I had a somewhat cautious invitation from the management of the small Tortilla Mexican chain. They had noticed from my previous articles that I have been lucky enough to review some of London’s most swanky dining spots. But for me it’s all about the food: they had obvious pride in their eatery and that gave me the clue that this would be a fun and positive visit.
We found the Oxford Circus branch at Market Place. It’s a tranquil spot just a few steps from the frantic bustle of one of London’s most popular shopping streets. Plenty of fast food down there, but that food is a mile away from the fresh, healthy and delicious offerings at Tortilla. They are presenting sustaining meals that you could eat every day and still feel noble.
This isn’t the Tex-Mex food that so many of us have encountered on visits across the pond. Tortilla takes its inspiration from the Mission District of San Francisco. This is Cal-Mex and relies on fresh produce and food that would be ideal to take to the beach. OK, so London is a bit light on sandy plages but you can still have a relaxing break in one of the four Tortilla restaurants, or take the food back to the office, spread the beach towel on the desk and dream for half an hour.
The Oxford Circus branch is small, comfortable and stylish. Seats outside for smokers and those who want to bask in the blazing British sunshine, and plenty of seating on the basement floor to cater for the lunchtime rush and evening revellers. Simple wooden tables and chairs with cream banquettes are complemented by rich maroon tiles.
Ordering your first meal might seem to be a simple proposition: the menu offers five meal choices, but then the fun begins. There are more than 400 possible combinations and more if you include Margaritas or Mexican beer. You are the architect of your lunch or dinner so it’s bound to be one of the best you have had.
I ordered tacos and they were light and full of flavours and texture. You’ll choose different combinations of fillings and toppings to create a totally unique meal. Mine was grilled chicken with rice, black beans, cheese and sour cream. I like a kick of spice so I had a garnish of hot salsa. This isn’t for the faint-hearted so be warned.
The presentation was thoughtful. Metal mesh baskets are the order of the day rather than plates. They are supremely practical but have that touch of style which I find strangely lacking in polystyrene boxes. One finds a cosy corner to perch and adds, perhaps, a drop or two of a hot sauce. Grab a handful of paper serviettes before you start to eat: you might need them.
My guest enjoyed a Burrito of striking proportions (these are said to have been invented not in Mexico but in Los Angeles in the 1930’s). It’s a large diameter package of solid food. He had chosen a braised pork filling which he pronounced to be tender and flavourful. There were pinto beans, sour cream and guacamole, and salsa verde (medium hot) to add extra piquancy. This constituted a full meal and it wasn’t even the large version! There are eating instructions provided for guests who might be new to this casual hands-on form of dining.
Tortilla Mexican Grill has some of the best value food around. £5.00 will present you with a feast. The meats, vegetables and toppings are made fresh on the premises every day. The beans are cooked for ages to give them that authentic consistency. The tortillas are made by a specialist and they are steamed before serving so they are soft and moist. It’s the attention to detail that sets Tortilla apart. You watch your food being prepared in front of you but service is still remarkably quick. I shrink from calling it fast as that might conjure visions of red-shirted youths filling bags with already boxed and soggy fried goods. No, a good meal in a few minutes can be yours at Tortilla Mexican Grill. It will be my habitual halt when I need real food in a hurry.
Tortilla Mexican Grill
6 Market Place
London W1W 8AH
Visit Tortilla here
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018