Santo Remedio, recently opened on Rivington Street, might have the loveliest name of any Shoreditch restaurant. The Spanish for ‘Holy Remedy’ – in a sea of places calling themselves Dirty (Burger), Absurd (Bird) and Drunken (Monkey) – stands out like a poetic beacon.
It’s also one of the boldest claims. We could use a bit more sanctity in Shoreditch, and I say this conscious there’s a certain amount of E2 unholiness that I’ve been either the perp or beneficiary of. But just how saintly are these Mezcal-merchants, and can any amount of octopus tostadas or grilled cactus tacos re-consecrate the debauchery of Rivington Street?
I’ve wended my way here, a truth-seeker, drawn by the prospective holiness of their restaurant-bar-taqueria. Also because I heard their quesadillas are on-point. But mainly the holiness.
We head for the downstairs restaurant – upstairs is a bar serving just cocktails and a reduced menu of tacos, where the trade-off is the chance to sit knee to knee and a slightly more intimate vibe.
And initial signs are very spiritual. Chef-founder Edson Diaz-Fuente appears out of the kitchen and offers me guacamole, which I know to be the sign of a Virtuous Man.
It turns out they’re virtuous in more ways than just their willingness to bring me guacamole: Santo Remedio’s a Slow Food member, ingredients locally sourced wherever possible – the Ocho Reales ale and the Oaxacan grasshoppers among the exceptions – with even the Chihuahua cheese coming from Gringa Dairy in Peckham. They also use a range of Ark of Taste products, considered at risk of extinction if demand isn’t raised, including the blue corn in the tortilla chips.
His wife and co-founder Natalie arrives and talks us through the Santo Remedio manifesto. ‘No burritos’, she says very firmly. ‘No fajitas. They aren’t Mexican’, and agrees with Edson that if we’re ordering guacamole we should, honestly, have it with blue corn tortilla chips and a sprinkling of grasshoppers on top. Their speciality.
Eric’s freshly back from a few years’ in Shanghai’s foodscene and unfazed by a few insects. If anything an insect garnish probably isn’t enough insect for him. I’m imagining something spindly, like brittle twigs or crunchy spiders, which is somewhere on the attraction-repulsion spectrum but a bit closer to the latter. But after Diaz-Fuentes waxes lyrical about his beer list – recommending a Mexican ale painstakingly sourced from a brewery in Monterrey – I (1) trust him a lot and (2) want him to think we’re cool. So grasshopper guacamole for two, and don’t skimp on the grasshopper.
Predictably – because the Diaz-Fuentes brand of holiness isn’t about punishment – the grasshoppers are great, tinier than expected, not remotely spindly and more of a pleasure than a challenge. Eric confesses that despite Shanghai, this is his first grasshopper. We order Mezcalito cocktails in honour of this special occasion.
There’s only less adventurous to go from here, but what the rest of our dishes lack in insectoid crunch they make up for by being new territory in different ways – the hibiscus flower quesadillas, surprisingly still-floral tasting after being laden with cheese and chili; the cocktails, hot with jalapeno syrup. The chicken wings are coated in thick mole sauce – smoky with chipotle, sweet with dark chocolate – and by the end of our dinner so am I, which isn’t technically new territory but this is a stickier, more napkin resistant sauce than any wings I’ve fronted up to before.
And the chile relleno dish we share, traditional in the town of Puebla. Warned in advance by Natalie that they can be borderline sweet, ferociously hot or anywhere in between, these ones are holy in a Biblical, Song of Solomon way: as bright as the sun, as terrible as an army with banners. We battle through, because despite the heat and the tears welling up in my eyes – which who knows, might be the sin leaving my body – this is the best-tasting holy remedy you could hope for.
I get an email from Eric the next day saying that he’s still feeling emotional about his first grasshopper experience. That makes two of us.
Santo Remedio, 22 Rivington Street, London EC2A 3DY. For bookings or enquiries please email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website.