Painting Oxford St with the colours & flavours of Mexico at Corazon…

Tacos, ah tacos. I have an eternal hunger for them that I spend extravagant amounts of time trying to fulfil; my all-time favourites come from a glorious little bolthole on Sunset Strip called Pinches, closely followed by ex-Noma pastry chef Rosio Sanchez’s new venture ‘Hija de Sanchez’ in the perhaps less-obvious-for-Mexican-food setting of Copenhagen.

Here in London, Taqueria in Westbourne Grove has long held my heart but I’m constantly on the lookout for new spots that’ll give me my fix of soft homemade tacos filled with messy hunks of meat, spicy vegetables & squidgy cheese so new spot Corazon was always going to be high on my ever-inflating-like-Violet-Beauregard, culinary hit list. img_8973

Boasting a great central location just off Oxford St means that I now have an actual reason to gird my loins and do battle down London’s busiest road, something which I’d normally walk twelve miles out of the way to avoid. The vibe inside is bright, clean & fresh, dressed in shades of white, green & grey with a decent sized bar to perch at if you’re dining on the run. The space is big enough to make you feel that there’s likely to be a buzz when busy but not so vast that the back wall of the place seems Mo Farah distance away. Service was super friendly and genuine throughout and plates were delivered with a smile and a timely check back that everything was ok.

The menu is small but there’s enough on it that’s both familiar and interesting to convince you this is a place that knows its stuff; I’m not a fan of TGI length menus that take an hour just to scan only to find that there’s so much stuff on it, I’m left seriously doutbing that the kitchen actually know what they’re doing.

If you order only one thing – not something I’ve ever been able to do when eating out – make sure it’s the Sikil Pak, a Mayan spiced pumpkin seed dip served with jicama & cucumber. It might resemble the ‘before’ in an 90’s makeover movie but it’s absolutely delicious. Silky & rich with a slight oiliness from the seeds and a refined earthiness, it doesn’t taste like any dip I’ve had before but it tastes a heck of a lot like a dip I’ll be having again and again now.

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You’ll find this place is free from enchiladas and fajitas but heralds tostadas and tacos that are served two per portion with prices starting at £6 and topping out at £11. Carnitas tacos were dripping-down-to-your-elbow fantastic and Carne Asada’s blue corn tortillas added a nice flavour to well-cooked meat that had been marinaded in orange, soy and chipotle.

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The beer battered Baja fish will draw me back for a return visit (well, that and the marshmallow frosted Tres Leches cake…I’m only human after all) whilst a trip here over the festive period offered the chance to indulge in a parsnip purée & Brussels sprouts taco you’re unlikely to find elsewhere. Although there’s a nice selection of other dishes including Pozole Rojo – a pork shoulder stew – and Esquites – a herbed corn dish – the coffee & ancho chile braised short rib was a little underwhelming in flavour. I was hoping for a real gut kick of intensity however it ended up being more mellow than memorable.

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Wash it all down in the evening with a beer, a margarita or a cocktail – Trump’s Wall is alarmingly current – or reclaim your lunch break, come at 12pm and order horchata; Corazon’s version is a gorgeous take on the traditional Mexican drink which is made with rice & almond milk and agave and comes heavy-on-the-cinnamon & served deliciously cold.

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I’m not sure this is the place I’d head to for a long dinner over a pitcher of cocktails in the evening – the thought of having to fight my way out and up Oxford St again afterwards puts me off a bit TBH – but I’d absolutely come back for a well timed, well priced, well flavoured lunch and if you want a respite from the crowds outside and a little taste of sunnier, spicier climes, I’d urge you to do the same.

Chains, independents & trucks; where the LA food scene is really headed…

680’000…2/3…67%…$500k…3 million.

Nope. Not the numbers of food items I’ve consumed, dreamed of, thought about, Pinned, Instagrammed or Tweeted this year.

In October 2013, there were nearly 680k restaurants operating in the US*. Interestingly, the majority (2/3) of those were independent – that is, not part of a national group – yet when compared to their culinary brothers-in-arms, the chains, they brought in far less revenue with 67% making below $500k a year; less than 25% of chains fell into that category.

Here’s another interesting fact – in 2012, there were an estimate 3 million food trucks in the US**.

Yep. I’m just gonna let you take a moment to absorb that. Three million. That’s a lot of wheely delicious food on the move…sorry, sorry, that’s the last time I spring a joke on you worthy of a place only in a Woolies 6 pack of crackers.

What’s my point here? Why am I raining numbers down on you in a style reminiscent of Grab-a-Grand from that staple of Saturday night TV, Noel’s House Party? Because having eaten recently in all 3 venues, it got me thinking about the sort of food America is known for and wondering if that’s changing as quickly as the rest of the global culinary landscape.

There are more independent restaurants than chains…there are a considerable amount of people each year starting up something new & different?

Chains generally make more money…over 1200 of them gross upwards of $5m annually suggesting that what people actually want is what they’ve always had?

More food trucks are popping up each year than it’s possible to keep track of…people want mouth-watering food minus the eye-watering pricetag?

In a country with 318m+ people, it’s not really surprising that they all want something different but perhaps this indicates a step towards a brave new world of food; although chains will never go out of business, sprouting up next to them now & seemingly refusing to go away are places that either inspire you to try something different, freeing your tastebuds from the same food you’ve had forever or reinvent it, leaving you thinking about what you ate long after your carton/box/paper plate is recycled. Read More

Mac’n’cheese sandwiches & the country’s best burrito; a lesson on how to be deliciously naughty in San Francisco…

This roadtrip has been a voyage of culinary discovery so far and we’ve barely made a dent in it; from donuts to oysters to bourbon to kale, we’ve scaled the high and frankly, even higher points of West Coast dining and the last post resulted in my lauding with honours the fabulous Pacific Catch and their heavenly salmon rice bowls.

But let’s face it, in order to maintain the perfect balance, everything has its opposite; as there are hot dogs, so there must be mustard. As there is gin, so there must be tonic. As there is jelly, so there must be ice-cream. And as there are healthy salads, so there must be treats of such oozy, heavy deliciousness, they’re worth every potentially guilt-inducing moment of devouring.

I say guilt-inducing in jest because I actually don’t think you should ever feel guilt about what you eat. It’s your choice so put in your mouth, your tummy, your body whatever makes you happy and accept the consequences. Personally, I love pretty much everything so I try and eat pretty much everything in moderation. That said, I’ve never in my life put a Ben & Jerry’s pint back in the freezer half-eaten so let that be all you need to know about how slippery that damn slope of moderation can be at times. Anyway my point is, eat what you like & work it off or eat what you like, don’t work it off &  accept that waistbands may tighten unless the only things you eat that make you happy are broccoli and tofu in which case what are you doing reading this blog?

We’ve established then that San Francisco is the playground of the active, the luminous & the healthy but it also has a dark side that is really quite exceptional. Let’s have a look at the savoury portion of the dark side in this post and talk grilled sandwiches stuffed with mac’n’cheese and a burrito that has frequently topped a gazillion shrieking ‘Best Burrito in the World!’ polls…

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