Mexico City and lunch at the San Angel Inn

Happiness is…chilling out at the San Angel Inn

I visited Mexico City on my way back from a wonderful trip to the stunning resort of Grand Velas Los Cabos. You can read all about my time on the beach there by clicking here. I was excited to be seeing my friend Lupita who I met on a cruise of the Baltic a couple of years ago and who had promised to show me around her home town.

Mexico City is a sprawling, bustling metropolis with a population of over 21 million which makes it the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world. As you fly in it seems to go on forever and when you’re on the ground so do the traffic jams – there are a lot of cars in Mexico City and I mean a real lot of cars. Consequently, be prepared to spend time in the traffic – it’s certainly part of the city’s personality.

Mexico City: landing

Coming in to land in Mexico City

The city certainly has a unique energy – somewhat frenzied but with a laid-back, Spanish undertone. The people are incredibly friendly and welcoming and there’s so much to see and do. Oh and the food is incredible!

It also seems like a grand city with wide avenues, a stylish mix of old and new architecture – some of which is simply dazzling. And it’s great to walk around with monuments and statues around every corner.

Mexico City: Angel wings

Me and the angel wings

We took a slow meander through the magnificent  Chapultepec Park. Mexico City has plenty of trees and green spaces making it easy to get away from hectic city life and chill out. This strikingly enormous structure is the Monumento a los Ninos Heroes – honouring six young men who were killed while defending Chapultepec Castle – the last major resistance to US troops who invaded Mexico in 1845.

Mexico City: Monument

The striking Monumento a los Ninos Heroes

This stunning monument perfectly lines up with Chapultepec Castle down the Paseo de la Reforma to the Angel of Independence. The Angel is a tribute to the heroes of the Mexican war of independence from Spain.

Mexico City: angel of independence

The beautiful, shiny Angel of Independence

There’s so much to discover in this glorious city. I also explored the stylish Polanco neighbourhood which is where I stayed. It’s often called the Beverley Hills of Mexico City and is a  joy to walk around with the seemingly endless upmarket shops, hotels and restaurants.

The San Angel neighbourhood

On my second day in town we headed somewhere completely different. San Angel is a short drive away in the south-west of the city but it  feels like you’ve been transported to another world. The quaint, narrow, cobblestone streets are lined with elegant homes and an abundance of trees and flowers. There’s very little traffic, making it a joy to meander around.

Mexico City: San Angel

There are many beautiful homes in San Angel

There are plenty of lovely shops to browse through and the incredibly peaceful ex-convent of El Carmen to visit.

Mexico City: El Carmen covent

Take time out to enjoy the tranquility of this covent

You’ll also find Frida and Diego’s house, where famed Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived and worked. It’s been left as it was when they lived there and is fascinating to explore.  Plus you get the chance to see some of their work.

Mexico City: Frida and Diego's house

The brilliant blue that is Frida and Diego’s house

The San Angel Inn

One of the reasons for visiting San Angel was to have lunch at one of Lupita’s favourite restaurants, the San Angel Inn.

It’s loved by locals and tourists alike and you can see why as soon as you walk in – It’s the sort of place that instantly lifts your heart. The hacienda dates back to the 17th century and was originally a Carmelite monastery. A beautiful courtyard is surrounded by an expansive verandah and you’re basically in a tropical garden. I can think of no place I’d rather have lunch.

San Angel Inn: verandah

The beautiful verandah, the perfect spot to spend an afternoon

When in Mexico, drink margaritas. And this could be the best margarita in the world. Served in a little jug nestling in a mini bucket of ice you pour a little at a time ensuring your drink is always super cool. Heavenly.

San Angel Inn: margarita

The best margarita in the world? Possibly

As we sat on the verandah sipping on our margaritas we snacked on a delicious bowl of crunchy vegetables which we dipped into the beautifully creamy, cheesy dip.

San Angel Inn: crudités

Deliciously crunchy snacks with the creamiest of dips

What’s on the menu

As we pored over the menus soft warm rolls were served on one of their beautiful blue plates. I loved all the crockery here so much – how I would have loved to slip some into my handbag! No, of course I didn’t.

San Angel Inn: bread and butter

Bread and butter served on crockery in beautiful blues

I started with the Aztec tortilla soup. A rich tomato-based soup with crunchy crumbled tortilla and fresh chopped avocado sprinkled over. A wonderful combination of flavours and textures – and even more of those delicious Mexican avos.

San Angel Inn: Soup

Wonderfully rich soup topped with tortilla and avo

The caesar salad is for two and is made table-side. Quite a ceremony with the dressing also lovingly mixed in front of you. Seeing it being made with such love and focus makes it taste even better as a result.

San Angel Inn: Caesar salad

There’s plenty of activity as your salad’s prepared at the table

San Angel Inn: Caesar salad

Even the dressing is freshly made in front of you

Flaky white fish came with a hearty tomato and olive sauce.

San Angel Inn: Fish

The sweetest of local white fish in a rich tomato sauce

I tucked into the flavoursome grilled Mexican steak served with savoury rice, a sticky sauce and guacamole. Yes I am getting as much avocado in as possible while I’m in the land of the avo!

San Angel Inn: Mexican beef

Tasty beef with a side of extra guacamole

After mains the dessert trolley appears. What joy to see all those delectable dishes laid out – making it almost impossible to choose.

San Angel Inn: blackberry pie

Pie made with the plumpest of blackberries

San Angel Inn: chocolate cake

Chocolate cake to indulge in

I went straight from the San Angel Inn to the airport to catch my flight home. Which was all a bit surreal. It certainly was a whirlwind trip. Thank you Lupita for showing me around your wonderful city, I fell in love with beautiful Mexico and know there’s so much more I’d like to explore. Take me back soon!

Mexico City: Lupita

Here we are, reunited after two years

The San Angel Inn is at Diego Rivera No 50 y Altavista, San Angel, Mexico City.

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.