Available from 31st October until 16th November, the Painted Black menu will launch in time for the annual Mexican holiday, which honours and celebrates the lives of beloved lost ones. The menu will encourage guests to discover the flavours of Mexico through traditional ingredients and contemporary flair, kissed with a touch of black, the colour of death, while enlightening diners on the beauty within it.
On opening night at Ella Canta, we were immediately entranced. Can magical realism be translated into a menu? In the kitchen of chef Martha Ortiz it seems thrillingly possible. No wonder, her restaurant translates as ‘She Sings’: this is truly a diva addition to London. It’s as if we’ve entered the world of Like Water for Chocolate author Laura Esquivel (a close friend of Ortiz).
Tellingly, the menu is billed as drama, main act, final curtain and its details are relayed as if the staff are telling fables. It’s all bewitching.
The star-turn is vampire ceviche: sea bass turned dramatically deeply pink with a mango and angrita sorbet with sour-sweet nuances of chilli and coriander. Equally original is the irresistibly tender octopus with burnt onion and smoky chili sauce. Generous salmon tostadas have a brilliant crunch and freshness, and are among the best we’ve ever tasted. Flowers adorn many of the dishes adding a sensual, almost painterly finish.
El pastor tacos are usually made with pork, but here the dish is superbly re-imagined with spit-roast soft shell crab, a delicate pineapple salad, and chili hummous. Only black cod with ajillo guajillo chili, though beautifully textured, underwhelms and lacks punch. Her cactus salad has a whisper of slime; we’re not totally convinced it's an ingredient that will catch on.
We'll need to return to try the duck with Ortiz' renowned black mole.
Churros are totally outstanding, extraordinarily light with a richly fruity chocolate sauce and exceedingly special caramel sauce. What blows us away is corn and huitlacoche (Mexican black truffle) cake with a chamomile sauce, like a corn take on a rice pudding with melting centre. It’s unexpected and utterly delicious.
Ortiz is known for her edgy take on chef jackets. Her sense of style has been extended to the staff, who dazzle in vibrant tailored dresses and sharp suits. The women all wear exquisite paper flowers in their hair; a stylist was brought in specially to teach them how! Their earrings from Mexico are equally dazzling. We’re already clamouring for an Ella Canta fashion range.
One caveat is that service is a little confused and slow. Our wine arrived when we’d almost finished our main dishes. However, we’re confident that once in full swing, the charming and knowledgeable staff will be up to speed.
Interior designers David Collins Studio bring the heat and colour of Mexico to life, paying homage to Modernist artists and designers. The dining space is separated into sun-blanched blush pink, red, tan and blue spaces separated by an extravagant floor to ceiling walnut installation, table tops are finished in handcrafted eggshell-like lacquer, handmade wallpaper glints with gold. It does suspend belief that, despite the separate entrance, we’re in a restaurant that is part of the Intercontinental Hotel, just. Do be sure to visit the cactus and artwork in the very gorgeous loos!
Ortiz talks of how making tortilla makes her think of conjuring sunshine and the glass ceramics on the wall encapsulate this passion. The sun is rising on a golden age of Mexican cooking in London.
Price: Expensive Three course meal for two including cocktails and a glass of wine £150 +
|What||Ella Canta review, Mayfair|
|Where||Ella Canta, One Hamilton Place, London, W1J 7QY | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Hyde Park Corner (underground)|
15 Sep 17 – 31 Dec 18, Open 6-11.30pm every evening, Monday to Friday lunch from 12-2.30pm, Saturday and Sunday lunch 11.30am-2.30pm