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It takes two to taco - Edson and Natalie Diaz-Fuentes on bringing Santo Remedio back to Shoreditch

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

It takes two to taco - Edson and Natalie Diaz-Fuentes on bringing Santo Remedio back to Shoreditch

Related tags: santo remedio, Mexican cuisine, Street food restaurant, Natalie Diaz-Fuentes, Edson Diaz-Fuentes, R200

Edson and Natalie Diaz-Fuentes have brought their beloved London-based Mexican restaurant Santo Remedio back to Shoreditch, a move they say will see the brand ‘return to its roots’.

Edson and Natalie Diaz-Fuentes always knew they’d bring Santo Remedio back to Shoreditch. When the pair launched their restaurant together on Rivington Street back in 2016 it was a hit. Critics raved and queues formed. The Observer​'s Jay Rayner dubbed it​ to be ‘full of lightness and brightness, colour, punch and enthusiasm’. But, just five months after opening the doors, the couple were forced to shutter the restaurant permanently​ due to ‘problems outside their control’.

The closure eventually led Edson and Natalie to relocate to London Bridge​, where they have been serving up tacos, tostadas and mezcal margaritas since 2017. Now, though, they have returned to Shoreditch for a second bite of the tomatillo with Santo Remedio Café, which opened late last year.

“It was always in our hearts and minds to come back here at some point,” says Edson, with a grin. “Originally we opened in Shoreditch because it’s where we lived. Since then we’ve moved to be closer to London Bridge, but we still love this area. It has such dynamism.”

It’s a Tuesday lunchtime and the Great Eastern Street café is closed. The previous night Boris Johnson confirmed plans to end of all domestic Covid restrictions in England, and the bustling streets suggest that things, finally, may be starting to get back to normal.

“We learnt a lot over the pandemic,” says Natalie, thoughtfully. “When we first closed in Shoreditch it was really disappointing having just built up this head of steam, but we look and it was a great stepping stone for London Bridge that gave our investors proof of concept and put us in a position to have a strong, solid business plan.

“It was always in our hearts and minds to come back to Shoreditch at some point”

“Covid was another huge challenge, but it encouraged us to look at every area of our business and made us focus on what really mattered – protecting our teams and providing the best experience for our customers.”

The prospect of opening a second restaurant had been on the cards for some time; before the pandemic hit Edson and Natalie had been looking at sites across central London, including in Soho. Returning to Shoreditch, though, felt like a much more natural next step for the pair, although the unpredictable nature of the pandemic meant it wasn’t the smoothest of launches.

“We opened in November, just before the Omicron wave hit,” recalls Edson. “It was tough and frustrating, and meant we couldn’t build the momentum we needed. Since January, though, we’ve been progressing and getting busier week on week. It definitely feels like the buzz is growing.”

An all-day venue

Originally the plan was to name the Shoreditch site Santo Remedio Taqueria, but eventually Edson and Natalie settled on Santo Remedio Café, reflecting their aim of creating an all-day venue, with a particular focus on developing a breakfast offering.

“Mexican breakfast is a key, unexplored market,” says Edson. “From the beginning, one of the aims of Santo Remedio is to show the broader range of Mexican cuisine, and breakfast and brunch dishes are key to helping people understanding how healthy and versatile Mexican food can be.”

The café is only open for brunch on the weekends, with no breakfast service at all; although Natalie notes that with the end of restrictions and (hopefully) a greater return of office workers to area, footfall levels should soon allow for it to expand its weekday opening hours to throughout the day.

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Edson, who before launching Santo Remedio was head of menu innovation at Mexican casual dining group Wahaca, has already begun working on dishes for the breakfast menu, including a take on huevos motuleños. Originating from the Yucatan state, it’s made from a crispy tostada topped with black beans, fried egg and tomato salsa, and served with fried plantain and, usually, ham, which Edson swaps out for bacon.

“One of the things [Edson] does really well is switch up proteins that would be nicer here than in Mexico,” says Natalie. That approach extends across the Santo Remedio menu. The Shoreditch brunch menu, for example, features a black pudding taco that sees tortillas filled with crumbled black pudding, a fried egg and salsa verde.

 “A dish like that really epitomises what we want to do at Santo Remedio. We want to make food that tastes really good and has a Mexican element. But it doesn’t have to be completely authentic. In Mexico they would traditionally serve mole with turkey or chicken, but in London Bridge we serve it with slow-cooked short rib. It’s about having a contemporary approach that combines the great produce we can find in London with the flavours of Mexico.”

Returning to Santo Remedio’s roots

When Edson and Natalie first announced last summer that they would be coming back to Shoreditch, they described it as bringing Santo Remedio 'back to its roots'. While that is true in a literal sense, it is also evocative of the pair’s desire to evolve the food offering.

“Santo Remedio literally means ‘holy remedy’,” says Edson. “We launched the restaurant originally because we wanted to serve dishes that we missed, and also show a wider variety of Mexican dishes than perhaps people were familiar with.”

“When we started in Shoreditch, it was quite experimental,” picks up Natalie. “It was a small space, with a short menu of tacos and tostadas. We would regularly put on a crispy pig’s ear taco with salsa verde; or one with braised ox tongue and a pumpkin seed sauce. But we found those sorts of dishes just didn’t work in London Bridge.”

 “We launched the restaurant originally because we wanted to serve dishes that we missed, and also show a wider variety of Mexican dishes than perhaps people were familiar with”

The move to London Bridge was initially just about relocating the restaurant after being forced to close in Shoreditch, but Edson and Natalie describe it as eventually having developed into a more formal concept. Alongside the selection of smaller taco and tostada dishes, there was a demand for bigger sharing plates, which led to the likes of the barbacoa lamb shank and bone-in short rib being added to the menu.

“London Bridge is a place where you book,” says Natalie. “It’s a big space with lots of covers and has plenty of groups who come for birthdays and anniversaries. But we did feel the original concept of having a smaller, casual dining restaurant with experimental dishes is something we wanted to return to. And that’s what the café is.”

Housed is what was previously a grab-and-go lunch spot, Santo Remedio Café has a tight menu with a short selection of nibbles and then a larger range of tacos, tostadas and quesadillas. While there is some crossover with London Bridge, several of the dishes are exclusive to the Shoreditch site, including the braised ox tongue taco, which is now on the menu permanently.

The space itself is warm and inviting, with room for about 30 to 40 covers. “We wanted it to feel like you’re walking into a restaurant in Mexico City,” says Natalie of the interiors. “We don’t want to have sombreros hanging on the wall and mariachi music playing. The design elements are straight from Mexico, and quite pared back. We’re using light wood and modern cement tiles.”

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An evolving landscape

Just as the Santo Remedio brand has evolved in the years since it first arrived in Shoreditch, so too has the capital’s Mexican restaurant landscape. In a similar segment of the market to Santo Remedio, the Hart brothers have established taco concept El Pastor, which launched in Brough Market in 2017 and recently expanded to Soho. Then there’s Tacos Padre, another Borough Market-based taqueria that is run by chef Nick Fitzgerald, who previously cooked at Pujol restaurant in Mexico City (currently ranked number nine on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list).

Meanwhile, at the higher end of the scale is Kol, Santiago Lastra's innovative Mexican fine dining restaurant that launched in Marylebone in 2020 and recently received its first Michelin star. That restaurant is soon to be joined in Marylebone by Cavita, the debut solo restaurant from Mexican-born chef Adriana Cavita, who previously cooked at Pujol as well as the Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli in Spain, which topped The World’s 50 Best Restaurant list five times before its closure in 2011.

“Mexican is a complex cuisine. The mixture of flavours and process are exact, and the more people see it on tasting menus and in restaurants, the more they’ll understand how inherently special it is”

“As a Mexican, it’s exciting to see more Mexican offerings of good quality in the city,” says Edson, who was born in Mexico City and trained at Casa Oaxaca, which was named one of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2014, under the tutelage of renowned chef Alejandro Ruiz. “It means more people are receiving an education in what true Mexican food looks and tastes like, and means we have a strong level of competition.”

“It’s exciting that people are showcasing Mexican food in so many different and unique ways,” adds Natalie. “Mexican is a complex cuisine. The mixture of flavours and process are exact, and the more people see it on tasting menus and in restaurants, the more they’ll understand how inherently special it is.”

Eyes on the west

The original closure of the Shoreditch restaurant was a huge blow for Edson and Natalie, but the pair both insist that the challenges they face now far outweigh those they’ve had to contend with in the past.

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“It’s more challenging now than ever before to run a restaurant like this,” says Edson. “As a business we want to grow and evolve and target different areas, but post-pandemic that’s really tough. We can talk about the struggles with the supply chain and sourcing ingredients, but we need to be realistic in terms of the broader problems in the sector, particularly the troubles with staffing.”

Edson and Natalie credit the wider Santo Remedio team with helping guide the business through the pandemic but staffing has been an issue both at London Bridge and Shoreditch. Despite this, they are keen to expand the business further in time, with the aim of growing while always keeping the operation in house.

“I would love to go to west London,” continues Edson, when asked about where he’d like to take the brand next. “I don’t know if it would be a more formal site like London Bridge; or something on the casual side, like Shoreditch. Either way, the emphasis will always be on combining authentic Mexican flavours with modern ideas. That’s always going to be what keeps us moving forward.”

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