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….
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