The whitewashing at this Kingly Court restaurant is royally screwed up.
There are queues everywhere in London. Alongside all the usual queues that you’d expect – to get pissed, to have a piss, to be pissed upon from a great height and then to piss off (toilets, the bar, any sort of public/government service and then public transport/airports, respectively) – are the ones that you don’t. Overhyped no-reservations restaurants like The Breakfast Club and Dishoom, where the queues are so long that you’d be forgiven for thinking that everyone lining up had just found a NHS dentist accepting new patients.
While the queue at Club Mexicana in Kingly Court never gets quite as long as the one to see the coffin of you-know-who, you can skip it entirely by ordering a takeaway using online click and collect. Club Mexicana’s stichk is that they dish up vegan tacos. Which would be a fine idea, as there’s plenty of rich precedent to draw upon from the Mexican pantheon – umpteen varieties of corn, just as many squashes and beans as well as ingredients less familiar to many Euro-Americans such as cacti and corn fungus.
Except, of course, Club Mexicana has ignored all of that and decided to imitate various meats instead using plant-derived proteins. I’ve written before about why I find this particular vegan restaurant bandwagon to be especially infantile and derivative. In this context, it’s also cultural whitewashing to ignore a potent pre-existing vegan-friendly culinary tradition in favour of contorting plants to resemble the flesh that you’re rejecting.
Despite my scepticism about most vegan meat substitutes, it would still have been possible for Club Mexicana to pull off this sleight of hand. Perhaps by embracing the inherently artificial, ‘uncanny valley’ nature of their meat substitutes and using it as an opportunity to creat something different, as some other meat-substitute traditions have done.
They did not and the results were grotesquely dire as a result.
All of the tacos suffered from substandard corn tortillas that were either leathery and stale or hard and stale.
The plant-based meat substitute in the ‘al pastor’ did a remarkable impersonation of the coiled curls of sad, grey doner meat found on high street pavements across the country, but without any of the moistness or salt they use to disguise their substandard drabness. Neither the mystery glaze splooged around, nor the pineapple, were able to disguise its inherent blandness.
Tacos filled with ‘BBQ short rib’ resembled no such thing, instead tasting more like an attempt at takeaway sweet and sour protein. Wan, bone-dry chunks of mystery plant-derived protein came enrobed in chewy batter, then slathered in a sauce that was a bit too sweet but with some welcome tanginess in the mix. This batter-and-sauce combo was just about enough to offset both the relative heaviness of the ‘short rib’ and the unpleasantly cloying attempt at sour cream, although thankfully there wasn’t too much of the latter.
Club Mexicana’s attempt at vegan fried chicken was reasonably evocative, given that most of the chicken served on this island is inoffensively meek. Dense but drier than a desert well, its saving grace was its chewy batter that was almost karaage-like in its bubble-studded surface. Sharp pickled onions and relatively spicy chillies also helped liven up the otherwise doughty ‘chicken’.
‘Chorizo’ was remarkable in how little it resembled its meaty source template, manifesting as forgettably bitty protein scabs. Without the jalapenos and the inexplicable presence of butternut squash, these tacos would have been a joyless slog.
Club Mexicana’s attempt at ‘cheezeburger’ tacos was by far their most unappealing dish and not just because the bitty, grainy and crumbly protein was more like decaying masonry than minced beef. The attempt at vegan cheese was so overwhelmingly sickly and cloying, smothering everything else including the gherkins and onions, that these tacos went largely uneaten and straight into the compost heap where they belong.
Club Mexicana is remarkable for all the wrong reasons. In ignoring the innately rich potential of Mexican ingredients that would appeal to vegans, Club Mexicana has instead dished up twisted imitations of meat. Even worse, it’s all based on the comedy meat of a militant vegan’s imagination, the meat you might once have had at a Brewer’s Fayre run by a clumsy, Fawlty-esque sadist in the early 80s when no one batted an eyelid at such culinary monstrosities.
Except now, it’s once again acceptable to eat such wretched dreck as long as it’s plant-based. Club Mexicana is not only a laughably half-arsed Mexican restaurant, it’s also a wretchedly unimaginative vegan restaurant – and London already has more than enough of both.
What to order: Perhaps the fried ‘chicken’ tacos
What to skip: almost everything else
Name: Club Mexicana
Address: Ground floor, Kingly Court, London W1B 5PW
Phone: none listed
Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday 11.00-21.00; Sunday and Bank Holidays 11.00-20.00.
Reservations? not taken.
Average cost for one person: £35 approx. (£50 if you push the boat out as I did)