William Sitwell reviews Santo Remedio, London: 'Does this chef have magic hands?'

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santo remedio restaurant
Our critic loves this taste of Mexico – with a few touches from closer to home Credit: Jasper Fry

When I first came across Edson Diaz-Fuentes he gave me a plate of smashed avocados with grasshoppers on top. This was on Rivington Street in Shoreditch, an interesting little gastronomic hub; a street in which a couple of my food heroes operate.

There’s Mark Hix, who is the answer to the irksome question posed occasionally by foreigners or food bores: ‘What is modern British food?’ Mark has magic hands and a terrifically strong drinking arm. His place is the one that serves whole chickens on a stick and has a huge cow in formaldehyde in the centre of his vast Tramshed.

Then there’s new-generation hero Gordon Ker, a few doors along. The answer to the question, ‘Where’s the best grill in London?’ is his Blacklock (on this street or the branch in Soho).

Into this mix, in 2017, came Edson, whose Mexican supper clubs had got so busy he opened a restaurant, Santo Remedio. After a wonderful lunch there I was able to answer a friend’s question: ‘Where’s the best Mexican in London?’ In fact, I said, ‘I’ll come with you.’

So along we went without a booking. But when we got there the door was locked and, peering in, it looked like there’d been an outbreak of an infectious disease. Or something. A plague of grasshoppers perhaps. The place was empty. Well, of people. The furniture was still there and I could see a cafetière on the bar and some cutlery. I tracked down Edson on the phone, who said words like ‘landlord’ and ‘bastard’ (I can’t be sure; it was a terrible line).

But now, joy of joys, he’s reopened. Third time lucky one hopes (if you include the supper clubs). This time he’s near London Bridge, in a perfect little corner house. Edson has turned a few very welcoming square feet into a colourful and casual Mexico.

Now, I don’t always mention the cook or the owner in my reviews. But if that individual seems to be part of the menu, of the scenery, the atmosphere, then I reckon it’s valid.

And Edson is not just a cheerful host. He is a well-built, handsome chap who wears a genuine smile and is the sort of person I’d like to have rescue me if I fell through the ice, or was trapped in a burning building. He’d carry you out effortlessly, then cheer you up with a plate of pork-belly tacos.

This was one of the dishes that I had with my two teenagers, Albert and Alice, whose food judgements I trust. While their verdicts could do with a few more adjectives and be slightly less extreme (‘absolutely disgusting’/‘best meal ever’), I tend to acquiesce with their thumbs up or down.

The tacos were great – Edson’s merging of British ideas and ingredients working well, before going properly bonkers at the end of lunch. Little pieces of pork with apple sauce, chopped onion and some baby coriander in a tiny wrap with a squeeze of lime: what could go wrong?

Pork-belly tacos at Santo Remedio Credit: Jasper Fry

Even better, and a little more South Pacific, were tuna sashimi tostadas. These are the crispy breads that break when you bite into them sending 
the contents crashing to earth. Normally. Does Edson also have magic hands?

I took one bite of raw tuna 
with soft avocado (room temperature, not straight from the fridge), and a 
dollop of chipotle mayonnaise sauce 
giving it a gently creamy/spicy crowd-pleasing lift. And then look! The tostada has held and not broken into a thousand pieces!

Next up was a platter – actually a splatter – of lamb cutlets, nicely grilled, good and tender, pink flesh, with a guajillo salsa (a smoky chilli sauce). This was what had been splattered over the plate: a bit like the pavement would have looked had I jumped and Edson not rescued me.

Lamb cutlets Credit: Jasper Fry

At the time of my visit there was 
a tamale celebration going on. This is a traditional Mexican street dish, in which the husks of corn or banana are used to hold food.

It’s ancient and mentioned in the tales of 16th-century Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés as he explored the Aztec empire. Very handy in the ancient world when you’re short on crockery, or indeed the modern one when you’ve fled a bad leasing arrangement.

In fact, Edson serves the husks on plates and on our visit we tried pork tamales with mole amarillo (another thick chilli sauce). I wouldn’t cross several continents for another, finding the textures a little too thick and sluggish. But I loved the tamale fixture on the pudding menu.

Wrapped in a husk is a sticky toffee cake with a fabulously sugary sauce to pour over; a perfectly naughty little Mexican/English union. Mad, delectable and a very happy ending.

‘Best one yet,’ said Alice as we left. Thumbs up from me too.