Sometimes you just need to love the Latinos. And I’m not just talking about the men (necessarily). On a wet and windy late November eve, rushing out for dinner to meet a friend, I had the world and her sister on my shoulders, and to try to better my wellbeing I’d just managed to bargain myself a fiercely competitive rate at the gym. Such is the modern malaise of living in London – trying to fit a million things into one short day.
So after a hectic afternoon, and under the damp, darkening skies I arrived, all of a fluster at El Camion, on busy Brewer Street in Soho. Shortly after stepping through the door, apologising profusely to my friend, I was glad to see that she had been tended to well and was promptly supplied with a handsome Margherita in my absence.
We bemoaned the business of our week so far, but soon enough, with the appearance of another Margherita, the Latino spirit began to have its intoxicating effect, and life’s colours began shining again. Ned Conran’s second El Camion is a quaintly coloured Mexican with a Tijuanan attitude. Looking around, you can’t help but attempt to count the rows upon rows of bright and beautiful chilli sauce bottles that bedeck the restaurant’s walls. It is like a diner in style – with leather clad booths that sit on one side, and smaller twosome tables on the other – each covered with their own floral, tropically decorated tablecloths. We chose the ubiquitous nachos to begin with – a necessary choice in such circumstances, and began dreaming of being further away.
Aside from the quintessential cocktails there is also a simple wine list – with a distinct emphasis on the New World. You’ll find a home-grown Mexican white, and a couple more South American vinous numbers to boot. We opted for a good Argentinean Malbec, distinctive in its heavier-than-most bottle. To accompany our wine we pored over the rest of the menu. Remarkably good value, and interestingly put together. Of course, there are more classic dishes that sit next to the nachos well, but currently there are seasonal specials too such as the Alhambre – spicy grilled steak and free-range chicken, peppers, mushrooms and onions served on crispy tortillas, topped with Monterey Jack cheese. My partner in Mexican crime opted for a chorizo burrito. Simple, but undeniably good.
Speedy lunchers can grab the 15 minute set menu during the week, and those with an appetite for well-served brunches can tuck into things like Huevos Rancheros on the weekend. And although not renowned for its deserts, this buzzy venue offers a good selection of post-spice choices. Drawing on Hispanic influences they serve up baskets of churros – long, warm doughnut textured articles that you dip into a pot of hot chocolate. Indulgence as it should be on such a bleak eve. This took me back to cold days spent living in Granada and people-watching on the main square. All thoughts of work were now successfully far, far away.
Not feeling ready to go home yet we decided to make our way downstairs to check out the bar. A small but good out-of-the-limelight spot for an after dinner beverage or perhaps a cosy moment on the sofa. We were joined by a live band as we perused the menu. Tequila lovers will not be disappointed by the range of bottles on display, and you can try the lesser known, more authentic Mezcal – a fiery alcohol made from cactus leaves.
Those not up for a spine tingling few seconds will feel more at home in the hands of the super friendly mixologists – Dick Bradsell is el numero uno – and their eclectic cocktail menu, with some drinks served in aptly thematic cactus stemmed glasses. Here, slip into the Central American ambience, take your time for once and lap up the Latino. It’s only when you’re somewhere like this that you realise life should be easy.
Summary: Great for cheap eats and a little laid back Latin soul. Do as they do – and unlike the well-recommended Wahaca – you won’t have to queue.
El Camion, 25-27 Brewer Street, Soho, London W1F 0RR. Tel. 020 7734 7711. Also at 272 Portobello Road, London W10 5TY. Website.