Thursday, 16 August 2018

Authentic Mexican at Ella Canta, Intercontinental Park Lane.

Every so often you find an absolute gem in London, one that really genuinely surprises you. Ella Canta (pronounced 'eya canta') is not in a particularly trendy location, it's tucked inside the Intercontinental on Park Lane, but rather than being your usual soulless hotel restaurant, it is anything but. With it's own separate entrance you can easily avoid the hotel lobby with it's hustle and bustle of well-heeled guests, and instead you instantly feel welcomed into the bosom of Mexican charm and hospitality. I don't think I've been anywhere in London which such friendly staff, and Edd and I quickly fell in love with it.

The design is luxurious but unique with Mexican elements throughout, and the female staff are adorned with traditional flower crowns ala Frida Kahlo. We decided to start in the bar and have a couple of cocktails before dinner, which was a great idea as the cocktail menu is truly incredible. I can't for the life of me remember what cocktails we had, the skull cocktail below I saw someone else have, so called the waiter over and literally said 'Can I please have that cocktail over there?'. It turned out to be some sort of margarita and was delicious.

Ella Canta is the creation of internationally-acclaimed Mexican Chef, Martha Ortiz, and is one of the few places in London you can experience actual authentic Mexican food that isn't just based around burritos and guacamole (Mole Taco Bar is another of my favourite Mexican restaurants).

We began with a couple of Appetisers...

Guacamole with fresh cheese, pomgranate, and a gold grasshopper (yes, an actual grasshopper covered in gold). This was probably the best Guacamole I've ever had (even better than Andrea's - sorry!), and I quite literally want to go back alone purely so I can have a whole bowl to myself. 

Now, you'll have to excuse the photos. I don't know what was going on with the lighting in Ella Canta, but almost every photo I took (on both my camera AND my phone), came out with lines running through it! So sorry for the weird headache-inducing photos...

As well as the Guac we also ordered the selection of Tostadas, which included: Pickled salmon, avocado and chipotle chili, Tuna with enchilados peanuts and pickled rhubarb, and Roasted cheese, refried black beans, Swiss chard and green sauce. I don't eat salmon so Edd scoffed that one, but the one two were just sensational. They were so tiny but had just the right hit of flavour.

Starters included the famous Vampire ceviche with mango splendor and sangrita slush. Although I'm a huge ceviche fan, this was my least favourite dish of the night. For me the flavours didn't work and were too harsh for the fish, and you couldn't even really taste the fish under the frozen orange slime soup. It was Edd's favourite dish of the night, but I'm guessing he was one of those children who covered his roast dinner in ketchup.

Thankfully things picked up when the Octopus arrived. If you've been reading here a while (oh heyy!) you'll know I absolutely adore octopus, and I wasn't disappointed. The chilli sauce wasn't too spicy for my bland British palate, and I think the octopus itself was perfect. 

Another of my favourites was a classic Mexican dish called a Mexican Tamale, which was served with cheese, cream and green sauce. We ordered this as Giles Coren had said how awful it was and I was desperate to see what he was talking about. I'm guessing either he got the chef on a bad day, or his tastebuds were still numb from the Vampire ceviche, because the Tamale was mouthwatering and a small parcel of moreish-ness. 

And then it was time for mains! By this point we were pretty full, but we powered on...I with the Turbot, and Edd with the Lamb, and with a side of authentic quinoa salad. 

And then my favourite dish of the night, dessert. I chose the MarĂ­a, the Mexican arrives in London, which was a Guava Cheesecake. Guava is one of my favourite fruits, and Cheesecake one of my favourite desserts...put them together and what do you get? My favourite dessert, ever. The cheesecake was light and fluffy, and it was only when you broke through it that the guava was cocooned within the center. 

Edd, being the unoriginal man he is, chose the Churros with caramel and chocolate sauce.

We were about to leave as we both felt really VERY full, and the trains were a mess and I had to get home, and we'd literally spent 3 hours feasting on a lot of food and drink, but then we were presented with the cutest parting petit fours ever - two ice-lollies and a big wheel (there is a story about this but I can't for the life of me remember it - let me get back to you on that).

Finally we departed and rolled ourselves home. Despite Giles Coren's infamous review of Ella Canta, for me it was actually one of the most interesting and delicious foodie experiences I've had in London, serving such a cacophony of flavours and textures it often felt overwhelming. Despite being a little over-priced, I will be back to have an entire bowl of Guac to myself (and to eat that Guava Cheesecake again).

It's also worth noting that the staff that evening really were very special and really added to our experience. All of them were so friendly and knowledgeable, and we asked each staff member we came into contact what their favourite dish was. Each answer was different, and each staff member not only told us which dish they loved, but the reason they loved it too and how they thought it compared to other similar dishes. The mark of a great restaurant is whether they let the staff try each dish themselves -  so many restaurants in London the staff are unable to provide recommendations as they've never tasted any of the food - and Ella Canta far surpassed all expectations I had before visiting. Just avoid the Vampire ceviche.

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*We were invited to review Ella Canta and as such our meal was complimentary, as always however, all views and love is my own

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