Delicious homestyle Mexican food presented like little works of art – Beast magazine’s food writer, Elle Parmer Jenkins went along to Zapote, Shoreditch’s new Mexican restaurant and chatted to owners, Tony and Yahir to find out the origins of Zapote, what their favourite dish on the menu is and their hopes for the future of Mexican food in London…
Would you say that your menu is regional?
Our cooking is not regional Mexican, more of a contemporary look at Mexican food and classic dishes. Yahir was born in Mexico City, so a lot of our inspiration comes from there but also from Ensenada (which is famous for its seafood) and Aguascalientes where Yahir spent part of his childhood and where his family now lives – his wife’s family has a cattle and dairy ranch there.
What areas of Mexico that inspired the food?
One of our most popular dishes was inspired by the seafood of Ensenada, where you do very little but enhance the quality of the produce, a spiced crab tostada with yellowfin tuna.
What was the inspo behind setting up the restaurant?
We have worked together for close to 14 years and always felt there was a gap in the market for a good, affordable, high quality, neighbourhood Mexican restaurant. It took some time to find the ideal site but as soon as we came across 70 Leonard Street we knew the space was right for what we wanted to create.
Where do you source your ingredients?
Most of our meat and seafood is from the UK. We have sourced a farm in Yorkshire that grows our Tomatillos and we purchase dry goods and corn every quarter from Mexico, as we make our tortillas in house every day.
Tell us about the decor – what inspired the look and the feel?
We wanted to create a space that was welcoming, vibrant and reflected the food we are serving. We found the wallpaper (that most people think is a mural) about two years before we found the restaurant and those colours inspired the rest of the decor. All of the banquettes and chairs were re-upholstered, painstakingly so, by Yahir’s wife Ana-Sofia and their two children over the space of six weekends. The light fittings are made from Amate, a traditional indigenous Mexican method of taking the pulp from Fig trees and creating intricate paper shapes. The art is from a recent trip to Oaxaca and Mexico City and the Cacti are from countless trips on early Sunday mornings to Columbia Road Flower Market.
What is your favourite dish on the menu?
It is difficult to choose as each dish has its own little bit of history and is personal to us. One of our favourites is the Octopus with Pipian mole – the Octopus is marinated in a Passilla paste then seared and served on a Pipian mole which is a vibrant green colour from roasting pumpkin seeds and garlic, then blended with coriander, jalapeño chilli and lime juice.
Do you think the tide is turning and we are finally understanding what real Mexican food has to offer in London?
I think it is and we hope that we can be part of that change. There are a handful of very good Mexican restaurants in London but in a city so large and diverse it’s still not that many. Hopefully Zapote can showcase how interesting and unique Mexican cuisine is!
Zapote, 70 Leonard Street, EC2A 4QX
Lunch – Tuesday to Saturday – 12.00pm to 2.30pm
Dinner – Tuesday to Thursday – 5.30pm to 10.00pm
Friday and Saturday – 5.30pm to 10.30pm