Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Buen Provecho, Waterloo


In wondering just why it is that some of the street food stalls in London are so far ahead of their competitors in their relevant fields (try finding a better burger than the #meateasy bacon cheeseburger, go on, I dare you, or for that matter a better Chocolate Fudge Sundae than Choc Star's) it's tempting to conclude that certain types of cuisine just lend themselves better to this kind of arrangement than others. Small-turnover, "fast" (ish) food, heavily dependent on an individual's passion for their own chosen cuisine and with an attention to detail on ingredients and method that borders on scary, the humble burger has been transformed by the #meateasy treatment because the pace and freedom of street food allows and encourages experimentation, invention and sheer, bloody-minded obsession. Somehow, sometimes, in a restaurant environment, where the link between the chef and the customer is hidden behind fixtures and fittings and 12.5% service, that magic and passion is lost.


But this post isn't about the #meateasy. Around the back of Waterloo station, a humble taco stall is doing for Mexican street food what Yianni did for West Coast burgers, and is surely destined to be just as popular. Buen Provecho is the work of Arturo Ortega Rodriguez of Mexico City who, according to Timeout, came to London six years ago and worked briefly in a hotel before setting up his own mobile operation. Like the Meatwagon when it still existed, he moves about a bit - my friend Helen found him in Elephant and Castle, of all places - but nowadays can reliably be seen Mondays to Fridays, midday until "whenever the food runs out" on Lower Marsh St market. The small menu is displayed on a chalkboard pinned to the back of his tent, and contains what at first glance is a familiar run-through of Mexican dishes - tacos, quesadillas, nachos - all at sensible prices. I ordered a selection of 3 tacos (£6) and was told to help myself to the toppings out on display - a chunky, bright green guacamole, an onion and chilli salad, and a mysterious house salsa which Arturo sells by the jar. Before we go any further, how many times in any Mexican joint in London have you been allowed to "help yourself" to as much guacamole as you like? And instead, how many times have you been charged 50p extra on top of your stodgy £6 burrito for the privilege of having any guacamole at all? Buen Provecho were already in my good books, and that was even before I'd eaten anything.


From the left, we have, first, Adobo con carne, not-too-tender but hugely flavoursome strips of beef in a subtle smoked chilli sauce which was quite unlike anything I'd had before. I want to describe the sauce as "oaky" but this description doesn't go far enough - it was dense and woody, rich like the smell of an antique wardrobe, and coated the beef thoroughly without either being too oily or too dry. The guacamole I'd chosen to dump on top (I'd like another go at choosing toppings, I think - I can probably do better) seemingly consisted of little more than great buttery coarse chunks of avocado and a few bits of coriander, but had a greater hit of fresh lime than any other you can get in London and was utterly magnificent. Next along was Pollo con mole, moist strips of slow-cooked chicken in a great mole sauce that made me finally realise what all the fuss was about mole - faintly chocolaty, spicy and umami-rich - and topped with the tinglingly fresh house salsa, of which I won't even begin to guess the ingredients but will say I am going back for a jar of it the next chance I get.


But best of all was, on the right, the pork pibil, unbelievably tender strips of pork in a spicy orange (the fruit and the colour) sauce that was just so mind-blowingly good I actually laughed out loud, on my own, as I ate it. It's very difficult to describe why it was so brilliant without resorting to meaningless hyperbole, but there was just something about how fresh, how - bear with me - alive (in a metaphorical sense obviously) it was, and topped with a crunchy red onion and chilli salad which added texture and fire, it added up to what must be a definitive version of this famous Mexican snack. Certainly, if there's a better one out there, I'll eat my sombrero.

My only regret is that I didn't order twice as much, and in fact looking through the menu more thoroughly now I'm back on the computer I can see the 'Meal Box' option which may be a better way of getting as much of that pork pibil down my neck as possible for £6. So next time, and of course there will be a next time, very soon, I will be a bit more confident (read: greedy) with the toppings, perhaps pick up some cream of chickpea soup as a little starter, and make sure I have a long leisurely lunch hour to ensure nothing comes between me and my food. For a fraction of the price and fanfare of certain other hugely overblown restaurants in London, Buen Provecho is producing the greatest Mexican food this side of the Yucatan, and is single-handedly responsible for restoring my faith in this most poorly represented of cuisines. Go, and enjoy it while you can before history repeats itself and Meatwagon-style fame descends on Arturo Ortega Rodriguez.

9/10

Arturo can be found on Lower Marsh Street market from mid-day until "whenever the food runs out, usually 2:30-3pm", Monday to Friday. He is also available for private catering and can be reached on 07908 210311.

#meateasy bacon cheeseburger picture linked with kind permission of Ross Bruniges.

23 comments:

Gastro1 said...

Looks like another great find amigo.

Pavel said...

Nice find Chris, will have to check this out when I'm next over that way!

Gregory said...

Love the work. Buen Provecho looks brilliant !

On the Meatwagon, I am sure the burger is great, but am I the only the only one who thinks that people are getting a little carried away. As someone who makes a fair burger I can't help but feel ....It's just a burger ! and yes I have enjoyed the "In and Out" burger first hand and as good as it is I wouldn't cross LA for it either.

A good taco (up until now) has been virtually extinct in London which is why this is such a great thing !

Oliver said...

Does this guy do Whitecross St do we know?

Thought the Mexican place there was a bit swag - minute amount of park in the burrito and extra for guac.

gherkingirl said...

Sounds great, if he has any seating like tacos trucks tend to do as it's a difficult area to find anywhere to actually eat these unless you have an office to take them back to. There's barely even a wall to sit on to get them down you while they're warm which puts me off a bit. Maybe I'll hit up if he goes back to Elephant...

Lizzie said...

FUCK why don't I work nearer waterloo? GAH.

Gourmet Chick said...

Good find Chris. Food wagons seem to be the next big thing I notice at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival this year they are flying over people who run the food wagons in LA to host dinners - food wagons hit the big time.

Anonymous said...

Good find! http://vendr.tv/blog/profiles/buen-provecho/

Anonymous said...

Errrrrrr, neither Cheese and biscuits or his 'friend Helen' 'found' this bloke... I heard about the stall on Chowhound a couple of years ago and have been a regular visitor since, as have a lot of people in my office just down the road.

Also, the opening times you have at the end of your post aren't really indicative of when he's around, as he seems to take random days off without any notice.

Whatever, it's good food. The jerk chicken in the little square in the summer is also good. Wonder if you'll check it out or wait for your 'friend Helen' to go first and tell you what to think? ;)

Chris said...

Oliver: No I think the people on Whitecross St are called Luardos (and they're not as good :) ).

Anonymous: The opening times are just what Arturo told me, whether he decides to stick to them is I suppose up to him.

I didn't claim Helen found him first, just that she caught up with him at Elephant a while back, on a tipoff from someone else as she clearly points out in her post. I didn't go into the whole story of who "discovered" him first because, quite frankly, nobody apart from trainspotters like you would give a shit.

Donald Edwards said...

Right I'm quite excited now - Mexican cuisine is one that, although I've heard many people who's opinions I agree with rave about the best examples, I have simply never had what I would term good (or even passable) Mexican. So off to Buen Provecho it is.... thanks

Manne said...

Completely agree, utterly delicious and I feel blessed that I work right around the corner so I can catch him once a week.

The topping to the far right in your photo, the pickled red onion, is insanely addictive. Almost choked on the heat the first time I tried it though.

Another tip is the thai guy who sometimes is around as well. Brilliant. Haven't seen him in a few weeks though.

And then you have the Carribean (why can't I ever learn how to spell that?) couple in the nearby park opposite The Old Vic selling jerk chicken and stew with rice and peas.

Very satisfying meals served from under their gazebo.

Patrick said...

I remember Food Stories post on this too. Looks really good.

There's a cafe a few doors along called Marie's which is great too. It's Thai owned and during the day it's greasy spoon/thai food and in the evening it's just Thai and BYO.

My Dad used to work at Christian Aid across the road and I'd go all the time as a child. Have been a few times in the past few months and it's still good.

Manne said...

In short: Lower Marsh rocks for great food! :)

I love the small place called Zeitgeist at the Westminster Bridge Road end, across the street.

Tasty roast pork every day.

federilli said...

Wow - this is AROUND THE CORNER from my house... I SO will work from home next week and treat myself to a local lunch. Nice one.

federilli said...

Posting another comment sorry,

gherkingirl - there's a small park right across the street where you could sit to enjoy the tacos... or right opposite the Old Vic the Emma Cons gardens have some benches.

After all this food, if you guys want a decent coffee walk over to Greensmith's. We do our grocery shopping there (Ginger Pig meat, Solstice veggies) but the coffee / deli is pretty good too.

tori said...

Serve yourself guacamole with lime. Such are the good things in life. If only there was a Sol or a margarita to go with it...

Meat said...

A true street food hero.

Krista said...

One of those places that I always meant to get to but never did!

federilli said...

Hi Chris

just back from a lunch break at Buen Provecho. Must admit, very disappointing! I had the pork - as you said, very juicy and very tasty, and i did enjoy BUT the beans were tasteless and the rice a mushy mess, very overcooked and bland. Loved the guacamole. Disappointed in the tortilla which are out of a packet. Husband had the chicken and it had no flavour. Maybe an off day but at £6 a box, it's an expensive take away!

Anonymous said...

tortillas are in a packet because he also sell them by the packet. and they are very good and he also sell hand made tortillas.

Anonymous said...

I work just down the road and I'm now gutted that I've been missing out on great Mexican food for the last few months. Thanks for opening my eyes, I'll be checking it out as soon as poss.

Oldsoul_NotQuite said...

Has Bruen Provecho ended? Been twice recently to Lower Marsh street and he isn't there.