It's a Saturday night, pre-theatre, and we need a quick bite in Soho. There are 2 seats free at the bar at Bocca Di Lupo, my stomach's spiritual home. Tantalisingly tempting. But there's also a new Mexican place which just opened up around the corner.
Another burrito joint? More black beans, more tortilla chips, more guacamole. So far, Mexican food in London has not captured my imagination nor my heart. However, we're in the mood to give a newcomer a go. Benevolently, I put aside my preconceptions of all London Mexican food experiences gone before it, banish still biting memories of mole hell, and march earnestly down to El Camino.
Owned by Ned Conran (son of Terence), El Camino is an offshoot of the better known Notting Hill Mex cafe of the same name. However the look here is less boho, more Soho. A mixture of dark, sexy and sleek (The Peanut Gallery pumps his chest here thinking he's about to get a mention), combined with colourful, tawdry table cloths and enough Mex kitsch to inspire some serious Tequila action, including an intriguing array of hot sauce bottles lining the walls. And word on the street has it that Dick Bradsell, cocktail guru, is shaking things up in the basement bar, so we know you should be able to get your hands on a respectable drink.
The food is decent too. My generous beef burrito was oozing with ground beef, which was slow cooked and tasty, but with the usual black bean overload. By the second half, I was all beaned out. Try separating black beans from mince and see where it gets you. I'd probably have preferred the grilled steak option (hold the beans).
TPG ordered a chicken taco but a grilled chicken burrito was delivered. He took it on the chin. Quite literally [cue monster sauce blob and "napkin to chin sign language" here]. The chicken was tender and ample, and definitely on the better than average end of the burrito scale. But again with the beans...
We thought we'd test out a third dish, just to mix things up - the grilled fish with lime. Quite nice. Grilled well. Not much more to it.
Apparently the pulled pork burrito is the one to try. No good to me now, are you hindsight?
So the food's quite good (for Mexican), possibly really good if you like black beans, and probably even better if you order the right dishes. The food is at least big enough to require 2 hands, in hand slapping defiance of recent Mexican style "tapas" trends. El Camino has all the staples, salads and grilled bits and pieces. And it has a fun, upbeat charm that will keep the passing crowds coming. Drinks and 3 dishes set us back around £30 for two.
However, in the end a burrito is, after all, just a burrito. Even if it does come with an exotic chilli and tortilla chip garnish.
El Camino is, on the burrito/taco scale, well above your average Tex Mex fare. But it's not as good as a steaming hot bowl of pappardelle with a slow cooked ragu. There, I said it.
El Camino, 25-27 Brewer Street, Soho, London, W1F 0RR