In essence there are three types of great food. Technically great foods, food memories and comfort food. Technically great food like a chilled mango soup I had in Paris or Roquefort and Sauternes is wonderful for its own sake. Food memories don’t require great cooking but rather that special combination of time, place and people. The hot dog outside the British Museum in the snow or a cup of tea after an 11 hour flight to Hong Kong. The last group is comfort food. As seductive as being under a warm duvet on a cold morning and as familiar as Heinz Tomato soup. The food at Cafe Pacifico (5 Langley Street, London WC2) is pure comfort food.
The history of Mexican food in London has not been a happy one. In the 1970s, the first Mexican eatery in London was La Cucaracha in Dean Street (RIP). Not a natural choice of name as it means cockroach in Spanish. It was El Paso meets Fawlty Towers. The waiters were no nearer the Rio Grande than Streatham and the food was as authentic as a Shanghai Rolex.
Then followed the TexMex revolution in the 1980s with restaurants like Texas Lone Star (RIP) and Cafe Pacifico. They were basically tequila franchises. Tequila was a mysterious spirit sharing the same high octane romanticism as absinth. To drink it meant you were a later day Ernest Hemingway, a hard drinking playboy and a man who was worth having around in a knife fight. Or so I liked to kid myself. The food was an afterthought because, as no one had eaten real Mexican food before, you could serve anything you liked and secondly, after a few pitchers of margaritas, slightly warn Lassie Meaty Chunks served in a tortilla with some cheese would go down a storm.
Nearly 25 years on what has changed? Nada, zilch not a sausage. The bar has crossed the room and the kitchen is open plan but you still sit on cantina style wooden chairs with tiny tables. The waiters are still really barmen and the menu is still filled with basically the same ingredients assembled in different orders.
Take corn or flour tortillas and stuff with chicken, beef, cheese, onion, cheese, tomato, cheese and then top with cheese, guacamole or sour cream and some more cheese for good measure. Then fill the rest of the plate with orange rice and brown stuff (refried beans) topped with cheese, naturally. But you know what, it doesn’t matter. What you end up with is a vast platter of warm. No single taste predominates as everything just merges into a feeling of comfort. Combine it with a few salty, frozen margaritas and you have the recipe for a great evening.