What: Spanish for ‘she sings’, Ella Canta is a modern Mexican restaurant located in the space that once housed Cookbook Café within the Intercontinental London Park Lane. With the tag line ‘we eat colour’, the restaurant is billed as a response to the colours, textures, stories and spirit of Mexico.
Who: High profile Mexico City chef and food writer Martha Ortiz. Ella Canta is her first project outside Mexico and is pitched at a similar level to her flagship Dulce Patria, which is currently ranked 48 on the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
The vibe: Painfully upbeat staff sashay around the dining room in expensive looking clothes (burnt orange dresses for the ladies, white shirts and burnt orange braces for the men) and introduce dishes with the sort of brazen theatricality usually reserved for amateur Shakespeare productions. “My aim is for you to leave this restaurant in love with Mexico,” announces our charming if somewhat overbearing waiter before breathlessly talking us through Ella Canta’s menu, which is split into ‘overture’, ‘drama’ and ‘main act’.
The room: The David Collins Studio-designed space is considerably less in your face than the service with subtle references to Mexican design and culture including covetable wall lights that bring to mind sombreros and a colour palette that is intended to reflect the architecture and landscapes of the Mexican state of Oaxaca.
The food: Ella Canta is arguably the first restaurant in London to serve modern, high-concept Mexican food. Ortiz’s flavours tend to be subtle, lacking the spikes of acidity and heat that UK diners usually associate with the cuisine. Most intriguing of all is the mole, a surprisingly delicate amalgam of chocolate and blackened chillies. The chef is bringing in spices and herbs from Mexico but the majority of the vegetables and the proteins are sourced from the UK.
The menu: The menu kicks off with a selection of fairly familiar Mexican dishes designed to be eaten alongside a cocktail. There are four multicoloured quesadillas shaped to resemble empanadas stuffed with various fillings including cheese and potato and ancho beef; a deep and smoky ‘drunken’ salsa made with mezcal; and a silky guacamole that arrives with a single roasted grasshopper perched on top (the latter has a flavour and texture comparable to dried husks of corn). The drama section (starters) include grilled Mexican caesar salad with anchovies; octopus with smoked chilli sauce and burnt onion; and seabass ceviche with mango and sangrita sorbet.
Dishes within the main act section (unsurprisingly, mains) include duck with black mole, plantain puree and red rice; and soft shell crab served with tortillas and some of the garnishes you’d expect to see on tacos al pastor, one of Mexico City’s most famous dishes. Overture and drama dishes are around £10 and the mains range from £24 to £36. Hardly cheap but not ridiculous either given the location.
And another thing: Ortiz is the daughter of famous Mexican artist Martha Chapa, who is also a cook and prominent food writer.
One Hamilton Place, Park Lane, London