My second trip to Pamela on Kingsland Road promised vegan Mexican food in the confines of this trendy-but-friendly bar, courtesy of new pop-up Club Mexicana. Topically, this is exactly the kind of cuisine that I “poisoned” my long suffering Valentine with on February 14th last year. (How was I to know that washing black beans was so important? You don’t get this problem with beans on toast.) Regardless, expectations were high.
The bar, when not playing host to pop-ups, is known for its cocktails. Before my partner has a chance to look over the menu, I have the brilliant idea of ordering the two spicier options, keeping with the theme and thus, as I explain, achieving “synergy.” Her withering look fades when she takes the first sip of her Golden Dye, which is a party for the tastebuds: first you get smoky turmeric, then tart orange and lemon, with a dry finish of Bacardi Gold rum.
Compared to this, my Club Mezical is almost neutral in flavour, like if Calpol was a soft drink. This isn’t meant as a criticism (and I mean classic Calpol, not the ‘age 6+’ rubbish) and there are juicy and earthy notes in play too, with mezcal and perfumy French spirit Suze providing the boozy kick.
A quick note on sauce: a trend I’ve noticed in pop-ups around these parts recently is the sourcing of condiments with a truly global purview – in this case, Valentina Salsa Picante Black Label hot sauce, made with Pequin pepper. I welcome this epicurean trend greatly, there’s no such thing as too many hot sauces in one’s life. My companion tastes this delicious sauce directly from bottle to fork to mouth. When questioned on this, she says that it’s less likely to have an adverse effect on her than my cooking. There’s no reasoning with some people.
The Mexican street corn was an exciting first arrival to the table, and delivered rich, creamy cheesiness. It’s clear from the taste that this is predominantly from the addition of nutritional yeast (a common substitute for cheese in vegan cooking which looks, bluntly, like fish food flakes) but along with the vegan cream and spicy sauce slathered on, it adds up to something cheesier than the sum of its parts. Sweet jalapeños on the side add vibrancy to the perfectly cooked and charred corn.
The chipotle potatoes that quickly follow are a little under-fried and over-healthy – even vegans need their required daily dose of oil required by the law of British cuisine (I believe this is addressed in the Fry-Up Act of 1874.) They do however come with a moreish sauce and a fresh topping of coriander and spring onions – a bit of healthy greenery that I can get on board with.
Going up against Temple of Hackney’s notorious, similar offering are Mexicana’s ‘chicken’ wings with salsa verde and pickles. I’m afraid to say that this particular trend is one I just don’t get. Sure, it’s nice not to have a bone and thus chomp through them with gusto, and the skin is lovely, crisp and tangy. But the insides are too soft, almost like stuffing, and the salsa verde adds little (my advice: get some picante on there.)
The annato-glased aubergine on the other hand is unambiguously superb. Whilst the inside of the fried cubes may be too soft for some, the contrast with the pop of the fried skin, topped with the substantial and perfectly balanced annato coating (which has a nutmeggy, wintery dimension) adds up to a dish I could eat until they kicked me out.
Another great dish here is the Baja to-fish taco, which fares significantly better than the ‘chicken’ in the meat substitute stakes. With the addition of a fishy sheet of sushi nori, there is a genuine seafaring aspect to the dish, as if we were dining at a Santa Barbara surf-shack rather than rainy Kingsland Road. The tacos run in at £5.50 except for one, in line with the reasonable pricing running through the rest of the menu.
By the time our second and final taco arrives, our table is a bit of a free-for-all: a bit of potato here, a drop of sauce there… This taco, or to be more accurate the jackfruit tinga masa pancake, perhaps crosses the line to being too unusually flavoured in its quest for beefiness. However the handmade, almost South Indian-inspired pancake itself is very fine indeed – maybe more dishes incorporating this winning creation will come soon?
We finish our maratón mexicano by making a choice between two puddings, opting in the end for a Key Lime Pie that was, with the addition of a textured vegan cream, better than any omnivorous version I’ve ever had. Just look at it! (above)
Creators Meriel Armitage and Lois Davidson have in the past: run events with Five Points Brewery (and use their beer in certain dishes to boot), worked with charity Made in Hackney and at Street Feast in Dalston Yard, and even got married in Square Root Soda’s railway arch at Hackney Downs. Based on the quality on show here at Pamela, this is a Hackney vegan love affair for the ages./ 15 February, 2017