Monday, 21 February 2011

Lupita, Charing Cross


It has become an accepted fact, repeated almost to the point of cliché, that London does not do good Mexican food. And this is very strange, because not only are there a huge number of Mexican restaurants in the capital - at least 80 according to London Eating - but not all of them are terrible. Admittedly, most of them are; it must say something that two of the worst meals I had last year, at the trashy and way too expensive Cantina Laredo and the utterly diabolical Tlalocan were both at Mexican restaurants, and I can't honestly say I'm dying to try out the Leicester Square branch of Chiquito or, based on the reviews, spend an evening in Desperados in Greenwich. But I enjoyed my meal at Wahaca far more than the sub-£15 a head price tag would suggest, and I'm also very partial to a loose-meat beef taco from Daddy Donkey's stall on Leather Lane. I would hesitate to dismiss the idea of any high-end or "gourmet" Mexican, as I'd like to think every world cuisine deserves a chance to get "poshed up", but perhaps the secret of Mexican food in London is to keep it simple.

Into this hardly saturated marketplace, then, steps Lupita. Tucked away around the back of Charing Cross station, it's a tastefully if minimalistically decorated restaurant hung heavy with the smell of charcoal-grilled meat. And being the world's biggest fan of the smell of charcoal-grilled meat, I was therefore put in exactly the right frame of mind to enjoy what had been billed as a Mexican "with a difference". No Tex-Mex rubbish, this, I was promised, but fresh and unusual (for here at least) ingredients and interesting dishes that showcased just the kind of food that us poor deprived Londoners had been missing out on all of these years. I was hungry, and excited. And then - barely a minute or two after we'd ordered it - the food arrived.


Worried at first we'd ordered too many dishes, it was relief touched with a note of disappointment to discover just how small some of them were. And that they were small wouldn't itself have been too much of an issue had many of them tasted of much. We had three different types of tacos, a sweet and surprisingly bland one for something containing both pork and bacon; a lukewarm underseasoned vegetarian one that contained slithery slugs of nopales (cactus); and one consisting of small chunks of bland beef which was billed as having been marinated in "our own special recipe" but didn't taste of anything much more than plain grilled beef. Expecting a bit more fire and zing and wondering whether we were just expected to provide our own seasoning with the supplied sauces, it was even more disappointing to discover that even the 'hot chilli' sauce that our waitress had gone so far as to warn us about ("it's very hot, be careful") was so bland we could quite easily eat big oily spoonfuls of it on its own. Also, I'll give Lupita the benefit of the doubt and assume that the fragile and overwhelmingly powerful (that masa flour really has an extraordinary strong flavour) taco casings are authentically Mexican, but it doesn't mean I have to like them.


Huitlacoche quesadilla was reasonably interesting - mushroomy and thick and black like vegetarian squid ink. But it again was underseasoned and I think describing it as the "Mexican truffle" is overstating it somewhat - it was, all said, a mushroom quesadilla, not unpleasant but hardly earth-shattering. And chiles y vegetales was just cold, slimy vegetables, resembling old ratatouille, topped with pickled jalapenos. In fairness, the jalapenos were nice and, unlike everything else on the table, surprisingly fiery, so at least we got our chilli hit from somewhere.


I did, thank God, enjoy two of the dishes. Chicharron was a huge sheet of baked cheese which you break chunks off to scoop up the excellent Guacamole underneath, and was enormous fun. The salty, crispy cheese made a perfect accompanyment to the soft rich guacamole, and although you'd hope to enjoy it for £7, it was - unlike most of the other courses - interesting, tasty and generous in proportion. Excellent too was tostada ceviche, which contained marvellously moist and flavoursome chunks of white fish, a delicately crusty base and a good fresh dressing. It was barely a mouthful of food for over £5, although I'm sure a lot of effort went into its construction.



With a (nice enough) margarita each the bill came to £46 for two, and although this isn't a fortune by London standards, it is quite a lot considering we left if not hungry then not full, and hardly impressed by much of what we ate. I can see what Lupita are trying to do, and certainly somewhere attempting to produce anything Mexican other than cheddar nachos and burritos needs to be encouraged, but I got the impression that a lot of these dishes held a promise of tasty food that hadn't, for whatever reason, quite been allowed to make good. If I'm in this part of town again with a craving for tacos, I'll head for Wahaca - it's not perfect, but it's just that bit better, and cheaper, than Lupita. And in a town with quite so many terrible Mexican restaurants as London, that, for now, is good enough.

5/10

Lupita on Urbanspoon

22 comments:

Dan Bowtell said...

We walked into this restaurant hoping for some good Mexican and then walked straight back out. There was an overwhelming and unpleasant smell of burning, as if the were really over char-grilling everything.

Em said...

Completely in agreement with you here. I went to Lupita with two friends - both of whom thought it was great, but I was left feeling really disappointed and unfulfilled. I definitely thought Wahaca was better, spicier and more interesting - Lupita was just rather dull, and I don't think the place has much atmosphere (though what I'd expect from Villiers Street I'm not sure!).

We made the mistake of sharing a bowl of nachos which a colleague had recommended - seasoned tortilla chips (by which I mean out of a packet) topped with bland, sloppy toppings. Even my local does better nachos than this place, and it's not even pretending to be Mexican.

The Grubworm said...

I think you've hit on something when you say that the simple is best when it comes to Mexican. Certainly I've never had a pricey Mexican (or Tex-Mex) meal that was worth the money, either here or in the US. On the other hand I've had some great Quesadilla and Burrittos that were pretty inexpensive and packed full of flavour.

RC said...

Try Taqueria on Westbourne Grove before writing off all Mexican in London

Lizzie said...

I still can't understand why people told us to try the huitlacoche (sp!) if we're 'adventurous' -I can't see what could be offensive about it.

I was pretty disappointed with this meal, especially since we could have had a slap-up Koya meal nearby instead.

Pavel said...

I've been a couple of times now for lunch. The Chorizo Quesadilla is worth a punt but it seems to be going down hill by all accounts. The huitlacoche is just dire though...

Laissez Fare said...

I went when it opened a few times as it was around the corner from where I used to work and pretty much thought the same. A few dishes were good, but most were average and not very inspiring...also the food was all pretty much luke-warm. I do like the design of the place, though - cool bar structure. :)

Matt said...

If I had gloves on, sir, I would take one off and slap you with it.
Desperados is great.

miss south said...

I'd agree that Lupita isn't perfect (although I don't pretend to have any great knowledge about authentic Mexican having never been to Mexico) but when we reviewed it there were several things I liked above and beyond the food.

It serves grown up non alcoholic drinks and doesn't get the arm in on them. A horchata is £1.50 compared to a glass bottle of Coke usually costing over £2 in most places. I like the fact it's moving away from the British obsession with booze, especially if you go at lunchtime.

Our waitress also talked us out of ordering things that were too samey and saved us a lot of money by giving us a side dish that wasn't on the menu. We also weren't chased out the minute we finished eating even though it was a Friday night.

I think I liked the sum of Lupita rather just the food, but I can see why others would see it differently.

Grumbling Gourmet said...

Say it ain't so... Not another so-so to pointless Mexican joint! It's not the most difficult cuisine to get right surely? Seriously, the moment that someone opens a decent Mexican place in London, it's going to be packed.

Spending time in San Fran makes me really miss the good stuff, gawd knows what I'd be like if I spent time in Mexico...

Helen said...

BUEN PROVECHO! I keep telling you ;)

Oliver said...

STILL looking for decent proper mexican in London with good spicy food etc... Must be one somewhere!

fingersandtoes said...

I want to know if anyone's been to Mestizo. I live right next door but have never been, and don't know if it's worth it! One way to find out I suppose...

Chz said...

El Panzon (used to be in the DogStar, now in the Hootananny) used to be really, really good. I haven't been in ages though, and I hear the head chef left a while back. Pity, because it was easily the best Mexican I'd had in London 5 years ago. Wahaca is probably second.

I have a real yearning to go out to Essex and have some Taco Bell. It's utter shite, but it's yummy utter shite.

CalzoneCalzone said...

I would be interested to hear your thoughts of taqueria in nott hill.

Chris said...

Dan Bowtell: Yeah see I quite liked that smell, but can see why it wouldn't be for everyone.

RC/CalzoneCalzone: Yes had very similar messages on Twitter too. Will have to check it out.

Lizzie: Mmmm Koya. It's been too long!

Matt: Really? Well I never. Always just assumed the worst.

miss south: I agree the service was good, and take your point on the coffee pricing although I don't drink coffee and we only had one alcoholic drink each anyway. We also weren't chased out but as the food arrived literally a minute or two after we'd ordered it we hardly stayed long either - I think we were in and out in about 30 minutes! All those considerations aside anyway, I just wasn't that impressed by the food.

Becs said...

That chicharron looks delicious! Think Cantina Laredo may be after you for those comments on your other post! :P

Joshua said...

I've been a couple of times to Lupita and overall like the place, although those Mexican truffles aren't the nicest and bagged nachos a disappointment. Service ropey too.

Not been to Mexico yet but I think it's reasonably authentic compared to most, at least the the table of Mexicans next to me last time were very excited by the dishes.

Isn't it a Mexcian chain too? Although seems they've dumbed the heat down in their sauces.

Matt said...

I should remind you the check the URLs of the comments I make...

tori said...

Ah the quest for decent Mexican continues. For me nothing will ever beat a fish taco eaten in Baja, with sand still crusted between my toes. Thanks for doing the hard yards for us...!

Mzungu said...

Another joint serving Tex-Mex and calling it Mexican Cuisine.
I long for the day when there is a proper Mexican restaurant in London, but proper Mexican food really does not travel outside the borders of Mexico.

lucia said...

To the person who was asking about Mestizo, I was there the other night and think it's great. I had the first decent tamal I've ever found in London (that I haven't had to make myself) and was impressed by the authenticity of the menu (I lived in Mexico for years). You'll see a lot of bitching on the review sites about stroppy waiting staff, but they couldn't have been nicer or more helpful when I went. If I lived nearer I'd be in there all the time.
I quite like Wahaca, but I've never found anything else in London yet that comes as close to the real thing as Mestizo.