I love SE London, I think we’ve established that. Some areas though, really make you dig deep. For me, these places are the Old Kent Road and Elephant and Castle. The latter, thankfully, is now benefiting from a bit of regeneration. One new initiative is a food market, which is there every Sunday and occupies the same space as the weekday market, piled up in the labyrinthine space between subway and tube station.
The market is small but there’s an interesting set of stalls; we passed Ethiopian food and coffee, and jerk chicken. For me to pass a jerk stall and not buy any is pretty much unheard of but I’d been tipped off about this Mexican guy by the same woman who prodded me in the direction of The Meat Wagon last summer and I trust her tastebuds (thanks Catherine).
Arturo Ortega Rodriguez makes, in his own words, “authentic Mexican food” and boy, is it good. We bought 3 tacos each for a fiver, with 3 different fillings. The pork meat, marinaded in orange juice and achiote, with the texture of pulled pork, was incredible. Sweet and smoky, we wolfed it down, amber juices dribbling down our chins and arms.
Arturo blisters the tacos on a hot plate, before loading them with your chosen meats plus a dollop of deep mole sauce; you seal the deal yourself with spoons of spanking-fresh condiments – hot salsa, creamy guacamole, crisp onions and the most amazing ‘salsa asada’, a roasted tomato and chipotle concoction. I only remembered when I looked at the photos that he sells it in tubs to take away. Kicking myself doesn’t even cover it.
He’s been doing his thing for about 3 years apparently, and usually sets up in Waterloo at lunchtimes. I want a job in Waterloo. He was also kicking out chilaquiles (“tortilla strips topped with chicken and red sauce with crème fraiche and cheese”) and quesadillas, those spectacular melty cheese tortilla towers.
We stuffed our faces perched on small plastic stools by the side of the stall, enjoying a bit of people-watching (which can get quite fruity in the Elephant) and wiping our mouths literally every two seconds with the provided sheets of kitchen roll. Mexican food has got to be the next thing to take off in London, don’t you think? Aside from Wahaca what have we got apart from the ubiquitous burrito?
Elephant might be the kind of place you put firmly in the ‘avoid, avoid, avoid’ category, unless your idea of a good time is getting lost in a subway maze for an hour and then catching a bus to just about anywhere but I promise you, this place really is worth the journey.
You can find Arturo at the Elephant food market most Sunday’s (although not for the next 3 weeks – he’s on holiday) and lunch times in Waterloo (I’m not sure where, I haven’t been there – please comment if you know).