I’d love to have been there when the chefs at American chain Cantina Laredo designed the Carne Asada y Camarones dish.
‘Right, we’ve got a steak the size of Bob Crow’s head, what shall we do with it?’
‘Pan fry with herby butter, throw some massive prawns on top and dust the whole thing with a pound of cheese?’
‘Hmm, not sure that’s quite enough food for one plate.’
‘Wrap the prawns in bacon and chuck in twenty-odd mushrooms?’
‘Add mixed peppers then put enough rice to feed someone for a month by it?’
‘Serve with a fistful of guacamole and carrots?’
‘And green beans as well as two types of salad?’
‘Hmm, put some almond slices on the veg and make sure their tortilla chip bowl NEVER gets empty and I think we may get away with it.’
Yep, my plateful had a hell of a lot going on and I loved it. Absolutely loved it. Every superfluous, gluttonous, belt-busting bite of it. Not only because it was cooked to perfection but because it reminded me of all those times eating in America when I’ve been served a family’s supper on one plate, and in particular one occasion somewhere on Sunset where after eating a full fry-up accompanied by waffles, strawberries, cream and I can’t remember what else at eleven AM the waitress insisted, nay begged, that I take home an entire chocolate cake too.
The first Cantina Laredo in the UK brings to London many American practises – decent service, more than decent portions and thankfully decent Mexican food. I used to say “gourmet Mexican” was an oxymoron, but having realised we just can’t do mex street food in the capital (and I’ve looked believe me) it might be time to give up and fully surrender to the upmarket taco. Mestizo, Green And Red and now this place rule the roost and if you want to eat it well you need to pay the price.
Cantina Laredo is on the whole worth the money. They take it seriously, from the napkins (softer than the Savoy’s sheets) to the cocktails, which you can get any which way you want. They even do Cabo Wabo tequila, from Sammy Hager’s distillery.
Of course it’s not utopia here. There’s ups with the downs. While the ultra comfortable seats and all-round sense of occasion are in the pros camp, the whole place feels a bit like a hotel lobby. And although I was thoroughly impressed with the endless free chips and two salsas served on arrival (one cold temperature and hot spice, the other warm temperature but mild spice), the table decoration of a lime and an avocado in a bowl they removed as we sat down was bizarre.
Also the Top Shelf Guacamole (made fresh at your table!) might have been delicious, a fun experience and for some a quick cookery lesson but for me it galled somewhat. Not many places would have the cheek to show you quite how cheaply and quickly they can muster up something they charge £7 for. Tableside theatrics are fine but sometimes you don’t want to know how, or how cheaply, it’s made. Their Ready Steady Cook serving style was the equivalent of MacDonald’s dumping a ruptured spleen on the table and crafting it into a patty, or an Aberdeen Angus Steak House manager smugly going through their accounts with you as you sign the bill. I felt like a cross between Ainsley Harriott and a Covent Garden tourist tossing money at a man dressed as a silver wizard, cooing at the craftsmanship of mashing an avocado while opening my wallet and begging to be robbed. Oh, and while my harvest festival on a plate was mind-blowing, my fiancée’s fajitas at six quid less were just really ordinary. I’ve had better meat at Chipotle.
As we paid simultaneously (two card machines for a duo going Dutch – nice touch) the manager asked how my meal was and called me sir, even though I was wearing a hoodie. You just don’t get anywhere near that level of demented respect in UK-owned joints.
Price per head: Right on the money – £31.75
Soundtrack: Horribly earnest Hispanic country rock that shouldn’t go further than US radio
Clientele: Homesick Americans and English sick of home