Bites: Burrito, Baja Fresh Mexican Grill

So I don’t think anyone has questioned my zeal for Mexican food – or at least food from a certain corner of Mexico which has percolated to our shores. (The day mole becomes widely available here will be a very good day.) But if someone were to question this for some reason… well, that’s why I’m putting this out here first. Would Babette write about any Mexican place they come across? Anything that serves a burrito?

Here’s your answer, hypothetical critics. (Also this. And come think of it, this too. I’ve got a track record, people, I’ve got evidence.)

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Events: Hawker House, London SE16

Hawker House Canada Water Interior.jpg

I’ve had some pretty good experiences with Street Feast, the people who run Hawker House. It was through them, for instance, that I found my favourite Chinese breakfast dish. Jianbing guozi – wonton skin and hoisin sauce, wrapped in a scallion omelette, inside a mung bean crepe – is apparently a morning staple in Tianjin, but I first tried it at Dalston in an abandoned, open-air warehouse turned weekend food market.

You can imagine my excitement, then, when I am told that they are in Canada Water for a second year, taking over a warehouse two nights every week – just ten minutes from where we are going. Of course we’re going. I decide not to have lunch that day. I go to the cash machine to get a few crisp ten pound notes, expecting to use most of them. 

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Review: Vatos Urban Tacos, Beach Road

o.jpg
(Source)

Note: Sid, one of the three (not two, as previously said) proprietors, has addressed many of the review’s concerns in the comments section. Do read his comment too, in the interest of fairness!

It was a bit of desperation, I’ll be honest, what led me to the new South Beach and into Vatos Urban Tacos. Having been ill for days, and being out in the sun at a time when most other restaurants around the area had closed, meant I was willing to try anything. Korean-Mexican fusion, you say? Good. My passion for Mexican will balance out my indifference towards Korean food, like pouring hot water on ice, and we’ll get at least a nicely lukewarm temperature which is best for a troubled throat.

It didn’t go that way, though. It went a lot worse than that. The place had two entrances and no signs to show which is the ‘main’, so I just went into one and am met by a server. Excuse me, I say. I wave slightly and look him in the eye. And he gives me a look, half smugness and half surprise, and sidesteps me on the way to a storeroom without so much as a word. At this point you may, quite correctly, ask why I decided to go to the ‘right’ counter and ask to be seated anyway. But hey, Dear Babette is for reviewing restaurants, and that includes the terrible ones as well. 

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Review: Guzman y Gomez, Star Vista

Guzman y Gomez Star Vista Intro
(source)

There is one objection I need to register with Guzman y Gomez, and it’s to do with the way the place looks. No, not on the outside. I was on my way elsewhere in Star Vista when I came across the shop, with its rounded glass wall and the big yellow logo with two avuncular faces – I’m guessing they are señores Guzman y Gomez, though I cannot confirm this – and my curiosity is piqued. Add that to the outdoor tabletops of Mexico’s famous Talavera tiles, and I’m hooked. I go back to Star Vista, just to go in there.

See, one of the reasons I like Mexican food is how striking it looks. The native land of the avocado, chilli, chocolate and tomato (all words borrowed into English from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs) has no lack of edible colour; the best advertisement for a taqueria, if you ask me, is just to lay out all the stuff you could be rolling into a burrito. Would you like to eat crimson with jade green and carefully charred brown? Course you would. 

Yet at Guzman y Gomez, an Australian import that reached us in 2013, there’s none of that. Both times I visit there is an attractive young woman at the service counter, and more attractive young men and women behind her, formed up around a long counter like an assembly line. Yeah, okay, it’s the way they do things. But let’s face it – with the overhead menu, it feels efficient but joyless. It’s less Australia (or Mexico) and more, well, Singapore. 

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Review: Vatos Urban Tacos, Beach Road

Great New Places - Be the first to know. Set the trend - Culinary
(Source)

It was a bit of desperation, I’ll be honest, what led me to the new South Beach and into Vatos Urban Tacos. Having been ill for days, and being out in the sun at a time when most other restaurants around the area had closed, meant I was willing to try anything. Korean-Mexican fusion, you say? Good. My passion for Mexican will balance out my indifference towards Korean food, like pouring hot water on ice, and we’ll get at least a nicely lukewarm temperature which is best for a troubled throat.

It didn’t go that way, though. It went a lot worse than that. The place had two entrances and no signs to show which is the ‘main’, so I just went into one and am met by a server. Excuse me, I say. I wave slightly and look him in the eye. And he gives me a look, half smugness and half surprise, and sidesteps me on the way to a storeroom without so much as a word. At this point you may, quite correctly, ask why I decided to go to the ‘right’ counter and ask to be seated anyway. But hey, Dear Babette is for reviewing restaurants, and that includes the terrible ones as well. 

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Review: Park Bench Deli, Telok Ayer

Park Bench Deli Establishing Shot

I love it when a plan comes together.

— John ‘Hannibal’ Smith, The A-Team

Some restaurants are easier to ‘get’ than others, and generally I’ve found that to be a good thing. If a customer doesn’t know what’s going on as they walk in, it’s possible (not certain, though) that a restaurant doesn’t know what it’s about either. But when you stick to a plan, the plan shines through.

Park Bench Deli, having ended its up-popping days and settled down, knows very well what it’s doing, and who it caters to. I can imagine the mission briefing, as it were. Every weekday at lunchtime, the working crowd descends from the surrounding towers into Telok Ayer’s oasis of shophouses, a flood of lunch money as regular as the tides. Park Bench Deli is here to catch that tide and serve them good, portable food, in the form of sandwiches. It’s the American deli plan, a simple, elegant plan. 

Mind you, a restaurant that sticks to a plan can be a little infuriating. They don’t open on weekends, and on weekdays they close at 3 – taking a page, no doubt, from neighbouring Amoy Street Hawker Centre. I mean, come on! Then again, I’m not in the intended audience. A leisurely lunch that’s not constrained by the jackboot of office schedules is not really in the plan either; what seating there is is pushed to the edges of the dining area, leaving more room for people to queue. The menu is a big black board with a small number of options. You place the order here, pick the order up there, and have a nice day.

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Review: Afterwit, North Bridge Road

Afterwit North Bridge Road
Exhibit 1. In good mood already. Cannot wait.

Sure, it’s an easy, simple thing to do, reviewing restaurants. You stuff your face with food – or you pick at it uninterestedly and snort, though that might give the game away – and then you find a place to sit down, and hammer the computer keyboard until something comes out that’s borderline readable. Job done. Except it’s a little more complex than that.

See, a perfect place – food excellent, service wonderful, environment gosh-darn attractive – only yields two or three sentences. Those places are great to eat at, terrible to write about. But where most restaurants are – with a little unevenness, good in one respect, flawed in another – it becomes a conscience-weighing-down job. How much should I harp on the fact that the dish was not that good, or that the waiter wasn’t really prompt with the ordering? I want to find the good in restaurants, because it’s only fair to do so when one assumes that restaurants are opened in good faith, out of some sense that cooking and serving food would be a good and pleasing (and profitable) thing. I don’t like pouring water on such passions.

That leaves only one sort of place that makes this blog easy to write – the sort where things are relentlessly awful, in almost every respect, and where I can easily rescind the assumption of good faith. So thank you, Afterwit. I’ll be roundly whipped if I step inside ever again, but at least you’re making my weekly quota of posts that much easier to meet.

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