Soho’s El Camino – Upholding London’s Laughable Mexican Tradition

by timchester

Incompetence in service industries is a double-edged sword. While that wild-haired bus driver might not be able to turn his Oyster machine on, offering instead a bit of A4 that tells you to just get on and keep your £1, once you’re upstairs he’ll go on to drive in the middle of the road and get in fights with white van men at ten minute intervals.

The same, of course, applies to restaurants. El Camino is brand new (and owned by none other than Terence Conran’s son Ned) and we did visit on a Saturday night, so maybe we should cut them some slack, but this operation took incompetence to a whole new level of dithering, gibbering, clowinsh ineptitude. The upside for us first few customers? They forgot to bill us for a beer and accidentally gave me an extra Jalapeno popper. The downside? Where to begin….

El Camino

To be charitable, this highway to hell is paved with some ok intentions. The hot sauce collection is impressive, the kitsch laminated tables cheaply cheerful, and the table salt-rimmed margies had a decent kick to them. Starters were good; those poppers a miscounted pile of deep-fried crunchiness and piping hot cheese ooziness accompanied by an omnipresent garlic dip which also turned up alonside some lightly charred fleshy jumbo prawns.

But as time went on the whole thing unravelled into a laughable comedy of errors. And time went on for a while. Our mains took an eternity to arrive and were completely wrong; my tacos looked suspiciously like a burrito that had to be sent back and the hold-the-cheese chicken salad came sprinkled with cheese. We overheard one server mutter to another “give it to them anyway”, which wasn’t the only thing we heard the waiters say to each other. “They’ve finished and gone. They didn’t like their food” was a particularly popular one.

Stomachs growled. The woman next to us growled louder, grumbling a litany of complaints about her food. A couple were turned away for trying to sit at a four seater table in the half-empty restaurant, leaving blinking in the Soho gloom with perplexed faces. Another table made a fast exit. A voice behind me moaned about his cocktail, offering advice on how to make one. In fact, doling out tips seemed to be the order of the day and the moaner next to me (whose throat by now I wanted to slit with a blunt tortilla chip) began telling our half-harrassed half-give-a-shit waiter how Mexican food should be spicy (she’s obviously new to London) before wingeing about her burrito. Maybe she got the one that came to our table.

Black bean dip was prepared by a real bean counter, barely covering the bottom of the dish. The salad saw less ingredients show up than worshippers at a lunchtime prayer service. Tacos? I’ve had better in Taco Bell. If this place was in anywhere other than central London it would be a desolate failure, empty save for those hundreds of sauce bottles staring down an owner sitting at a table alone and taunting him.

I will go back, but not for some time.

Price per head: £21.50

El Camino at Urbanspoon
El Camino on Urbanspoon

{ 2 trackbacks }

Chipotle & El Panchos – A Tale Of Two Mexicans
May 13, 2010 at 5:21 pm
London’s Top Three Tacos – La Bodega Negra Joins The Club
April 5, 2012 at 9:14 am

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Alisa February 27, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Oh no! I hope the owner or manager gets to read this so they would know how to make their service better


James Brompton March 12, 2010 at 9:59 am

It seems like you had a pretty rough time of it. Sorry to hear that.
On the upside of things, I was there last night with friends and had a wonderful experience. The place was almost full at 7:30 and the staff couldn’t do enough for us….I’d like to thank the manager (Maxi I think) and Carson. Both made regular visits to our table to make sure everything was in order. The food was great and served promptly….Loved the poppers and I recommend trying the wet burrito (and ask for everything on it)…I probably will not need to eat today as I’m still feeling full! We tried a selection of great cocktails all mixed perfectly (in my opinion) and they even made sure a couple of my friends could have similar drinks sans alcohol. The decor was very nice (love the display of hot sauces, would like to know where they get them from) and we even got to go into the Private Members bar downstairs (which is even better than upstairs). I used to live in Los Angeles and Mexican food is something that I really enjoy, unfortunately I haven’t been able to find a really decent Mexican place in London…Until now! I will be returning to El Camino to try the whole menu. All in all my friends loved it and I loved it! I’d give it 8/10

Plus side
Great atmosphere
Great Food
Excellent service
Reasonable pricing
A&W sodas
Members bar

Minus side
The stairs (very steep, be careful)
Music (a bit too loud at some points)
Frontage (it looks very dark from the outside)
The four booths downstairs (could do with some interesting artwork)


timchester March 12, 2010 at 10:20 am

Thanks James – interesting. I do think this place will be worth checking out again, I reckon it was mostly teething problems. I wonder if all restaurants have an early period where they hire unsuitable staff for a bit


Smithy January 23, 2012 at 2:17 pm

I was really surprised when I read this because I went their for lunch and the food was amazing and the service friendly and helpful. Definitely worth another look.


timchester January 25, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Fair enough. It’s been over a year since I went.


Crumpeats January 29, 2012 at 10:54 am

Just reviewed the one in Portabello- the laid back, take your time atmosphere actually worked there as it was a welcome break from the hustle and bustle outside. Can imagine it wouldn’t go down well in Soho or when in a rush though and those miskates sound inexcusable!


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