Mexican fare at El Pastor in Borough Market

Today’s London story is about my visit to El Pastor alongside Borough Market for some Mexican delights. But first, something less pleasant.

I write this two days after the horrendous attacks in London when three murderers in a van ploughed down pedestrians on London Bridge and then ran through Borough Market stabbing people. In fact, one of them stabbed a woman in the chest in El Pastor before customers managed to push him out of the restaurant by throwing chairs and bottles at him. At  last count there are seven people dead and 48 injured.

This carnage happened on a warm summer Saturday when Londoners were out and about enjoying the many pleasures the area has to offer. I’d eaten in El Pastor the Thursday before, followed by a meander through the wonders of the market. Two days later people were being stabbed on those same streets. I admit it, it makes me scared. Are our lives in danger every time we step out onto the streets of this great city?

I was on the Underground on Thursday 7 July 2005 when four Islamist extremists separately detonated bombs on three Underground trains and a bus. 56 died and 784 were injured. Luckily for me I wasn’t on one of the targeted trains – it was still a truly awful day. And I was scared then, too. In the weeks following I got off trains several times because I felt someone looked “suspicious” – whatever that means. As it happens it was just me being paranoid and, well, scared. So while we all #wearenotafraid I am standing up and saying yes, I am scared but it’s not going to stop me. Being scared is okay.  Being sad at the random hatred is okay. Shedding tears over lives lost is okay.

Ken Livingstone was Mayor of London in 2005 and  after the bombings he said: “You will see that people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential. Nothing you do, however many of us you kill will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. ”

That speech was about me (among many others). I moved here 32 years ago and have built my life in a city that offered me myriad opportunities, freedom and a home. I plan to visit Borough Market again soon and pay tribute to the bravery of the police and medics and ordinary people who helped fight off these fanatics. They are the sort of people we should aspire to be. To show that we can fight the evil around us. And that while we may be afraid, we will stand together and show these madmen we will not let them win. It’s the best that we can do.

After all the city offers many delights, especially if you like eating out. London’s restaurant culture reflects the wide diversity of people who have come together to create an exciting, vibrant city with  much to savour. So it seems fitting that today I’m writing about a new Mexican addition to the London scene – El Pastor.

And what better than a chunky guacamole to start with? Served with two-tone tortillas (or totopos as they call them here) and some extra salsa for dipping.

El Pastor: guacamole

Chunky guacamole to keep avo lovers happy

The core of the menu is a tacos choice. Well, you are in a taqueria after all, where all the tortillas are made fresh on-site every day. The signature tacos, Al Pastor, is made from 24-hour marinated pork shoulder, caramelised pineapple, guacamole vaquero, white onion and coriander. Melt-in-the-mouth pork with the crunch of fruit and veg all makes for a wonderfully zesty little package.

Es Pastor: Al Pastor taco

Luscious and tasty pork with crunchy veg

In the choripapa, your taco is filled with chorizo, potato and salsa verde. I hadn’t thought that chorizo and potato could be such a stunning combination, it’s the perfect mix of soft and spicy richness.

El Pastor: chorizo and potato taco

Potato and chorizo – a heavenly taco combo

Today’s pudding sounded so exotic we had to give it a try. The fresh pineapple is served with hibiscus granita, chilli and mint. You bite into the sweet juiciness of the pineapple, get a touch of mint flavour and are then hit by the chilli. It’s certainly a dessert with impact.

Borough Market: pineapple dessert

Pineapple, hibiscus and chilli dessert – how exotic!

Today’s price point

We paid £27 for our food selection (not including drinks).

Wine starts from £18 for a bottle and cocktails from £8.

And here are a couple of my favourite images from my visit to that wonderful market.

Borough Market: Saucisson

The prettiest Saucissons ever

I can’t leave Borough Market unless I’m clutching a bottle of the delectable truffle honey. It’s irresistible.

Borough Market: Truffle honey

You simply have to treat yourself to some truffle honey

El Pastor is at 6-7A Stoney Street, London SE1.

Perfect pasta at Padella

Padella opened in Borough Market in March this year. It’s basically a pasta bar where they make their hand-rolled pasta fresh every day and serve it with sauces and fillings inspired by trips to Italy. The simple menu offers eight handmade pasta dishes and a handful of classic starters. Okay, sounds good so far.

Not so good is that you can’t book. One of my pet hates about restaurants – I hate being disorganised (which not booking implies to me) and I really hate queuing (especially for food). And if the restaurant’s half decent there will be queuing involved – especially with the raft of rave reviews Padella received in its first couple of months open. Stories of queues around the block tend to put me off somewhat.

Anyway, today we decided to brave it. The restaurant is open all day (from noon to 10pm) so our strategic move was to get there around 2.30pm and avoid the lunchtime rush. The perfect strategy as it turns out, there was a queue, a tiny one – the mere two people in front of us were soon seated and so were we. Upstairs is a tiny area set around a main bar with marble counters along the side. The experience is one of total relaxation and there isn’t even much stress involved in ordering as choices are limited (in a good way).

Can’t resist a good Burrata – served here with Puglian olive oil. The simplest of perfect flavours and the amazing soft creaminess of the cheese. It’s an irresistible starter.

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Beautiful burrata with aromatic olive oil

The marinated spinach with chilli, garlic and anchovy was beautifully spicy with slight fishy undertones and a wonderful earthiness. More restaurants should do spinach starters.

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Four simple ingredients combine to produce a delectable dish

Then it was time to choose pasta. Portions aren’t main course size, though they aren’t particularly small either, we ordered three to share between two of us. I’d read great things about the pici (pronounced peachy) with marjoram and golden garlic so that was first on the list. Pici certainly has substance to it and it was nicely coated with the delicate sauce. Delicious, if a little bit too much on the wormy side for me. You can see what I mean.

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The substantial strands of pici

Tagliatelle was served with nduja, mascarpone and parsley. Nduja is a kind of spicy spreadable pork salami paste. It’s got real bite and is perfect melted into fresh pasta.

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Ribbons of tagliatelle with a bite

And next up – the king of pasta dishes for me. Ravioli stuffed with ricotta and served very simply with sage butter. Wow, the flavours and textures and well, everything, combined into an incredible taste sensation. I’d go back every week just for a plate of these scrumptious pillows.

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Parcels of deliciousness to dream about

I did enjoy Padella immensely though I’m still not sure I’m up for a queue of any length to get in – especially in the amazing restaurant land of Borough Market where you’re certainly not short of choice. But it is a treat to eat simple food that tastes like it’s really been prepared with love. There’s a lot of heart in this pasta.

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Pinot Grigio by the carafe and the marble counter

Today’s price point

Our two starters and three pasta dishes cost £29.50.

Prosecco is £4.50 a glass and a 500ml carafe of Pinot Grigio is £14.

Padella is at 6 Southwark Street, London, just opposite London Bridge tube station.

 

Square Meal

A feast of fish in Borough Market

I love Borough Market. During the day it’s buzzing with food stalls to tempt and at night people gather outside (and some inside) the pubs for post-work drinks and for dinner. We had planned to go to one of my favourite Spanish restaurants in London, Brindisa, unfortunately they have a “no bookings” policy and we were told we would have to wait an hour to an hour and a half to eat. Time to make another plan.

So we headed for the other side of the market to Fish. It’s a bright, light-filled glass structure with a contemporary feel and it serves…you’ve guessed it, fish! The menu is comprehensive to say the least, including some fish I’d never even heard of. As well as their own specialities there’s also a simple list of fish which you can choose to have grilled or steamed and pick a sauce to go with it and there’s a daily special menu.

To start, one of my absolute favourites – whitebait. I’m pleased to say it seems to be appearing on more and more London menus these days. These were devilled, served piping hot and crispy. Yum!

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Devilled whitebait

I’ve recently eaten cockles quite a few times and love them, so encouraged my dining companion to try one of the starter specials. Sweet simplicity.

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Cockles steamed with white wine, garlic, chilli and coriander

And then, I know it’s not fish, but for me one of the ultimate summer starters when it’s the season for the magnificent Heirloom tomatoes. A totally luscious bruschetta.

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Bruschetta with heirloom tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil

For mains we all had fish we hadn’t tasted before, an experiment that was a great success. This skate was ordered grilled with a spicy salsa.

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Perfectly grilled skate wing

For my main I ordered the intriguingly named Cornish smooth hound fillet (off the specials menu). The waiter described it to me as something like shark which initially put me off, but he insisted it was a lovely, sweet fish, so I decided to go with it. Good decision. A really flavoursome new discovery served with amazing mash and a seriously robust sauce.

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Cornish smooth hound fillet with scallion mash, capers, parsley and black butter sauce

And for the final new fish of the day, again off the specials menu, steamed fillet of brill.

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Steamed fillet of brill with spinach and beurre blanc

For fish lovers this is a seriously good venue. You’ll be spoilt for choice and our dishes were all very well cooked. Go for lunch after you’ve explored the market – there’s a lovely terrace to sit on overlooking beautiful Southwark Cathedral, weather permitting.

Fish is in Borough Market.