Santo Remedio

Update 5 October 2016 – Santo Remedio has closed due to an issue with the building. I understand the owners are looking for a new site.

Cat snaps aside, the only thing stopping my Instagram feed from being one long scroll of hunger inducing food porn, is the fact that some people I follow go on holiday. They then smug-share their trip in the same way I smug-share my lunch (i.e. probably too frequently). And it’s quite a relief, actually, to see the odd face, beach, building or blue sky, even though it fosters a touch of green eyed wanderlust.

Interestingly (or not), whilst there are technically 196 countries in the world, over the past 6 months or so the people I follow seem to have mostly been to Sri Lanka or Japan. Give or take ski trip or 3. However, in the last few weeks, Mexico appears the coming thing. The urge to follow suit grows mas fuerte every día.

I’ve been once before, but only the Yucatan Peninsula. Which means there’s unfinished business on the food front in particular. Sure, I necked a few enjoyably greasy street tacos. But rice, beans and overcooked pork made up most of our meals. (Oh, plus a dodgy egg in Tulum, which was a more effective weight stripper than any fad diet could ever be.) To plug the gap (NB we’re now back in the present, rather than Tulum 2005), I’ve made a couple of trips to Santo Remedio, a new-ish, Mexican cocina in Shoreditch.

The smaller than cosy 22 seater ground floor room is cute and nicely decorated. Brick walls, arty photos of scenes from the motherland, colourful tiles and crockery provide a homely and considered back-drop. Tightly packed, bare topped tables, an open kitchen and fiesta music ensure it’s a chatty, near party atmosphere in the evening. Which may or may not be what you want. Upstairs there’s a neat bar which doubles as an additional space for eaters. Drinks shouldn’t be forgotten, mind. I can’t see the cocktails on the online menu. However I recall flavours like hibiscus and tamarind, and that tequila and mezcal feature heavily (naturally), as do well selected Mexican beer and micheladas (imagine a double shot of bloody Mary with a lager top, plus lime and salt – feisty).

The food menu is divided into ‘snacks’, ‘street food’, ‘sides’ and ‘plates’. For me, your best bet is to settle into the street food, a snack or 2 and perhaps a glance at the specials board. Larger plates of octopus and ox tongue come served with various keenly sourced, authentically spiced sauces. But they didn’t sate or satisfy in quite the way the finger food did. I suspect there’s a desire to be more than a taqueria – understandable, given it’s hard to successfully stretch tacos from street food to restaurant plates. Yet the highlights generally involved things in corn tortillas. Not least potato flautas. These are crunchy rolled tacos – like corn cigars – containing crushed baby potatoes, lime and spring onion, spruced with pink pickled onions and (I think) a jalapeño and yoghurt sauce. They were a surprise and a total win.

I thought pork carnitas, glazed with orange and cola, topped with tomatillo salsa verde, red onions and coriander was the best of the taco fillings. “Just the way they are served in Mexico City,” apparently. Wolfed down.

Six hour slow braised beef tacos were rich and intense, but I would have liked something sour in addition to the hot sauce to cut through the beef. Some crunch or freshness too. Chicken pibil tacos glazed with with orange and achiote (a vivid orange food colouring) were more interesting: the shredded meat remained juicy, and the scattering of pink pickled onions made it a bright, punchy eat.

Of the sides, corn on the cob smothered in lime mayonnaise and grated pecorino were super – redolent of the very best steamed corn off the cart in the Yucatan. The guacamole is thick, textured and generous; the addition of crunchy grasshoppers definitely worth it.

On a second visit I was intrigued by and enjoyed the use of hibiscus flowers in a quesadilla. Ignoring the fact there always seems to be too much queso in a quesadilla, this is a good example of what Santo Remedio appears to be trying to do – i.e. go beyond what we in the UK are used to, through highlighting unusual, ‘authentic’ Mexican ingredients and flavours.

Sometimes they’re successful with that approach. It’s great, for example, to now know that once the colour and flavour had been extracted from a hibiscus flower in order to make refreshing aqua fresca, the soaked leaves could provide near pork-like texture and a pleasing hint of jammy sweetness to a cheese sandwich? Other times, I’m not sure it’s worth the effort. The cactus used in its own taco and a coleslaw side is essentially the same as our much maligned sautéed green pepper, just not as good.

That it’s loud and tight won’t suit everyone. The contents of the larger plates need more colour and crust from the grill, and I think there’s potential to be disappointed by your order (when choosing a different set of dishes would have left you with a much better result).

Moreover, I suspect naysayers will moan they’ve had better Mexican in Texas, California (or maybe even Mexico…). Indeed, to really wow, then to hell with authenticity – there’s room for sour and crunchy garnishes in the street food dishes; a fish taco is necessary; and I’ve a personal hope they add a slab of caramelised lengua to a corn taco soon (otherwise I have to head, again, to Hija de Sanchez in Copenhagen).

But, you know, I had fun and enjoyed the food and booze. Twice. And I’ll go again. There’s still more on the menu that tempts and improvements will come: octopus tostadas look strong; a light, fresh, trial ceviche-ish shrimp dish I tasted was vibrant and zesty and exactly the kind of direction the restaurant should head.

“Authentic” is a boring and overused word, and isn’t necessarily better (or worse) than innovation. But when doing-things-as-they-are-done-at-home is attempted with integrity and soul, as it is here, it’s a good thing. Moreover, given there’s a dearth of quality Mexican food in Britain, chef-patron Edson Diaz-Fuentes’ effort should be applauded.

As a casual eating option in the Shoreditch area Santo Remedio is a good one. Also, it’s cheaper than a flight to Mexico City.

Santo Remedio in 3 words

Honest Mexican food

The Bill

Reckon on £30-50 per head, depending on appetite and thirst. – 22 Rivington Street, EC2A 3DY

Note: I dined as a guest of the restaurant (but am confident the above is fair to all)