One of my earliest introductions to Latin American culture was through an encounter with the weirdly-wonderful world of magical realism – brought bewitchingly to life by the captivating words of the Mexican novelist Laura Esquivel, in Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate).
Her timeless story revolves around a young girl Tita, who is unable to marry the love of her life due to an honour-bound duty dictating that she must care for her mother until she dies. Stifled by her circumstances, Tita is only able to express herself through her cooking, with intensely-emotional results affecting all those who eat the foods that she has prepared!
Although I am often known to digress, there is a point to my retelling this tale here, having just experienced a similarly theatrical re-imagination of reality… and at brunch of all ordinary occassions! Of course, it comes to bear that the chef behind-the-curtains is none other than Martha Ortiz, a friend of Esquivel and a recognised cultural ambassador, provocateur and national treasure of Mexico…
Translating to She Sings, Ella Canta at InterContinental Park Lane is Ortiz’ misty ode to the mercurial magic of Mexican culture.
The large dining space hums with hues of blush pink, red, blue and tan, collectively conjuring up the vivid colours of the shaded streets of Oaxaca. Table tops are lacquered and the wallpaper glowing with gleaming hints of gold. Even the hostesses walking you to your table enchant in their striking dresses, with flowers adding a whimsical flourish to their hair.
Inspired by her mother who was a painter, Ortiz describes her dishes as presented in a frame with a real sense of theatre. Indeed, theatrical touches are an adagio across the entire dining experience which is divided into an Overture, Main Act and Final Curtain.
Brunch opens with starters for Elizabeth (a.k.a. MOG from Mayfair Curated) and I to share.
There’s guacamole por supuesto (of course), but not as we know it. Ortiz’ rendition is a nationalistic one – the lush greens of fresh avocado threaded with creamy white ricotta and speckles of pomegranate to recreate the colours of the Mexican flag, topped off with a crisp gold-coated grasshopper!
For Elizabeth, there’s also fried pork crackling and razor clam ceviche enlivened with passionfruit and mango. Tomatillo granite stir a deliciously-chaotic assembly of textures in a mouthful of fresh oysters, while a beef tongue bellows on a traditional memela de maize (a toasted maize tortilla chip), forever revolutionising her consumption of this uncommon cut of meat.
As for this bonafide vegetarian, the tostadas provide the perfect canvas for a medley of mushrooms married with fresh ingredients (think salsas, avocado and crème fraiche). The snaffling of snacky canapés continues with quesadillas immaculately stuffed with more wild mushrooms and a soft Mexican cheese!
We’ve sailed through to our second superlative round of margaritas by now, my next iteration lifted by a frothy champagne foam and a festooning of flowers. But it’s a while before we reach the Main Act, supported by an ensemble of sides in the shape of a grilled cabbage and nopal (cactus) salad, spiked with citrusy flavours.
After much yo-yo’ing between all the equally-enticing options, Elizabeth eventually makes a grand choice in the lobster tail, delicately curled around black bean chorizo and served with a neat stack of flour tortillas on the side.
Having always loved a touch of naughtiness at brunch, I opt for a bowl of chilaquiles. The hefty chunks of corn tortillas are surprisingly light (they are baked, not fried) – arriving smothered with red and green salsas (the moles); a perfectly-poached egg, cream and cheese adding a textured depth to the crunch. It’s moreish yes, but halfway through the bowl I’ve had my fill and can’t help think that this would make a scrummier starter than a compelling main dish…
The Final Curtain proves a stand-out act, manifesting an exquisite trio of desserts – each deliciously-light yet rich at the same time.
Churros are golden and impeccably-airy, with dark chocolate and caramel sauces (made with goats milk) pulling off a decadent balance. The Tres Leche (a traditional “three milk” cake) is another thing of joy – fluffy, yet having just that right layer of density. Even the guava and mango sorbet deserve a rave, for their pronouncedly fresh flavours which do wonders for refreshing our palates!
We’re crying for an encore as we slowly rise from our seats.
Of course the allure of Ella Canta being an all-day affair in the heart of London (it has its own separate entrance leading off from Park Lane) is that we can just as easily slip back in – even if just for the simple pleasures of a Mexican hot chocolate (suffused with a spicy note) on a wintry afternoon, accompanied by another plate of those deliciously-warming churros! Or a bewitching margarita (or a few!) before staying on for a dramatically drawn-out dinner…
Ella Canta, One Hamilton Place, Park Lane, London W1J 7QY
More on new & noteworthy restaurants in London, here.
I was a guest of Ella Canta. As always though, all opinions are mine and mine alone.
I love Mexican food, it all sounds fantastic!