Like Nando's with drug cartels: The gammon food critic goes Mexican

Restaurant reviews by Justin Tanner, our retired food critic who’s burnt all his Roald Dahl books in disgust

NEVER trust a Mexican, my uncle used to tell me, and he was a cocaine importer so knew of what he spoke. He’s still serving time at Winson Green for ignoring his own advice. 

Largely drugs barons with imposing moustaches crossing borders illegally, they’ll take out a contract on your life for being late setting off at the lights. And remember swine flu? That was their idea.

However, they do hate the Yanks so we do have some common ground, and I like a dash of hot sauce on my home cooking especially when it’s past the best-before date.

So when an old colleague’s in town and suggests we meet for Mexican, I’m in there faster than a roadside burger gives you the shits. See? I could have said burrito there, but I didn’t. Because I’m not prejudiced.

First impression? The decor’s straining to make a point. Flags and plastic cacti everywhere when this is still our country. Even then I’ve only got three Union Jacks at home: front garden, back garden, and bathroom window because I’ve not got round to curtains.

We order drinks to kick off and I go for a margarita only to find salt left all over the rim of the glass. I would, but decide it’s not worth the risk of getting my throat slit, or the Mexican Bootlace as they call it.

Apparently Jim’s been teetotal for the last 15 years, after what he calls ‘the boardroom incident’. That’s his lookout. I down my drink and ask them to leave the bottle of tequila, because it sound like it’ll be a long fucking night.

We start with a few dips and hand-made tortilla chips. Okay, but no improvement on those massive packs from Tesco. The guacamole intrigues me though, as I’d assumed that was a South American country which started wars over football. They’re fiery down that way.

There’s also Worcestershire sauce on every table, as apparently it’s a favourite condiment back in Mexico. Yet more proof English food is the best in the world, though I don’t have any because I hate the stuff.

On to mains, and it’s pretty much meat, onions and peppers in folded tortillas. Like different flavours of Findus Crispy Pancakes, only without being so molten hot they burn the roof of your mouth off.

I go for the fajitas and I’m told you’re meant to eat it with your hands. For fuck’s sake, at these prices? I stick to my guns and demand a knife and fork. Jim gives me a funny look but I’m halfway down the tequila so who cares?

He’s on about his kids, about his career, about recognising what a wreck he’d made of his life through drink as if it were in some way pertinent to me. I’ve had some far-too-hot chillis which I’m drowning in booze. It’s hardly a meeting of minds or cultures.

So when he pops for a piss after telling me he can ‘put me in touch with people who can help’, I grab my last fajita and stagger for the door. I’m all over the place but still disappear into the night, like a bandito in a sombrero, before he returns.

A twat’s trick? Yes. But thoroughly justified, I think as I board the last bus home. Anyway, Mexican food? Alright if you’re boozing and have time to sleep it off, though I wouldn’t fancy being my arse in the morning.

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Let’s move to radical left-wing as-expensive-as-London by the sea! This week: Brighton

What’s it about?

Nestled away on the south coast and ready to form its own separatist state the moment the revolution comes, Brighton is a progressive utopia that couldn’t be more embarrassed by its parent country.

With a long and rich history of open-minded hedonism, it’s a place to whoever you want, whether you’re an independently wealthy crystal healer, a pansexual would-be influencer with an inheritance, or a quirky craftsperson who did very well out of her divorce from a financier.

It’s a town that will enable you to release your mind and let your worries go, man. The lapping of the waves and the fug of skunk will wash away your woes. Trying to ignore the feral cries of trainloads of hen and stag dos is a perfect meditation practice.

Any good points?

The beach. Yes, it’s covered in massive stones, twats down for the day from London and seagulls the size of fucking dogs who’d break your nose for half a chip, but taking in a sunset while gazing at the sea with a beer in hand never palls.

The Pavilion Gardens, next to a big old pleasure palace built by a fat German prince, is a city-centre haven of white boys with dreadlocks playing Bob Marley on acoustic guitars and kalimbas.

The famous Lanes offer bold new explorations of how much you can pay for a coffee and/or a vintage dress that your nan wouldn’t have been seen dead in during the 1970s. Later in the day you’ll see some 18-year-old trust fund bitch looking gorgeous in it.

Or head west to Hove – technically the same city, but fuck that – for a middle-aged middle-class experience, where you can enjoy a vegan cake and oat milk chai latte in a bougie cafe and getting your ankle clipped by a baby buggy that cost more than your car.

Beautiful landscape?

The aforementioned beach, if you can squint away the litter, ignore the fact it’s full of people even at 4am on a Tuesday, and don’t find the contrast between the thriving Palace Pier and the skeletal memento mori of the former West Pier too heavy-handed a reminder that we’ll all die someday.

There’s an undercliff walk from the Marina to Saltdean, which offers a chance to contemplate the vastness of the sea and the omnipresence of cyclists who really do not give a shit about your personal space, though it’s sadly closed at the moment due to chalkfall.

Out of town you can take in the majesty of the stunning south downs, and the majestic hordes of other pricks doing the same thing in their £950 Canada Goose coats. Be careful not to stray into neighbouring Worthing or Eastbourne, which will make Brighton seem like the sole fortress of the living surrounded by the shambling dead.

Hang out at…

Unsurprisingly, a town dedicated to partying has whatever you’re into whether food, fisting or falafel burgers. Vegetarian pub The Prince George has the latter, and youthful radicals arguing about whether smashing windows is really smashing capitalism.

All drinking needs are catered for, whether you want to spend more than an hour’s wage on a pint of craft beer in Bison, indulge in twee prohibition-era fuckery with a cocktail in a teapot at L’Atelier Du Vin or simply have the evening of your nightmares on Cunt Street, aka West Street, with its terrifying Wetherspoons, Popworld and endless parade of al fresco arseholes.

Where to buy?

Muesli Mountain, or Hanover, is the home of the groovy Brighton grown-ups, with CND posters in their windows and fuckloads in their bank accounts. We’re talking London prices here, paid by London people who commute to London regularly, so get ready for a RightMove search with a lot of zeroes.

If you’re feeling brave, there’s Whitehawk, where dreary social housing, low-level sadness and irritating street layout will make you forget you’re anywhere near the glamour of Brighton.

From the streets:

Eleanor Shaw, aged 62: “I came here in 1991 for fucking and fun times and I haven’t stopped since. Pass the poppers and don’t be a dickhead.”