London is becoming a taco town! Over the last two years, a huge amount of taquerias and Mexican restaurants have opened, and tacos have been deemed “the food trend of 2017” after the “year of the taco” in 2016. We sent our correspondent, Julia Walsh, to London for a day to check out as many taco places as she could. Here is her latest report:
During my reporting on the Manx-Mex Chronicles, I was invited to go down to London for a taco tour. I didn’t think much of it until I learned that there has been a huge uptick in the number of Mexican restaurants, taquerias, and mezcal bars in the last year or so, and bloggers all over were raving about them! So I packed my bags and headed to London.
I spent the morning loitering in a coffee shop and researching taquerias and locations, making a game plan.It was hard to narrow the list down to only 5 restaurants, but I had to make sure I was not only picking good tacos but places that were close enough together to visit all in the same day. Honestly, I’m sad I wasn’t able to stay longer or squeeze more visits in. Each stop on the itinerary was a joyful experience, and one I’d happily (and frequently!) repeat.
By the time noon rolled around, I was strolling over to Corazón Taqueria. The building looks and feels like a beach home in the Mexican style – open, airy, decorated in blues and whites reminiscent of the sea. I arrived about half past noon and was mildly surprised that the place was entirely empty except for myself and the staff (but I suppose just after opening on a Monday isn’t their busiest hour). I chose a seat at the bar near the open accordion style window overlooking a couple of small white tables on the outside.
I made myself order water instead of a margarita (too many places yet to visit!) and looked over the menu. One page was the “Counter Offer”, which was a plate of two tacos with sides. I was more interested in getting a variety of tacos, so I stuck to the regular menu. I chatted with the bartender about options and asked if it would be possible to order four different tacos on a plate. Alas, the tacos come two to a plate with no mixing, but I was told my idea was a good one!
The most popular sellers, I was told, are the Carnitas, Baja Fish, and Guv’nor (king prawns and baby shrimp grilled with peppers, tomatoes, and onions). I knew I didn’t just want what was popular but also try to get something distinctly Mexican to make a comparison, so I ordered the Carnitas, Barbacoa, and Baja fish tacos.
I started with the Carnitas taco, which was stuffed with a combination of shredded pork belly and collar. The pork is slow cooked in orange juice, mexican oregano, and cinnamon then topped with bits of crunchy fried skin and flecks of pickled jalepeño. It was served with a classic roasted tomatillo salsa that had a low level, creeping heat. The orange and cinnamon were new for me, but they really made an excellent taco. The subtle sweet and spice added another dimension to the rich pork. And all made on a house-made tortilla! I breathed a sigh of contentment.
I eagerly dug into my next taco, the Barbacoa. Corazón’s version of barbacoa was a combination of lamb shoulder and liver, wrapped in banana leaf and cooked for 7 hours. When I ordered it, I’d had a dreamy vision of tender, flavorful lamb paired with creamy liver for a double whammy of richness, but unfortunately, the long cooking time meant the liver had become tough and crumbly, which took away from my pleasure in eating the taco. The lamb was rich and had a dark red color to it, but even with the added liver, it seemed sadly one dimensional in flavor after the carnitas taco. The salsa served on the side was mind-blowing, though – smokey, sweet, and complex, it made the taco come alive. After asking, I found out it’s made with tequila, tomato, onion, tomatillo, ancho, chipotle, and honey.
The Baja fish taco was another pleasant surprise. Despite being left until last, the battered fish was delightfully crunchy. All of the tacos at Corazón are stuffed, but this was an enormous piece of meaty fish, with an excellent crispy batter, on top of crunchy cabbage with a chipotle mayo. I hate it when the fish gets overpowered by the creamy sauce, but the chipotle mayo was light and not too sweet, a perfect compliment. The whole thing was served on a blue corn tortilla, which had it’s own lovely, mild sweetness that’s different from a normal corn tortilla.
Taking out the camera and shooting sexy close ups of the tacos kind of tipped off my bartenders and servers, Verena and Nick, that I wasn’t just grabbing a casual lunch. After admitting my goals for the day, we chatted about the menu and the items they like, as well as other taquerias in the area. Laura Sheffield, the boss and owner, is from College Station, TX (close to my hometown). She worked with a Mexican anthropologist to develop the menu, which makes it no wonder that these tacos made me feel like I was back home in Texas.
Verena has been a bartender for years and worked all over, including at Glastonbury. Her family is Rastafarian and Muslim, so she didn’t eat pork when she started working atCorazón. But when they had a menu tasting, she said to herself, well, I have to try it. When she first bit into the Carnitas taco, she was wooed. And when she recently sampled an item that will be coming to the menu soon (whole pig head boiled in stock, then the stock is reduced with booze and butter, served on a mass (pan)cake) she said it was so amazing. “well I guess I’m back [to eating pork]!” Her description made me wonder when it would be feasible to visit London again when it made its debut.
The atmosphere at Corazón is pleasantly relaxed, and I had a great time lounging around and chatting near the window on this beautiful, sunny afternoon. I think Verena could tell that I was reluctant to leave this little oasis despite the day ahead of me, because invited me back for a margarita that evening and to continue our chat. I thanked her and told her not to be offended if I didn’t make it, as I was pretty sure I’d be super full and happily flopping into bed at the end of the day (oh how right I was!). I reminded myself again of how late it was getting with a sigh, shared a fond farewell, and zipped out the door to my next destination.
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