Places To Eat In London: El Pastor, Borough Market
I love me a good taco, so obviously since I moved back to London within walking distance of Borough Market, I have wanted to try El Pastor, the famous taco joint on Stoney Street bordering the market. It’s had rave reviews, and while I won’t mention it further because it is not fair for a business to be reduced to what is done to them, but there is a certain solidarity you can feel with a place when your place of work has been attacked by terrorists this year, too. They don’t do reservations, so be prepared to wait around and have a few drinks, or do what we did – go for lunch towards the end of service when things are winding down on a weekday.
We started with some drinks while we browsed the menu. I was really impressed that you could have still or sparkling water on the house (I’m a sparkling water addict, but the habit can get rather pricy!), and we both had a fair few of their house frozen margaritas. Frozen margaritas can sometimes verge on the too sweet side, but these are wonderful, and can also be ordered on the rocks.
We started as any good Mexican meal should, with homemade tortilla chips (which they did offer to refill for us for free – we were rather full by that point, but good to know if you still have some guacamole left in your bowl) and guac. The chips were perfect (seasoned and crisp, but not too salty) and the guacamole was rich, smooth, creamy, and had the perfect amount of tomato and onion peppering it to make it interesting.
I never quite understand the presence of salsas in taco restaurants. In my head, the taco that arrives on your plate should already be perfectly balanced, but then I do like to try all the flavours so I do always order a couple. We went for the slightly spicy Verde Fresca (serranos, tomatillos, coriander) and the more classic Mexicana (Tomato, White Onion, Coriander, Lime), a lime twist on a Pico de Gallo. Both were lovely, and added a bit more bite to our guacamole and tacos.
We figured four tacos each, with our guacamole and a dessert each would be about the right amount of food (it was, so that is what I recommend you should order to share between two) so we had four different tacos, and had one of each, each. First up was my stand out favourite of the bunch: prawns with a punchy al mojo de ajo sauce, fresh onion, creamy guacamole and a pile of shredded coriander on a handmade purple maize tortilla. It was fresh, bright, interesting and perfectly balanced. Do get these.
Next up we had the house taco cut from a big rotating kebab on display in the open kitchen, the Al Pastor: 24 hour marinated pork shoulder, caramelised pineapple, guacamole taquero, white onion and coriander. This is also worth getting as the meat is oh so succulent and the caramelised pineapple pieces burst with flavour in your mouth, but it felt like there was a little something misssing, greatly perfected with a good amount of our verde fresca. Again, the argument. Should you have to add salsa to your own taco to balance it?
Next we had the fish taco (always order a fish taco, because usually they’ll be either the very best taco on the menu or the very worst, highlighting a the flaws in a place), which at El Pastor is a generous piece of stonebass served with caramalised onions, La Maya salsa and again, some raw white onion and coriander. This was light and tasty, and the onions added a bit of smooth complexity that was pleasantly different in a fish taco, which usually lean towards punchier flavours. I added Mexicana salsa to this one.
Our fourth taco was the chicken taco, with a chipotle-cumin adobo rub and a salsa taquero, again topped off with the requisite raw onions and coriander. The chicken was juicy and succulent, they honestly could not have done it better. Pair salsa verde with this one. Another thing worth noting while we were still on the tacos is that none of them fell apart while we were eating: the sign of an excellently executed specimen.
We decided to share the two desserts (though they do also do an exciting selection of Mexican-style ice creams and sorbets: coffee & burnt cajeta ice cream, Mexican chocolate sorbet, hibiscus and lime sorbet), the El Pastor Bounty Bar and the Fresh Pineapple with Hibiscus Granita, Chilli and Mint. They were both wonderful, and very different. While still managing to be fresh and bright, the cool chocolate covered coconut squares were rich and more-ish served with a lovely bright coconut cream. A nice little sweetener at the end of the meal. As well as being stunning, the pineapple tasted incredible, with me eating most of it at a very rapid pace. Even if you’re full, you’ll be missing out by not ordering this one.
So, what did I think overall of El Pastor? We had a lovely meal with great service and authentic Mexican flavours, but considering all of the hype surrounding it I still think unless you’re in the area and you manage to snag a table if you want to plan ahead to get into a fantastic, if slightly pricy taco place in London, head to Clerkenwell to go to Breddos Tacos. Or, if you want tacos that still taste amazing but won’t break the budget you can’t go wrong at Taqueria in Notting Hill where, shock horror, you can actually book a table!