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.
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.