Martha Ortiz is a chef who opened a well-regarded high end Mexican restaurant called Aguila y Sol, which closed in 2008, and then another in the same neighbourhood of Mexico City called Dolce Patria. She is also a judge on the TV show Top Chef Mexico. Ella Canta opened in September 2017 in the Intercontinental Hotel, a concrete pile at the bottom of Park Lane. The kitchen has made the effort to import a lot of ingredients from Mexico; so for example the tortillas are made from scratch in the kitchen from imported Mexican corn. The restaurant had a dedicated though seemingly unmarked entrance just by the subway from Hyde Park Corner tube station.
The dining room is smartly decorated. You enter down a corridor and the room is to the right, the tables generously spaced. Music played in the room, but was not overly loud. The menu was a la carte, with a conventional structure of starters, mains, sides and desserts. The wine list started at £34 but climbed rapidly in price. It featured labels such as Chakana Torrontes 2014 at £36 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £10, Clos des Fous Cauquenina 2013 at £56 compared to its retail price of £14, and Goedhart Family Bel’ Villa Syrah 2012 at £88 for a wine that will set you back £28 in a shop. Mark-ups did not moderate as you moved further up the list, with Ridge Montebello 2011 priced at £320 compared to its retail price of £110. Bottles of beer started at £7 and went up from there.
Salmon tostadas featured marinated salmon on crisp tostadas (toasted tortillas) with avocado, radish and a pleasantly spicy chilli-laced dressing. This was a very pleasant if not exactly thrilling dish (13/20). A Mexican take on Caesar salad featured grilled gem lettuce, fried anchovies, anchovy dressing, finely grated cheese and blobs of spicy mayonnaise. This was unusual, the combination of ingredients working quite well, though it is hard to make gem lettuce really stand out (12/20).
Black cod came with slices of potato and ajillo guajillo chile, made from shrimps, garlic and guajilli chile (a mild, dried chile), along with a garnish of micro leaves. Unfortunately the black cod was watery and disappointing, with a few slices of artichoke, radish and potato on the side not enough of a distraction to make up for the fish. Moreover the thin sauce had congealed on the hot plate (barely 11/20).
Pork carnitas came with arbol chile (aka tree chile, a slender, hot chile) salsa and a pair of padron peppers. The crackling looked OK but in reality was soggy and limp rather than crisp. The slab of pork was pleasant and the salsa and chile added some bite, but the uniform taste of the pork was not interesting enough to carry off the dish, and was especially underwhelming when you consider that this cost £24 (12/20).
A bowl of rice was miniscule in scale, dwarfed by a fork. It was as if we had entered an episode of the old TV series “Land of the Giants”, yet this tiny bowl cost £5. A pile of tortillas were, as noted, made from scratch in the kitchen, and yet were rather ordinary; not unpleasant, but just so-so in terms of texture and flavour. They were not a patch on the excellent version made at the table at the superb Punto MX in Madrid, by way of comparison. A side dish of grilled cabbage with nuts and seeds was at least properly cooked, though it needed a bit more kick to its flavour (a solid 12/20).
For dessert, churro were decent enough, served with a little bowl of chocolate sauce and a separate caramel sauce (13/20). A warm cacao and corn cake was effectively a chocolate fondant, and it had a suitably rich liquid centre. Pinole is a grain dating back to the Aztecs, made here into ice cream that frankly lacked much flavour. The fondant was good, let down by the ice cream (12/20).
Service was fine. Our waiter, who was called Vladimir and yet seemingly originated from northern Mexico, was friendly and attentive. The bill came to £90 a head with a mid-range bottle of wine to share and no coffee. This seemed like an awful lot of money for the standard of what appeared on the plate. Punto MX this isn’t, so London will have to wait even longer for a really outstanding Mexican restaurant.