#LoveBorough | El Pastór, Borough Market, London
During a meal with colleagues at Padella recently, we went around the table telling stories of times we’ve shed tears over food. And I’m not talking about as toddlers throwing tantrums – I mean proper emotions over what we put in our mouths as fully grown adults.
The only time this had happened to me was funnily enough, at this client’s restaurant, whilst digging into an unassuming but totally delicious cottage pie. I couldn’t even blame hormones, it was just so good that I felt so proud of them.
Friday at El Pastór I can blame on hormones (no, not the pregnancy type despite the appearance of my protruding belly.) It was my first trip back to my beloved Borough Market since the cordon was lifted after the terrorist attacks. It’s actually a five-minute walk from said client and Padella, so this does all kind of weave together and make sense (well to me, anyway.)
I was to meet my sister for lunch at El Pastór – the recently-ish opened taco restaurant from the same guys who are behind Barrafina (where we still haven’t been but so want to.) It had gained rave reviews from sources in which we trust (such as Marina O’Loughlin) so I decided to make it my first port of call to supporting the re-opened market.
I don’t want to make this post about ‘them’ – the terrorists. I’m sure El Pastór would much rather put this all behind them. Three men wearing fake, but still terrifying, suicide vests storming their restaurant on a Saturday night, only to be met by El Pastór‘s staff who bravely fended off these attackers by throwing chairs and tables – putting their customer’s safety before their own. Honestly guys, you command the utmost respect.
Borough Market is a place where we’ve spent a lot of time – from working up the road both in my current role and my previous job at Time Inc. It’s without a doubt a place of happiness and community – an absolute joy to visit. So the news of what happened hit us pretty hard, not just because it could have easily been us caught up in it, but because what was meant to be an enjoyable night out in a restaurant – a place of sanctuary from the outside world, could turn into such unbelievable horror.
As I walked from London Bridge station into the market last Friday lunchtime, I felt an overwhelming wave of both sadness and pride – I thought I was going to burst into tears just walking down the street. Stepping into El Pastór and being greeted with such warmth and friendliness almost tipped me over the edge and I had to bite down hard on my lip in order to keep it together.
My sister, as usual had got herself lost and was wandering confused around the market, calling me at least twice asking how to get to El Pastór. This helped snap me out of my emotional bubble, laugh at her and get on and enjoy myself – for that is the reason I visit restaurants and love the happiness that it brings me so very, very much.
She finally arrived and we sat down at our table that, knowing her arrival was imminent, they had already prepared for us. We had a quick chat about why we were there (not just to eat tacos but to help support them after the losses inflicted upon them from the closure of the market.) Tears started to prick my sister’s eyes as we spoke, so we were now both at risk of weeping. We gave ourselves a virtual slap around the face and got on with looking at the menu.
I’d already ordered us a couple of Mezcals, a distilled drink produced in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, from several varieties of agave. The Mezcal menu is vast but the descriptions great, I just asked the bartender which one he recommended, he said the Metero (£7.50) which funnily enough I spotted due to the words ‘Subtle, leathery and deep,pepper grows with each sip, like an earthy and sweet snog.’ So smoky and smooth but a potent. 45% abv – yikes.
The food was amazing and brilliant value. It’s not a competition but we (that’s Ade and I) thought Breddos Tacos was good but El Pastór‘s triumphed and I was gutted he wasn’t there to taste them with us. The tacos weren’t overpowered by spice and heat – the flavours shone through and we could actually taste the corn tacos on which the ingredients lay (they are made in-house by the way, the only place on London to do so.)
Chicken with chipotle-cumin adobo rub and salsa taquero (£6.75) was brilliantly punchy but the star of the show for me was the Al Pastor (£6.50) – 24-hour marinated pork shoulder, caramelized pineapple, guacamole taquero, white onion, coriander. Luckily I got to eat them both (you get two per serving) as my sister said it was only fair for she had the whole Gringa Quesedilla with pastor pork, (£5.25). Obviously I would have shared that with her if it wasn’t for the fact it was covered in cheese.
The Tuna and avocado tostadas with chile de arbol (£8) were beautiful too, so simple and fresh, I wanted to order more – many more.
Service throughout was lovely and considerate. When Jess asked which white wine the waitress recommended, they bought her over a little to taste – top marks for that. My sister suggested skipping dessert as she was stuffed – what was she thinking? The Fresh pineapple with hibiscus granita, chilli and mint (£4.50) was perfect for this situation. I also ordered the Mexican chocolate sorbet (£2.50) before she had a chance to argue.
Both were gorgeous – the pineapple a perfect refreshing pick-us-up palate cleanser awaking us from the slump that was threatening to overtake our bodies. The chocolate sorbet was more of an ice-cream but delicious nevertheless with just the right amount of chilli heat.
As we paid the bill we thanked our waitress for a great meal and laughed and joked, like you do at this stage of the meal. What happened on 3rd June felt a little like the elephant in the room – bringing it up could be upsetting for them.
Not acknowledging it felt like perhaps we didn’t care? I am a huge over-thinker and worrier so these thoughts danced around in my head quite a lot. In the end I decided to show my gratitude and love by putting down the most substantial tip I’d ever left, hoping the £10 notes on the table would somehow convey my feelings to the team.
We thanked the smiley grey t-shirt guy on the way out and again, I felt those emotions threatening to burst out of eyes and down my face. Outside in the bright sunshine and hustle and bustle of the market I bid my sister farewell and went back to work, filled with warmth and pride for how this amazing city is getting on with life after the tragic events and like us, desperate to show their support for Borough Market and our great capital city.
Click for their website
7a Stoney Street, Borough, London SE1 9AA
Mon-Fri: 12-3pm, 5-11pm
Sat: 12-4pm, 6-11pm
Closed on Sundays and Bank Holiday Monday.
Nearest station: London Bridge (1 min walk)