Madera is on the fifteenth floor of the Treehouse Hotel (formerly the St Georges Hotel) in north Regent Street, and opened in November 2019. The restaurant is run by a Los Angeles company that runs several venues in southern California and is, in its own words: “a team of artist-engineers dedicated to realizing the evolution of hospitality.” OK then. It is not to be confused with the Madera restaurant in Palo Alto. They are now branching out and have opened in the capital.
The owners recent raised an entertaining amount of venture capital, and a chunk of this has been spent on the décor of this restaurant, which can seat 160 people at any one time and has fine views out over the rooftops of London from its lofty perch. There are lots of wooden structures to emphasise the Treehouse theme – no corners have been cut. Tables are compact and tightly packed, so much so that we had to disturb tables either side of to allow ourselves to squeeze into the seats. The menu is “reimagined” Mexican cuisine but is mostly familiar, centring around tortillas in assorted forms plus the odd grilled dish, and a chicken dish with mole sauce, and there was a full vegan menu. There was music playing, with a peak of 96 decibels on my meter despite being at a fairly quiet table (anything over 85 decibels will damage your hearing over long exposure). The lighting was so low that I needed my phone torch to actually read the menu. They actually make rather than buy the tortillas here, a rarity in London. This being a Mexican restaurant, we restricted ourselves to margaritas and Pacifico beer to drink, the latter at £6 for a small bottle.
A tomato salsa appeared with a dish of tortilla chips, the latter having decent texture but lacking any salt whatever. The salsa was rather disappointing, having diced tomatoes and lime but barely any discernible chilli or indeed any noticeable seasoning whatever (barely 11/20). Guacamole (at a fairly bold price of £9 for a dip) had ripe avocado, red onion and a little jalapeno, lime and coriander but did not benefit from the addition of pomegranate seeds, which tasted out of place (11/20).
Chicken taquitos featured four corn tortillas wrapped around the meat and pickled onions, tomatillo salsa, jalapeno cabbage, chipotle cream and Manchego cheese. This was quite enjoyable, there being just enough chilli bite to enliven the otherwise rather tasteless chicken, and the tortillas had decent texture (13/20). Also pleasant was a trio of ceviche dishes featuring halibut, salmon and ahi (i.e. yellowfin) tuna, served on a bed of ice. The fish came with a citrus dressing and a little mango. Although the salmon had little flavour, the halibut and tuna were fine, and the dressing was not so sharp as to overpower the fish (13/20).
Things declined with the main courses, as did the service. My wife had ordered grilled prawns but a dish of grilled chicken appeared in its place, along with a few tortillas, rice and refried beans. This was taken away to be replaced with what she had ordered, though I did taste one piece of chicken, which was as dried out as a, well, a very dry thing. I had chicken enchiladas, soft corn tortillas with tomatillo chilli and coriander sauce as well as the meat. This was harmless enough, though it was rather bland and badly needed more chilli kick (11/20). When the seared prawns eventually turned up, they were cooked all right but had that distinctive whiff of chlorine that get with cheap farmed prawns (11/20). It was rather irritating that they didn’t bother to bring fresh tortillas or sides to go with the prawns, given the length of time that the original ones had been hanging around, and given that this dish cost £29. We even had to ask for a knife and fork for our main courses, £29 being apparently insufficient to justify the restaurant springing for fresh cutlery.
Churros are fried pastry (flour, sugar, and milk), here flavoured with cinnamon and served with chocolate sauce along with salted caramel ice cream. Although the ice cream was OK, the churros themselves were not, being raw in the centre, which may have been due to the oil being too hot (9/20).This is just sloppy cooking. Service was well-intentioned but flawed, quite apart from the ordering issue. When I asked the waiter for more information on the “wagyu” dish on the menu, he initially appeared stumped then confidently asserted that this was pork. The phrase “wagyu” literally means “Japanese beef” (the kanji is 和牛,with 和 meaning “Japanese” and牛 meaning cow) but the term is liberally bandied about for marketing purposes to suggest cattle raised in a similar way to produce fatty beef. What it is certainly not is “pork”. I suggested that the waiter ask the kitchen and it turned out to be American raised wagyu beef. To be fair to the service operation, the beers arrived at a good clip. The bill came to £96 with a couple of margaritas and four small bottles of beer between us. This is absurdly expensive for the level of food being produced here, using very cheap ingredients. The dreadful value for money factor appears to be of no concern whatever to the clientele here, who were packing out the large premises on a Tuesday night in February. Presumably the fine view over London is the attraction here, since it is definitely not the service or the food that is drawing the crowds. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that The Treehouse does not seem overly concerned about providing an authentic Mexican dining experience.