After meeting a few friends for a refreshing wheat beer or two at the Sam Smith’s run Lyceum Tavern on The Strand on Friday night, we grew peckish and set off in search of some food that would hopefully be well priced and not the overpriced microwaved stuff that Covent Garden seems to serve to its tourist population without shame. To try and prevent this, my always-in-the-know friend A suggested we try the fairly newly opened Lupita on Villiers Street for some Mexican flavour…
I know it is terribly fashionable for foodies and food bloggers to bemoan the fact that compared to the USA we just don’t have very good Mexican food available here in the UK. This may be true, but the USA does have a thriving Mexican population thanks to sharing a land border with them. Yet the Americans very often can’t access good curries and Indian food because they don’t have the same cultural affiliations with the sub-continent as we do in the UK. I always think the eye-rolling about Mexican food in the UK is a tad affected, even if you are pointing out that mediocre Tex Mex dominates here.
So I’m not going to get into a debate about authentic Lupita as I’m no expert on Mexican cuisine. I’m just going to tell you if I liked it or not. We didn’t get off to the greatest start when we couldn’t work out which door was the entrance. There are three, all mention the disabled access being through another and possibly slightly fuzzy from beer, we had to have several goes before stepping into a restaurant filled with the alluring smell of barbequeing meat.
We were welcomed instantly and enthusiastically by a staff member who displayed none of the usual Central London annoyance of actually finding four people a table on 9pm on a Friday night. By the time he had seated us at a spacious table downstairs, I knew I liked Lupita enough that the food would have to be execrable to sway me.
The next nice surprise was the variety on the menu and the very reasonable prices. A lot of the dishes are meant to be small dishes that you order several of as is the current fashion, so you would expect lower prices for smaller plates, but experience has shown me this isn’t always the case! We decided to go for a small dish each and some nachos to share as a starting point, knowing we could order more if needs be.
I went for the carnitas taco. Oddly enough I have never had the chance to eat a taco until now as I refuse to buy Old El Paso stuff on point of principle and generally avoid Tex Mex places for their ability to add bell peppers to everything including dessert. I’ve been dying to try carnitas since reading Liz’s recipe over at Gastronomy Domine and having not had the chance to cook it yet, couldn’t resist it here.
A went for the equally delicious sounding pork filled cochinita pibil taco (but this one has the dreaded capiscum, so no go for me!) while both E and B chose quesadillas. E was drawn in by the siren song of chorizo, while B, who doesn’t eat pork, went for the tinga chicken instead. The menu is clearly laid out to make sure you don’t order something you can’t eat and the waitress was both amused and helpful when I checked everything for my little friends before ordering, making this a great spot for people with differing needs.
It is also one of the few places I’ve been in a long time where it isn’t all about booze (and the mark up that comes with it) either. There is a good selection of tequilas, rums and margaritas, but all the cocktails come virgin as well. There is also a large selection of non-alcoholic drinks and juices and since I loathe and despise tequila (anyone seeing why I don’t frequent Mexican restaurants much yet?) I was drawn to these, ordering a horchata. I have always wanted to try this rice based drink as I assumed the added almond and cinnamon would hide it if rice milk tasted as nasty as soy milk. E joined me while the others went for the hibiscus infused agua de Jamaica. No one was tempted by the micheladas though…
The drinks arrived quickly and we all loved them. The horchata was very refreshing and surprisingly light while the hibiscus has just enough sourness to stop it being sickly. Our food followed promptly and we dug into our nachos with enthusiasm. The chips tasted fresh and both the guacamole and salsa had a home made texture too. The salsa had a nice kick and the guacamole thankfully wasn’t riddled with coriander. We enjoyed them along with a side dish of refried beans. Our waitress insited on us having the smaller portion of this rather than ordering the full platter as we’d have ended up with too many tortilla chips.
The other small plates arrived while we were finishing up the nachos. The tacos (as warned again by our waitress) are quite dinky, but we were fine with that as they were well filled. Both A and I loved the pork. Mine was soft and silky and so rich I’m not sure I could have eaten a bigger portion.
The quesadillas were also a success. E’s chorizo filled number was deliciously oozing with cheese and paprika goodness while we didn’t hear much from B except enthusiasm as she devoured her chicken and chipotle infused number. The quesadillas are well filled and a bit more substantial than the tacos so would make a great lunch dish.
Our bill came to an astoundingly low £32.01 including service charge. They charged us a pound for the refried beans instead of letting us order the £6 platter. The drinks were £1.50 each, making them much better value than the standard booze free option of a coke. The staff were friendly, the loos were spotless, the food was great. My only tiny quibble is that they cleared some plates while E was still eating (and it was a bit dark for decent photos!)
Otherwise, I loved Lupita and plan to make it a regular lunch hang out. I’ll be going with my friend V though who used to live in Mexico and then I’ll be able to answer the question of authenticity…