13-15 Villiers Street, WC2N 6ND
tel: +44 (0)20 7930 5355
Two weeks ago, I was ready to rave about Lupita. I made my first visit on a Friday lunchtime with a gaggle of colleagues from work. We adored the place. The service was charming, the Mexican street food super tasty, the bill - reasonable, and the cocktails sublime. I was thinking of the glowing adjectives I would use in my review. It was ten times better than my experience at Wahaca. But then, something strange happened. I returned two weeks later, this time for dinner. I wondered if I had stepped into a different restaurant. The service was chaotic. Frustrated customers were frantically trying to wave down serving staff, pleading to know where their drinks and food were. At least two couples were demanding to speak to the manager. I looked on in disbelief. How could one restaurant deteriorate so much over the course of two weeks?
I ordered a kiwi and coriander margarita (£6.50) just as I had on my first visit. Luckily, that hadn't changed. It was clean, refreshing and a perfect match to the spiciness to follow. Lupita claims to be "the first truly authentic Mexican restaurant in London." On my first visit, we had a charming waiter who grew up just outside Mexico City. I asked him to recommend three typical dishes. He smiled broadly. "It would be an honour," he winked.
First up: chicharron de queso y guacamole (£6.95). Basically, it's a huge roll of fried cheese, served with fresh guacamole. My colleague said it tasted like the leftover cheese on the bottom of the pan that has spilled out after you fry up a grilled cheese sandwich. You just know it's not good for you, but man is it tasty. You can have it as a sharing starter, breaking the cheese off in little pieces and dunking it in the rich, garlicky guacamole. It is rather salty, but totally indulgent.
Next up, the waiter's favourite: gringa (£5.85). I felt slightly insulted, asking the waiter if he was taking the piss. Wasn't gringa a derogatory term - the name that Mexicans used for foreigners? "Well, yes and no," he replied. "This time, it refers to the white cheese in the tortillas, as it is like the blonde hair of a woman." I'm pretty sure he was still having me on, but he seemed so bloody excited about this dish, that I dug in. It consisted of three flour tortillas filled with rotisserie pork, cheese, pineapple, onions, guacamole and salsa. Hands down, this was the best dish of the day. I ordered it on both visits and both times, I loved it. The pork had a lovely smoky flavour, which went perfectly with the sweetness of the pineapple. Lupita doesn't skimp on the cheese or guacamole and each tortilla, rolled up, was bursting.
Last, but not least, the arrachera torta - a marinated beef steak sandwich (£6.95). The bread was ciabatta-like, with a hint of sweetness. It was stuffed with cheese, refried beans, lettuce, onions, tomato, avocado and jalapenos. Again, no skimping on the meat, which was tender and marinated with a peppery, smoked paprika seasoning. It was warm, delicious and filling and I would order it again in a second. It also comes with other fillings: chicken marinated in beer, ham and cheese, chicken-ham-chorizo-avocado and Yucatan-style pork with cheese. Sadly, after this diddy, there was no more room on my dance card. Next time, I won't order so much. Even though the portions are said to be tapas-like, they're bigger than you think. I kind of wish I hadn't witnessed the chaos and slow service on the second visit, because I like Lupita a lot. The food is tasty and inventive. The prices are right, as is the location (Charing Cross, near Embankment tube). Call me a gringa, but I would give Lupita a third chance. I think she's worth it.