In a Mexican wave sweeping the nation, the UK is becoming increasingly besotted with food from the Latin American country. But what we think of as being Mexican is most likely Tex-Mex, originating from the other side of the border.
The Americanisation of Mexican food, especially as it spread further across the States, is clear to see. Grilled chunks of meat, enormous portions and - dare I say it - barbeque sauce have all made an appearance.
However, Lupita is bringing both flavour and authenticity to the Mexican food scene in London. The business started as a taquería (a taco restaurant) just outside of Mexico City. Fast forward 50 years and Lupita has three locations in the UK’s capital and was even voted the city’s best Mexican restaurant in the Zagat Survey for 2015. So I visited their Kensington branch to find out what the fuss was about.
With its red and green geometric tiles, the decor has something of a 60s vibe to it. However, across one wall is a dazzling display of cartoon-like illustrations which subtly speak of Mexican folklore (characters who can also be found on the bathroom wallpaper).
An oblong-shaped restaurant, large windows bring in more light. Settling into my seat, I ordered a Modelo Especial (the world’s best beer) and studied the menu. Suckers for a clever bit of marketing, we did as the menu suggested and ordered a few starters to share between the two of us.
When the starters arrived, we were faced with an array of delights. The totopos (corn tortilla chips) were distinctly crispy and - somewhat predictably - went brilliantly with the fresh guacamole. The tuna tartare tostadas, served with caramelised onions on crispy corn tortillas, were the wildcard of this course - and not something you’d expect from your average Mexican chain. Citrusy and delicate, this was a refreshing and tasty appetiser.
Last but by no means least was the Queso Fundido - a fondue of melted Chihuahua cheese served with chorizo and (you guessed it) tortillas. While three starters was definitely one too many, the Queso Fundito was suitably indulgent and created the cheese pull of the century.
As I was happily sipping another superb Mexican lager, this time a Pacífico Clara, the mains arrived. I had opted for the Vulcan - tortillas topped with steak and melted cheese, served with salsa guajillo (blended tomato salsa) and pico de gallo (chopped tomato and onion salsa). The guajillo was slightly fiery and went brilliantly with the cheese, creating a great umami taste. My chosen side was the Caldo de Pollo - a traditional Mexican broth of chicken, rice, jalapenos, avocado, carrots and peas. However, in terms of flavour, it was corriander which took centre stage.
Across the table, my guest was tucking into the Chicken Enchiladas Verdes - tortillas simmered in salsa verde and topped with crème fraîche - paired with spicy rice. The chicken was delicious however, the tortillas tend to absorb what is a fairly thin sauce so it may not be to everyone’s liking. Like the Vulcan and the Caldo de Pollo, the overriding flavour is corriander - so if you’re not a fan it’s worth stating.
Tasty churros, along with the choice of two deliciously sweet sauces, made for a fitting end to our meal at Lupita. Three starters, two mains, five drinks and one dessert came to approximately £100 ($130). But more importantly, here in West London amid the Jaguars, townhouses and overpriced coffee shops, I had found a little slice of Mexico.