Tuesday, 29 March 2011
Sometimes, Brewdog can be a very hard beer to love. I'm not just talking about the taste of the beer itself, either, although certain of their more esoteric offerings over the years have been bizarre to the point of undrinkable (see later in this post). My issue is, despite the obvious talent of the people behind Brewdog and the often - in fact, usually - superb products they create, to drink them is to endorse, and indeed encourage, the kind of irritating egotism that allows nonsense like this to be printed on their bottles of Toyko (18.2%):
The irony of existentialism, the parody of being and the inherent contradictions of post-modernism, all so delicately conveyed by the blocky, pixelated arcade action have all been painstakingly recreated in this bottles contents.
Riiiight. Get over yourselves, guys, you are never going to make a profound philosophical statement on the "irony of existentialism" using jasmine-infused beer and you are most definitely not the Jean-Paul Sartre of fermented barley products. And in case you're thinking that surely this pseudo-intellectual tripe is at least partly tongue-in-cheek then firstly, that hardly makes it any less irritating, and secondly I (briefly) met one of the owners at a tasting a few weeks back and believe me, he was not a man with an underdeveloped sense of self. We sat wincing as he regaled us with poor taste anecdotes about lesbians calculated to display what a dynamic and interesting rebel he was and by extension what a punky and non-conformist company Brewdog was. It was - almost - enough to justify a boycott.
I say almost, because the terrible truth is, most Brewdog beers are absolutely bloody awesome. The Tokyo, from whose bottle that brain-bleedingly annoying passage above was taken, is rich, chocolaty and satisfying, a deep, dark embrace of a drink that isn't too sweet, too floral or too hoppy but a perfectly balanced hit of malt, wood fires and winter fruits. It would be perfectly complemented, if you were so inclined, with a dense chocolate cake or malt loaf, a genuinely satisfying dessert beer.
Others in the line-up are just as impressive. If you've not ever tried the lovely Alice Porter then get yourself down to the White Horse in Putney where this 6.2% beauty (based on a 300 year old recipe) is on sale for a ludicrous £2.80 a pint - at least, it was on my last visit. And there's always room for their classic Punk IPA (5.6%), light and fruity and just caramelly enough, and now also available - shock horror! - in cans.
Last night, at an impromptu beer tasting at a friend’s flat, we tried four new Brewdog single-hop IPAs that I was very kindly sent to try from their (presumably long-suffering) PR people; I saw the same pack on the top shelf at Utobeer at Borough Market though so they are out there if you look in the right places. Never has the phrase "mixed pack" been so appropriate. The Bramling X (7.5%) was powerfully hoppy with a strange note of soy sauce - perhaps some strange reaction with the wheat - and although interesting alright was hardly an easy drink. The same went for the Sorachi Ace (7.5%) which assaulted with flavours of dried herbs, pine, liquorish and lemon - another beer that made you go "wow!" swiftly followed by "I can't have any more of this." Fortunately Citra (7.5%) was much more drinkable, living up to its name with lovely heady flavours of orange and grapefruit - one to drink on a summer's afternoon. And finally the weirdly titled Nelson Sauvin (7.5%) was actually the most straightforward of the bunch, delicate and grapey.
By this point we were all feeling a little overwhelmed (yes, that's "overwhelmed" not "pissed") but we had two more of my favourites to enjoy. Firstly, Hardcore IPA (9.2%) is a stunningly powerful blend of various different hops and is so bitter it's almost painful. Once you get over the initial shock, though, you're rewarded with a complex run of different flavours and addictive like Tabasco - you know it hurts, but you can't help coming back for more.
And then, finally, the 32% Tactical Nuclear Penguin. It's a stupid name for a drink borne seemingly out of a childish and PR-led desire to sell the World's Strongest Beer(TM), and if this doesn't put you off then the guff on the bottle might:
"...it should be enjoyed in small servings and with an air of aristocratic nonchalance. In exactly the same manner that you would enjoy a fine whisky, a Frank Zappa album or a visit from a friendly yet anxious ghost." Shut up.
But again, oh so irritatingly, it's absolutely delicious. Thick and rich, nowhere near as burny as the 32% alcohol might suggest, it's actually supremely well balanced, unctuous and sweet and an absolute joy to drink. It's £35 a bottle, too, but then quality always comes at a price and it's still a damn sight cheaper than the $150/bottle Sam Adams Utopias I once tried at a tasting, which shied away from its beery origins and ended up tasting like port or malt liqueur of some kind. TNP actually does taste like beer, albeit beer like no other. I love it.
Brewdog isn't a company we love to hate so much as one we hate to love. The stupid press stunts, the ego, the arrogance, the self-indulgent twaddle on the bottles, all these things are supremely irritating, but if the end product is as good as Tokyo or Tactical Nuclear Penguin then perhaps it's worth all the pain. They are more or less single-handedly responsible for igniting my obsession with craft beers, and are undeniably very, very good at what they do. So well done, you annoying bastards you.
Friday, 25 March 2011
Considering the abuse I occasionally get for slating (or otherwise) restaurants based on one visit ("you should be fair-minded enough to visit more than once" - er, no thanks) then reviewing somewhere based on a single dish may seem deliberately provocative. But in the case of Kêu!, a brand-spanking-new Vietnamese sandwich bar from the prodigious talents behind Cay Tre and Viet Grill restaurants, I hope I'm on safer ground because, firstly, being a sandwich shop one dish is all most customers will order anyway, and secondly, people don't generally tend to get as bothered about positive reviews. And thanks to a truly magnificent Banh Mi from Kêu!, this review is going to be very positive indeed.
With Josh from Cooking the Books having visited already this week to try the house special Keu Sandwich (spiced belly of pork with ham terrine and chicken liver pate), and being suitably impressed with it, I thought I should attempt to explore another corner of the menu; perhaps BBQ Mackerel, to see if they are as comfortable with seafood as meat, or even the 'Lap Xuong' sausage just to see what the hell it even was. However, I'm only human - one look at the rows of glistening pork ribs hung up behind the counter at Kêu! and I found myself ordering a BBQ Pork banh mi, along with a £2 cup of blood orange juice.
I was a little concerned at first to see the baguettes were more of the French crusty style than the lighter rice flour type used by the guys at Banh Mi 11, but as soon as I'd taken the first bite it hardly seemed to matter. It was, quite simply, glorious. All the ingredients that make a banh mi so special were there - fresh herbs, the occasional bite of red chilli, the crunch of daikon radish and cucumber and sweet lemongrass, but lifting it into something legendary was a layer of the most unbelievably tender roast pork, perhaps the best example of its kind I've yet had in London, perhaps anywhere. Whether it was merely because I was early enough to catch it straight out of the oven or Kêu! do in fact make roast pig better than anybody else is something only time will tell, but for now I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. I ate the sandwich, with its complex balance of fresh herbs and silky pork fat and chilli, in awestruck silence.
I have since learned that the bread used by Kêu! for their banh mi is the result of months of research in collaboration with Clarke's bakery, and the reason they haven't gone down the rice flour route is that to create the "authentic" ethereally light-but-still-crunchy trademark banh mi baguette involves the use of artificial improvers, something they were unwilling (probably quite rightly) to do. So yes, the crunchy sourdough is a little hard on the jaw muscles and isn't strictly "authentic" but on the other hand it adds flavour, a lovely golden colour and is a top quality craft product in its own right, so shut up and enjoy it.
As if I needed yet another reason to wax lyrical about Kêu!, there's the little matter of the price. This is by some distance the best sandwich I've enjoyed in a long while, nearly a foot long, stuffed with premium expertly cooked ingredients and encased in artisan bread, and to be charged £4.50 for it just seems like some kind of confidence trick or early April Fools joke. Think how much you'd be charged for a 12" "Meatball Marinara" from depressingly virulent Subway, horrible things in soggy plastic "bread" which seem to taste completely identical no matter which of the myriad of processed fillings you choose. Kêu! couldn't be more different - it's cheap, delicious and made by clever, talented people who care, and I intend to spend the next few weeks working my way through the rest of the menu.
Wednesday, 16 March 2011
The wildly popular Polpo, Russell Norman's first venture, has 60 covers. Polpetto, opened last year and also impossibly busy from day one, has 28. And now there's Spuntino, nestled amongst the peep shows and sex shops in the seediest part of seedy Soho, with seats for just 26. Skip forward a few years and I imagine I'll be posting about "Spunketto", an uber-trendy Italian snack bar in the basement of a Frith Street brothel that seats one person per day. They'll still be queuing down the street.
There's a reason why they're all so popular, of course. If you liked the candle-lit, gently illicit atmosphere of Polpo and Polpetto, you'll find even more to enjoy about Spuntino, which is blessed with an even more impressive space - all glazed bricks and mosaics, original and uncovered purely by chance during the build apparently. The bar, stainless steel surrounded by custom built bar stools and highlighted softly by caged bulbs hanging from the high copper-tiled ceiling, is a gloriously louche space in which to spend an evening, and is stocked with the familiar Polpo(etto) range of Aperol and Campari and Venetian wines.
And then there's the food. More New York-leaning, more experimental perhaps than the more traditionally Italian fare served up at the other restaurants, it contains eye-catching items like "Egg & soldiers", "Farm-house cheddar grits" and "Steak & eggs". First to arrive though was a bowl of eggplant (no, not aubergine) chips (no, not fries), which I think contained fennel seeds in their crispy breadcrumb coating and had a sharp fennel yoghurt to dip into. They were lovely.
House pickles were amongst the best I've had in anywhere. Not too sweet, not too vinegary, rather than all blending into a homogonous pickle flavour they actually all tasted commendably of the original vegetable, particularly the brilliant fennel pickles and the sweet strips of celery.
"Egg and soldiers" was great fun - a whole crispy-coated fried egg, sort of like a meatless Scotch Egg, and some buttered toast to dip into it. At first I thought it was under seasoned, but then realised you were expected to season the opened egg as you would a normal boiled egg at home. It was perfectly timed inside, too - solid white and wholly runny yolk.
Lardo on toast suffered only slightly for not having the greatest pig in the world - you can see why they splash out on Iberico at Le Cafe Anglais - but the toast was nicely charred to provide that important bitter counterpoint to the soft, rich pork. Two generous slices too, for £4.50, and a handful of sharp caperberries.
The food had been hugely enjoyable but not yet thrilling, until the arrival of this guilt-inducing, heaving, filthy masterpiece - the truffled egg toast. Thick crusty bread topped with an oozing layer of melted Fontina cheese, a soft-boiled egg yolk and truffle oil, it drew gasps of amazement from all who tried it. The pungent cheese and heady notes of truffle was a match so addictive it's a wonder you don't see it more often, and the moment when you break through the centre and the yellow yolk softens the bread base is something to be cherished. As good as it was for dinner though, I have a feeling it has the potential to be the greatest brunch in London.
Though nothing could top the truffled egg, we still had room for a duck ham salad, perfectly seasoned and fresh, and a spicy sausage and lentil dish which was hearty and contained generous amounts of sausage. We also tried a portion of those cheesy grits, which was as good an introduction to this dish as I could hope for, although I'm sure people with more experience of Southern US food will give more informed opinion.
The only dish that didn't really do much for me was the soft-shelled crab, which despite being deftly fried in a thick batter and looking the part was let down by the not-very-Tabasco-ey Tabasco aioli. Perhaps I should have asked for the bottle and drowned it all in the stuff like I usually do with my cheese on toast at home.
Desserts were no afterthought. Liquorish ice-cream with pineapple wasn't anywhere near as weird as you might think, and the Carpaccio-style wafer-thin slices of fruit were very cleverly done. Even better though was the "peanut butter & jelly sandwich", actually cherry (I think) jam sandwiched between two thick slices of peanut ice-cream, topped with crunchy sugared peanuts.
So yes, Spuntino is very good indeed. A winning match of unique and tasty comfort food served with a smile in stunning surroundings, it's yet another perfectly conceived and expertly executed concept that is sure to drain my wallet and steal away my evenings in much the same way as Polpo and Polpetto have done. It's also, I'm certain, destined to be just as maddeningly popular, but if the hordes that snake down the stairwell on Dean St or spill out of the door on Beak St are anything to go by, that won't put many people off. Hell, for another slice of that truffled egg toast, I think I'd queue forever.
Tuesday, 15 March 2011
My history with Virgin Trains, if you'll forgive me a brief diversion from the business of eating, is long and rather troubled. I have been travelling semi-regularly up and down the London Euston-Liverpool Lime Street route since 2003 when I first got a job in the capital. Back then, they were in the slow and tortuous process of upgrading the tracks and stations on the west coast main line, meaning while journeys up on Friday evening were generally fine, the return leg often meant 5 or 6 hour relays on bus replacement services and creaking diversions through the centre of Manchester. I put up with the misery though, partly because I had to - how else was I going to travel, helicopter? - but also because, as we were constantly reminded, once the seemingly endless engineering works were complete, we would be treated to a superfast and super-modern Pendolino (tilting train) service which would whiz lucky travellers around the country in record time.
The reality, once it arrived, was somewhat less impressive. The new Pendolinos were fraught with technical problems, from blocked toilets and faulty lighting to "climate control" systems that would remain stubbornly inactive in the depths of winter while blasting the hermetically-sealed carriages with warm air on the hottest days of the year. There was always a scrum over the seating, as the oh-so-advanced seat reservations system never worked properly and would assign travellers to seats in carriages that didn't exist or for bizarre sub-segments of their journey - I once, for example, booked my usual journey only to discover my seat was operating on some kind of timeshare system and someone else was entitled to it between Crewe and Stafford. Don't think I took this misery sitting down either (literally on one occasion where I had to stand in the aisle of a hugely oversubscribed train for 3 hours) - I complained every opportunity I got, about the mess, the heat, the inconvenience, the hour and a half I and a few hundred other passengers spent in pitch blackness somewhere outside Rugby while the hapless driver repeatedly attempted to "reboot the system" - and the response was always the same: a coupon for money off my next train ticket, sent to my house, which to use I had to post off to an address in Edinburgh after booking a ticket over the phone from a call centre that seemed to have access to a completely different set of available journeys than those that appeared on the website. I used to dread every journey, every call to that useless booking line, every minute spent sat glumly in the food hall at Euston station while the train was "Being prepared".
To be fair, it's a lot better now. The online seat reservation system, a full 8 years after it was promised, still hasn't materialised and if you book a ticket online there's a 1 in 4 chance they'll automatically assign you to one of the surprising number of seats in each carriage with no window. The entertainment system, which once ran an airline-style mixed programme of music and comedy across a number of channels, when it worked (which wasn't often), has long been abandoned and even the in-flight magazine "Hotline", never a riveting read but better than nothing when you were sat in an overheated carriage in a seat with no window, has now been discontinued. But, more often than not these days, the trains are running on time. And, yes, if you know with several months notice of an impending journey you can find some relative bargains; if you don't, the standard return is £70 odd and it's cheaper to get a return flight to the south of Spain but hey, that's privatisation for you.
So all that said, it was with a certain amount of self-satisfaction I found myself booking a day trip to Birmingham courtesy of Virgin Trains' PR people, who are promoting the idea that with enough notice you can fill your day with fun and joy without breaking the bank. And indeed, our two return tickets to Birmingham (one using a Young Persons Railcard) came to a rather bargainous £34.90 which meant all the more spare to spend on lunch at Simpsons, one of a healthy number of fine dining places in Birmingham but strangely the only one of any note to be open weekend lunchtimes. First, though, we had to get there from New Street station, and as it was a nice sunny day and we had half an hour to spare, we thought it might be a nice idea to walk the mile or so to Edgbaston, to take in some fresh West Midlands air and do a spot of sightseeing. Well, you can't say we didn't try:
Not the prettiest of walks is it, although I'm going to give Birmingham the benefit of the doubt and guess that we didn't really see the best of the place. Also, once we arrived outside Simpsons the surroundings were much more pleasant, even if the front of the building reminded me rather worryingly of the Fawlty Towers title sequence. Inside, we supped Kir Royales in the salon of this grand old building and swiftly decided on the £77 a head tasting menu. Well, if we're going to come all this way, we might as well do it properly.
An amuse of watercress and potato soup with truffle oil was excellent, although very, very familiar to anyone who's ever eaten in any restaurant aiming for Michelin stars. The bread was also great, made in house and placed on the table without the fuss of watching a waiter clumsily manhandle one bun at a time using two spoons in one hand. I've always wondered why some places just don't give their front of house staff tongs - it would be far less cruel.
First course was described on the menu as 'sea bass tartare', although there were definitely chunks of orange salmon mixed in with the yoghurt binding as well. I liked it - I think we both liked it - how can you not like fresh chunks of gently cured salmon and sea bass - but it wasn't too exciting.
That's not an accusation you could level at this dish of foie gras, banana(!) and pain d'epice, which contained a mix of flavours and textures that were genuinely surprising. Foie gras and banana seemed quite a natural match and the bread provided a nice rough texture, but this was let down slightly by the foie which not the finest example I've ever tried, being bitty and stringy. I should also say that my friend wasn't at all sure about the banana and foie but then she isn't the world's biggest fan of banana anyway.
It was a shame that the obvious physical effort that had gone into crafting these little balls of cucumber and potato to dress the Scottish scallops wasn't matched with attention to detail in other areas. This dish was frustratingly underpowered in terms of flavour and seasoning, with only the lovely crispy broccoli being interesting enough to comment on. A shame.
Fortunately this mackerel dish was exciting enough to make up for the scallops. A wonderfully tender cylinder of very lightly poached mackerel arrived dressed with a couple of crispy "sweet 'n' sour mackerel nuggets" and a well-chosen selection of fresh herbs and pickled lemon. Everything you'd want in a seafood dish, and then some, I enjoyed this immensely.
Despite being warned that the meat arrives pink, and being perfectly OK with that, I'm afraid I had to send the first version of this dish of duck, kumquat and Chinese greens back as the duck arrived cooked through to grey and rather tough. But the second go (dressed oddly with some egg noodles that hadn't been there the first time round) was much better, the sharp kumquat and softer greens working well. The duck itself didn't have a huge amount of flavour, and I'd have liked a crisper skin, but no major complaints.
The tasting menu cheese course was a pretty flower of Tête de Moine cheese on crisp bread, and tasted every bit as good as it looked. I'm going to keep my eye out for Tête de Moine from now on - it had a lovely nutty flavour and delicate texture that was quite addictive.
Pre-dessert of doughnut dunked into rhubarb compote and some kind of vanilla custard was very good. Tried and tested combinations perhaps, but none the worse for that.
My passion fruit and chocolate mousse was actually swapped in from the set lunch menu as I didn't really like the sound of the white chocolate & green tea mousse that came with the tasting menu. I'm glad I made the switch though - this was heavenly, the sweet, fresh chunks of jellied passion fruit and zingy sorbet contrasting the rich bar of dense chocolate underneath. Passion fruit and chocolate is usually a good combination, and this was no exception.
Petits fours looked better than they tasted, but perhaps that's the point of petits fours. I quite liked the white chocolate truffle one though.
So, was it worth it? The first thing to confront is the price, which at £87 per head (once service is added) for the food alone puts it at the higher end of what you might expect to pay for lunch anywhere in the UK. Even the Ledbury's tasting menu is only a few quid more, and that's pretty much my favourite restaurant in the country right now; the food at Simpson's was good alright, parts of it were very good and nothing was less than good, but I was never astonished. Also, there was the wine list - not a single bottle of anything under £31, which is fairly inexcusable; maybe if you're a wine buff you can find something of interest on the list but if you just want something drinkable to go with the food and don't want to double your bill on a single bottle of white, then you're stuffed. Simpson's is an expensive restaurant.
I had a good time, of course. I'm shallow enough to be impressed by foie gras and fancy puddings and with a bottle or two of wine to wash it all down, coupled with the comfortable and easy service, the afternoon slipped past in a pleasant haze. But if I hadn't been tasked to travel to somewhere - anywhere - and spend Virgin Trains' money on lunch, and this had been from my own pocket, I don't think I'd be feeling so positive. And that said, I don't think I'll be back, although I won't write off Birmingham as I believe there are lots of interesting places to eat - Purnell's, Turners and the Indian restaurant Lasan all made my hastily-constructed shortlist but were unavailable for one reason or another. But that's for another time. For now, I'd like to thank Virgin Trains to allow me to exorcise some of the abject misery of the past 8 years and yes, alright, for a journey to Birmingham and back that was on time, correctly heated, swift and relatively painless. We even had a window.
Lunch for two at Simpson's and train tickets to and from Birmingham New Street were paid for by Virgin Trains. Our tickets were booked a couple of months in advance and cost £10 each way (£8 for my friends with a Young Person railcard) and were found using the Virgin Trains Best Fare Finder. Travelling at weekends and booking as much in advance as possible will get you the best deals.
Monday, 14 March 2011
After Buen Provecho, you'd think that I could call off my search for good Mexican food in London and declare Mission Accomplished. And I would have happily done that - believe me, I have no burning desire for any more soggy tacos or £7 guacamole - had I not, in a fit of pique at some point during the Cantina Laredo debacle, booked a table at Mestizo, a smartish restaurant near Euston that certainly has a greater claim to be the first "gourmet" Mexican in London than anywhere else. There's that word again - "gourmet". Cantina Laredo claimed it was "gourmet" seemingly just because they had a huge amount of front of house staff and marked up ingredients by 1000%, but the food itself was decidedly homestyle. Would Mestizo do this label justice? We started by ordering a "classic" Margarita.
Quite... orange, for a Margarita, isn't it? The chunk of lime floating about in it wasn't fooling us, either - there was more to this drink than lime juice, tequila and triple sec - it was remarkably sweet and not particularly pleasant - and on flagging a member of staff down we were told "Oh yes, sometimes they put orange juice in it. Would you prefer one without?". Well, yes, I would actually. So, soon after I was presented with a "classic classic" Margarita, which still managed to be overly sweet and not particularly nice. Oh well, perhaps the food was better.
Fortunately, it was. Well, the small dishes were. This Gordita was a new one on me, a kind of fried corn pancake thing filled with pabellon - shredded beef with a tomato/chilli sauce. Crunchy on the outside, not too greasy, and containing a decent amount of moist beef, it was a very good example of what street food can be - pleasant texture contrasts, edible without cutlery, tasty and addictive. At £4.50 it wasn't hugely expensive either.
At £7.20 however, these flautas (fried taco casings filled with chicken), despite being reasonably appetizing were still just presented as street food and couldn't really justify the markup. The lovely tomatillo sauce and sour cream was the only thing making the rather straightforward chicken filling worth the effort, and although crunching through the crispy taco tubes was admittedly quite fun, this was quite a bit of money for not a great deal of food.
And I know Buen Provecho is literally a street food stall and doesn't have anywhere near the overheads a bricks-and-mortar restaurant in NW1 has, but their pork pibil tacos were one of the best things I've eaten in months and cost £2.50 for two. Here for £6.80 you get a similar amount of admittedly very nice (but not as good) slow-cooked pork in orange and achiote sauce on slightly soggy (at Buen Provecho they blister the casings on the hot plate first so they go nice and crispy at the edges - not here) tacos. Easy to enjoy, and disregarding value for money and presentation very nice indeed, but hardly bargain of the century. I will, however, put in a special word for the black beans and sour cream that came with all the dishes, which I couldn't get enough of - almost meaty in its depth of flavour, which must be the greatest compliment you can pay to a vegetable side order.
There was a bit of confusion over the mains. We had initially ordered the chicken mole and pork medallions, but although the chicken arrived matching its menu description and with a familiar black tar of thick mole, the pork looked suspiciously like another dish on the menu - beef medallions in chipotle. What raised our suspicions was the topping of melted cheese which wasn't part of the description of the pork at all. We queried this of course, they took it away, then brought it back saying it was, after all, the beef. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, but not being in the mood to wade through half a pound of melted cheese after three starters between two of us, they agreed to take it away and leave it off the bill. Judging by the chicken, though, we weren't missing much. The mole was incredibly sweet, almost dessert-like in its sugary chocolate coating, and the chicken was, although not dry as such, pretty tough. Not very nice at all I'm afraid - though I don't claim to be the world's biggest mole expert I'm fairly certain it's not supposed to taste like Chicken Fudge Sundae.
Our meal at Mestizo got me thinking, though. Are we doing Mexican restaurants in London a disservice - and in the case of Cantina Laredo are they doing themselves a disservice - by expecting anything to be "gourmet"? The best dishes at Mestizo were the starters, all fresh and exciting and unpretentious, and ignoring the prices for a moment there's nobody would feel cheated by the presentation or treatment of ingredients in the gordita or flautas or pork tacos. It's good street food, and it's tasty and enjoyable and accessible; the problem is, you are not eating it on the street. And though Mestizo may have good intentions, after table service and tableware and all the bits and pieces that go along with running a central London restaurant in 2011, before you know it you are sitting down to a street food snack of a couple of tacos, only on a plate, and being charged £7. I just don't see the point.
The frustrating truth is, if you stuck to beers and the smaller dishes and turned a blind eye to the prices, you could have a genuinely lovely meal at Mestizo. The stuff they do well they do very well, and the stuff they don't do well is easily avoided. But experiences at Mexican food outlets of all kinds over the last couple of years have only gone to confirm my suspicions that certain cuisines do better in a restaurant environment than others. I wouldn't want to eat jerk chicken off fine china on a white tablecloth, I don't need silver service to enjoy my fish & chips, and nice clean toilets and a table by the window is not going to convince me it's worth paying £7 for tacos. Perhaps, at the risk of being controversial, there is no such thing as "gourmet" Mexican food?