Bensoir! It's me, Benjamin. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You may have read stuff I've written elsewhere, but here on my own blog as Ben Viveur I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others, so pretty much anything goes.

BV is about enjoying real food and drink in the real world. I showcase recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. And as a critic I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended. Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Adios, Diccionario Mexicana!

It might be a widely-propagated myth that the Eskimos have 83 different words for snow, but Mexicans definitely have at least a dozen different words for Mexican food.

Tacos, burritos, taquitos, fajitas, tortillas, enchiladas, tamales, chimichangas, hongos, rellenos – who knows what it really all means when you see it on a menu in a Mexican restaurant?

We've all spent time handing plates around the table, trying to figure out which one of the near-identical dishes is which, before saying 'fuck it, it's all good'.

You know that no matter what you order, you’ll always get either a soft thing or a crispy thing, it will be filled with some combination of meat, rice, cheese, beans, salad, salsa, sour cream and guacamole, and it will normally be pretty damn delicious.

Yes, ‘tostada’ implies that it will be one of the crispy ones, and ‘quesadillas’ and ‘carnitas’ will contain cheese and meat respectively, but then so could any of the other items on the menu. I like it. I like going to Mexican restaurants and I liked the food in Mexico itself when I briefly found myself there a few years ago - but let's not kid ourselves that it's not all the same kind of stuff.

I’ve no idea why Mexican restaurants have such a bewildering array of menu items – just list the components and let folks choose exactly what configuration they chose for fucks sake.


Have it your way

Enter Tortilla, the Canary Wharf branch of which is located inside the DLR station and is consequently piss-easy to find. Piss-easy in every respect too, once you understand how the decidedly un-Mexican logistics work.

Tortillas in Tortilla
They do offer something vaguely approaching a proper sit down restaurant – cantina would probably be a better word - where you can enjoy a cold Mexican beer with your burrito, but the production-line environment they've got down to a fine art is vastly better suited to the takeout lunchtime trade.

And their approach is a refreshing change from the over-complicated menus that Mexican restaurants normally go for.

You choose if you want a crunchy one or a soft one, and at each step along the human conveyor belt, you choose exactly what goes in it. Chicken, pork or steak (or no meat); Tomato rice or Lime rice (or no rice); Pinto beans or black beans (or no beans); Hot, medium or mild salsa, and so on.

There are thousands of possible tasty combinations, without any need for a confusing menu, and it’s assembled with ruthless efficiency in seconds. Good stuff, and only around £5-6 for a good sized wrap full of whatever you choose – if you want something veggie or low-carb, or whatever, just choose only the fillings that suit.

If you’re eating in, you might want to go for some tortilla chips with salsa and an ‘instant’ frozen Margherita, but the beauty is in the speed, so if you want to sit down and relax and take your time poring over a complicated menu of dishes that all turn out to be broadly similar, there are better places to go.

For a fast, filling, flexible lunchtime snack, Tortilla does the job. You could go every day for a decade and still not exhaust all the possible combinations, but coming up with a unique name for each one would be a big ask, perhaps even for a Mexican lexicographer.

On the wharf...

Canary Wharf DLR Station, Canada Place
Canary Wharf
E14 5AH


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