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El Pastor

6-7A Stoney Street, London, SE1 9AA, United Kingdom

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London has seen a spate of tacos openings in the last year. This Borough Market venture is from the Hart Brothers, who run Quo Vadis and Barrafina, opening in December 2016. This, as is so often the way these days, is a no-reservation establishment. Moreover, if you turn up separately from your dining companion(s) then they refuse to seat you at your table until the person(s) that you are meeting has arrived, presumably as in those extra few minutes they can cram in another sitting. It might be efficient restaurant management, but hospitality it isn’t. This was especially true on a bitterly cold February day given that the restaurant appears to lack any noticeable form of heating. When we were finally seated, even just next to the open kitchen it was distinctly chilly, with a biting wind wafting in at intervals when the staff opened the back door.

The menu offers a few starters, several tacos and some quesadillas. The tortillas are made from scratch each morning, which in principle is a good thing and is different from most London tacos joints. The tuna tostadas was the star dish of the meal, featuring sesame tortillas with tuna, avocado and chile de arbol (a red chilli pepper). The tuna and avocado worked together nicely and the chilli brought a spicy bite but was not overwhelming (13/20).

The signature tacos dish is al pastor (“shepherd style”) in which pork shoulder is marinated for 24 hours and served with guacamole taquer, white onion, coriander and caramelised pineapple. This is served on a tiny tortilla and although cheap at £2.50 it was also pretty much bite-sized. This was decent enough, though I found the pineapple a bit jarring (11/20).

I still preferred it to carnitas (£6), in which a dish of confit pork is brought along with a small stack of flour tortillas, salsa, onions and a bowl of chicharon (pork rinds) for you to assemble. The pork lacked flavour and I found a bone lurking, which could easily have resulted in some expensive dentistry. The salsa was quite spicy but the pork just wasn’t that great. While I was not expecting the glorious made-to-order tortillas of somewhere like Punto MX, I was surprised at how ordinary the ones here tasted given that they made them (10/20).

Another tacos dish we tried was chargrilled stone bass (£3) with onion, salsa and coriander. This was a bit better as the fish was decent, though again it was bite-sized (11/20). Quesadilla (£4.50) were a pair of miniature discs containing cheese, and were distinctly uninspiring (10/20). Finally a bowl of frijoles charros i.e. pinto beans, smoked chorizo and smoked pork belly (£6) sounded better than it tasted, the dish having a watery consistency, and surprisingly little flavour given the potentially strong tasting components (10/20).

On the positive side our waitress was friendly and enthusiastic. The bill came to £20 each with just water to drink and no desserts. Although we had ordered the recommended number of dishes we were both quite hungry at the end; certainly portion control here seems rigorously monitored. This is an interesting example of where a menu appears cheap but really isn’t e.g. quesadillas at £3 sound a bargain until you see the size of them. If you had dessert and wine you could easily end up with a bill north of £40 per head, which seems to me far from cheap given the quality of what appeared on the plate. Bear in mind that three courses at Hereford Road currently cost £15.50, or you can pay £20 for a three-course lunch at Noble Rot, while Michelin starred Alyn Williams offers three courses for £30. “Small plates” dining like this soon adds up by comparison, especially when the plates are as small as these. Overall I was quite disappointed by my experience here. If you want good tacos in London then Killer Tomato is still my benchmark.

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@HERMANOPRIMERO @i_am_auriel I tried one in New York. Managed one bite.