeaway, Spice of Life, Louvaine - but I think the latter two have closed since I stopped giving them my custom!

There are much better options down the south end of Northcote Rd these days than there used to be - Cafe Delicat, Tamra, Numero Uno, The Bolingbroke. However I do think that Earlsfield actually has better food options for a residential area!

Helen said...

Another restaurant run by people who don't give a flying shit! Brilliant! Just what we need.

Eva Lai said...

It is cool to read anything that begins with the part-sentence 'it's not my fault'. And you really do write in a romantic way, don't you. Ooooh Chris most recently I randomly bought some absolutely dry chips at a shop- Japanese written all over the packaging and apparently they've been on the oriental market for many years. Just not solid food, not solid chips, dry in the same way that biscuits and nuts are dry, but then they look like chips, and they are crunchy, and taste like good consumer goods. No storage in the fridge/ freezer, no cooking. That's in a cup, like the solid-food chips they're quite unhealthy but I like them! And back to your post that was not the first time you had toilet issues at a restaurant in the UK...

fingersandtoes said...

Those toilets sound nasty!

Just wondering if anyone has tried Mestizo on Hampstead Road? I live right next door but have never been. It certainly seems popular, and had a huge crowd of Mexicans waiting for them to open on Mexican Independence Day the other day.

The Grubworm said...

As soon as I saw the pic of the laminated menu, my heart sank. Just when you think London might be taking the first tentative baby steps to getting some decent Mexican food, you get this - soggy, plastic, super sweet, pre-made junk.

It's such a familiar picture now, i don't know why i'm surprised. Good write up Chris.

Alex C said...

There are some decent places to eat round Battersea, though. I live the other end (Chelsea Bridge rather than Battersea Bridge) and would suggest any of Santa Maria Del Sur on Queenstown Road, Lost Society on Wandsworth Road (avoid Friday & Sat for food as it gets too busy for pleasant eating) and I've eaten very well at Metro up by Clapham Common Tube too. I'm very keen on your reviews, but how about reviewing somewhere that hasn't just opened up for a change? There used to be a place on North Street called Bella M'briana that served amazing Italian food very reasonably and with lovely people running it, but the passing traffic wasn't sufficient to keep it open. As entertaining as bad reviews are I know I'd prefer a hidden gem any day.

Sam Davies said...

HEHEHE.

I live just down from here and have
thought about trying it out...

Maybe not....

The Vietnamese sounds great though!!

WMMc said...

I've been using your restaurant reviews lately to help pick where we go out to eat and so I just wanted to give back a bit and tell you about this new absolutely fabulous organic vegetarian italian place called "Amico Bio". I found it last week and have already eaten there twice. Love their Ravioli as well as their cauliflower fritters! Yum! They are located at 44 Cloth Fair London EC1A 7JQ

www.amicobio.co.uk

Have you heard of it yet?

Cheers,
Wendy
themccooeysoflondon.blogspot.com

Joshua said...

That does have a bit of a low grade Chiquitos look about it, if that's possible.

roddycun said...

Sounds awful...

It is amazing that people can actually pay that amount of money (in your case £25 per head) for pre-made, terrible quality produce.

Even the least competent of cooks could produce better food at home and is one of the main reasons of eating out not to enable yourself a chance to eat better food?

Tuck said...

very interesting, we had an almost identical experience at Boho Mexica (Shoreditch) the other day...
Similar kind of vibes, cheap, kitschy furnishings. And then there was the food..tasteless meat, minuscule portions, a majority appearing way too quickly to have been actually cooked..

looks like the not so cheap tex-mex has finally (con)descended upon London

Gastro1 said...

I'd like to thank you and Osh for trying this establishment.

Seems like I can give it a swerve.