Wednesday, 22 January 2020

La Chingada, Surrey Quays

In some ways I wish my last post wasn't about a brand new taco place serving brilliant Mexican food, bringing to UK shores the kind of authenticity and value that we've hitherto rarely seen, because what you're about to read revisits pretty similar ground. But the thing is, there's no good reason that an excellent restaurant shouldn't be written about just because this particular blogger has happened to stumble across the same cuisine in a different city a couple of weeks previously, and anyway, if a new taco joint as good as La Chingada opened every week from now until 2025 it would still be worth writing about because food like this - rewarding, generous, faithfully executed - deserves to be discovered by as very many people as possible.

La Chingada has, of course, already very much been discovered. The intrepid food adventurers at London recently featured it on a number of different pages - Where to Eat in London Ths Weekend amongst them - and on a subsequent Sunday afternoon it's probably fair to say staff were struggling to come to terms with their newfound fame. Battling a temporarily broken down grill and a card machine with an extreme reluctance to perform its required duties, the wait to order was, not too far into the afternoon, about 15-20 minutes, and the wait after that to pick up the food probably about the same again. But the crowd waited patiently and in good humour, and before long tantalising plates of fresh tacos were being passed overhead to those lucky enough to have found themselves a seat.

First up, guacamole. In contrast to the stripped-back Madre version (I'm going to end up comparing most of this to Madre I'm afraid, but that's a pretty good benchmark to be judged against), La Chingada's guac has chunks of onions and tomatoes in, and is "wetter", probably through use of more lime juice. Both styles have much to recommend them, and in fact given the choice on taste alone I'm not sure I can choose a favourite - both places serve it with the correct type of lightly salted corn tortillas - but it has to be said that Madre serve a whole lot more guac for £4 than La Chingada do for £4.50, and I'm not sure all of this can be excused by steeper London rents.

Continuing with the sides, chicharrones (pork crackling) were basically unimprovable - fluffy, crisp, light, and perfectly seasoned. They came with a deceptively innocent looking salsa verde, which you start by scooping up in enthusiastic amounts before realising a few mouthfuls in that your face is on fire. The vast number of different ways that taco joints make their salsas is one of the great and everlasting joys of this kind of cuisine - no two places make the same, sometimes the hottest is red, sometimes it's green, sometimes they use smoked arbol chillies, sometimes habanero, and the first thing you should do in any decent taco place is try them all, one by one, to figure out your favourite. At La Chingada I'm in love with their dark red habanero, a masterpiece of salsa work.

So to the tacos. First up, al pastor, a dish borne of Lebanese influences that swaps lamb for pork and turns the vertical spit-roasting method into a very impressive taco filling dispenser. The flavour of the pork was fantastic, the toppings super fresh, the casings soft and earthy, and the whole thing was about as good as you could expect anywhere in London except - again - that pesky spot in Liverpool had found an ever-so-slightly more attractive texture for their al pastor, being soft and blessed with irresistable ribbons of fat where the La Chingada were drier and crunchier, albeit not unpleasantly so. And I'm still only finding fault because I can - they were demolished with glee, like everything else served that afternoon.

More impressive were the suadero, confit beef with an incredible flavour and texture, which should be right at the very top of your must-order list at La Chingada. It's hard to explain why an ostensibly simple arrangement of slow-cooked beef, salad and maize tortilla should be so heartwarmingly wonderful but that's the thing about good tacos - the combination of tender meat, vibrant salad and the all-important lick of chilli goes like a missile for all the taste pleasure points without it being clear exactly why, or how. Best just sit back and enjoy it, is my advice.

And it's really not hard to enjoy La Chingada. Last on the taco list were these carnitas, pork, this time not roasted on a spit but slow-cooked (usually) shoulder which could boast a more interesting texture, if not quite the levels of flavour of the al pastor. Even so, this was a supremely enjoyable taco, and clear porky juices spilled everywhere as we demolished them without dignity or shame.

La Chingada had one final trick up its sleeve - red enchiladas, a special - served with tomatoey potatoes and a pork chop. That's right, La Chingada serve their enchiladas with a massive grilled chop, which is about the best accompaniment I can think of for enchiladas. In all honesty, chop aside this was a rather uneven dish - the potatoes were particularly odd, all wobbly and soft - but hey, where else can you get a massive pork chop and enchiladas on the same plate? Nowhere, that's where. Including, I imagine, in Mexico...

I'm afraid in the general chaos and taco-chucking I forgot to take a photo of the bill, but I've posted my iPhone shot of the menu above so you can pretty much work it out. Essentially, it's good value, reason enough to make a visit even if it wasn't the only decent taco joint for miles around, which it most certainly is. It's clear that people who really know tacos, and really know how to make them, are occupying this bijou spot, and the love they pour into the product is evident in every bite, as well as in the fact that the guy behind the counter was making sure that for every takeaway order taken the recipients didn't live too far away from the shop, lest the tacos got cold and spoiled the experience. That right there is some serious quality control.

So congratulations Surrey Quays, you've beaten most of the rest of the country in the Great Taco Races, and you should be inordinately pleased that La Chingada is on your doorstep. To everyone else, well it's hardly a massive trek for Londoners and I can't imagine anyone would be disappointed with the menu here even after the journey and Eater-inflicted queue inflation combined. If anything, given the quality of the product I can only see the queues getting bigger, so why not jump on the overground now and see what all the fuss is about before it gets seriously oversubscribed. Hand on heart, for sheer ingredient bravery and those cracking margaritas, my top taco peddler is still Madre. But for those times I'm not up north and I have a craving for al pastor, I'll be heading to Surrey Quays.


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