How has Mexican cuisine developed over here in recent years?
There has been exponential growth in the Mexican food scene during the past eight years. Finally, there is an understanding that Mexican food is not Tex Mex, but there is still a way to go. We are probably where the US was 15 years ago. In terms of food, however, we have barely scraped the surface.
Why is this?
It is harder to run a Mexican restaurant in the UK than it seems. We don’t have the ingredients that they do in Mexico – or California, where you are only 100 miles or so from Mexico The quality of Mexican ingredients is still pretty limited over here, which makes things difficult. Also, there are very few Mexican chefs in the UK so it’s harder than you might think to find staff that know the food. Think of what a place like Gymkhana [in Mayfair] has done for Indian food – there is no way you could do that with Mexican food at the moment. There isn’t the skill or the expertise.
Tell us about your Mexican chef supper clubs
They are a series of one night-only meals cooked by some of Mexico’s most exciting chefs. We’ve been wanting to do something like this for three years and have been looking to get support from the embassies
but with little luck. In the end we thought, “it’s 2015, let’s just go and do it”. It’s the year of Mexico in the UK and the UK in Mexico so it’s a good time to do it. I’ve also been busy having babies, but I’m now able to set aside thi time. The stars are all aligned.
The first one is a dinner by Alejandro Ruiz (head chef at Casa Oaxaca), one of the foremost experts on Oaxacan cuisine. He’s created a menu based on regional dishes and is cooking things such as crickets, hoja santa taquitos with Oaxacan cheese; and suckling pig with guiso tehuano. After him we’ve got chefs coming over every couple of months, so Diego Hernandez of Corazon De Tierra in Ensenada,
is coming in April, and then Roberto Solis. Enrique Olvera (head chef at Pujol, 20th in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list) is coming over in September.
And what’s on the menu?
The meals will highlight the various regions of Mexico – Ensenada, Oaxaca, Merida and Mexico City – which is one of the big stories of Mexican food. As well as the one-off dinners, we will be offering special menus based on the chefs’ home regions, which will be available for two months. The first showcases food from southern Mexico (dishes include venison tostada; chorizo and chapulines memela (blue corn and grasshoppers); and short-rib beef served with Oaxaqueno mole). The menu will only be available in Covent Garden, but I like the fact that our restaurants are all different. We had the UK’s first mescal bar in Charlotte Street, a tequila bar in Soho and our South Bank site served grasshoppers. Covent Garden is the restaurant in which I cheffed so it’s good to be able to bring it back to where it began.
Is there a taste for more high-end Mexican food over here?
Chefs like René Redzepi (Noma, Copenhagen), Albert Adrià (Tickets, Barcelona) and Isaac McHale (The Clove Club, London) are all really excited about Mexican food and interest is going to continue to grow. The verve of Mexican food is beginning to penetrate, and that’s quite exciting. Even for us, who have been around for a while, it feels like we are at the beginning of a journey. We are putting on food that we wouldn’t have done five years ago. Enrique Olvera has just opened a restaurant in New York so there’s definitely a movement. I’d be surprised if we didn’t see Mexican chefs coming over here and opening high-end restaurants in the next couple of years. The fact that our first chef dinner sold out in three hours even though most people probably haven’t even heard of Alejandro Ruiz shows there’s a definite appetite for this kind of food.
What else is in store for this year?
We are going to throw the biggest Day of the Dead party yet at The Roundhouse (in Camden) in November. It’s an annual two-day event that celebrates drama and art. I don’t know many restaurant groups that throw a party of this size every year.
And another DF Mexico is on the cards...
Yes. We are always taking on slightly new things and DF Mexico is more Californian diner in style, which Mark [Selby, co-founder] and I came up with on a visit to America. We don’t do things by the book