New Openings: Ella Canta
Mexico City chef Martha Ortiz brightens up Park Lane with Ella Canta.
What’s new? Park Lane goes Technicolour. Bringing the golden grasshoppers, smoking cocktails, rainbow quesadillas and man-size cacti, it can only be Ella Canta, the exuberant new Mexican restaurant at the InterContinental London Park Lane.
Behind the scenes: Welcome to the world of Martha Ortiz: celebrity chef, writer, feminist and all-round force of nature. The unapologetically glamorous Top Chef Mexico judge’s six-year-old Mexico City restaurant, Dulce Patria, consistently ranks among Latin American best.
The concept: London’s Mexican restaurant scene may be on the up (the joyous Santo Remedio opened its doors this month too) but we still don’t know the half of it. Here’s Ella Canta (translation: "she sings" – and probably dances too) to bring us up to speed. It’s a fiesta of cultural references that begins at the door with Frida Kahlo-channelling waitresses in floral headpieces and statement earrings, and ends over up-tempo tunes and theatrical after-hours cocktails in the raised-level bar.
In turn exhilarating and slightly exhausting, it’s a change of pace for this corner of Park Lane. The design by David Collins Studio spirits us to Mexico City with sun-bleached colours, retro greenery (sculptural sansevieria and spiky aloe vera) and echoes of Mexican mid-century modern in the textured glass windowpanes and a 45-metre hand-carved walnut screen that runs the length of the restaurant.
What’s cooking? When they’re not posing for photos or fielding questions about their earrings (Sandra Roldan) and dresses (1947 Bespoke), the waiting staff are in full storytelling mode, sharing the inspiration and heritage behind the modern Mexican menu. Even without the enigmatic descriptions ("firedanced" sea bass, "vampire" ceviche, "ceremonial smoke" etc), it’s a racy read: so many exotic ingredients and in even more exotic combinations.
"Ceviche vampiro" with sangrita sorbet is an invigorating beginning. Black bean soup is its polar opposite, warm and soothing with nuggets of silky foie gras, light, gelatinous tomato seeds and just a whisper of smoky mezcal. Not having a Mexican abuela, I can’t get all misty-eyed about the traditional stodgy steamed corn tamal. Ditto the sweetcorn cake for dessert, even if it is beautiful and generously stuffed with huitlacoche (corn smut aka ‘Mexican truffle’).
Fine-dining flourishes abound, but it’s the more casual dishes that stay in the mind: slow-roasted pork with achiote seeds and a simple fresh black bean salad, and whole sea bass with charred lemon, chargrilled savoy cabbage "tortillas" and tomato and tomatillo salsas: a modern, easy eat.
Signature dishes? Guacamole with a dare-you-to-eat-it golden grasshopper garnish (crunchy, chewy, nothing special). When it comes to dessert, don’t try to be different, just have the churros: a sparkling, sugary tangle of fried dough with outstandingly good single origin Mexican chocolate from Plantation Mokaya in Chiapas.
Ella Canta, InterContinental London Park Lane, One Hamilton Place, Park Lane, London W1J 7QY, 020 7318 8715, ellacanta.com