Were we excited by Mamacita?
Mamacita was given a rough ride on Twitter when it opened last summer. Expectations were high so, when it got off to a shaky start, many people vented their frustration in 140 characters. West Hampstead’s only Mexican restaurant has weathered that storm, changed its menu, improved its service and come back fighting. We decided it was time to subject it to the whampreview test.
The downstairs bar has been a strong point from the get go, so we had to start the evening there sipping unusual but successful variations on classic cocktails.
The dark and moody bar is a sharp counterpoint to the multicoloured restaurant, decked out as if for a fiesta, and suitably buzzy for a Wednesday night. The Mamacita menu is reasonably concise, and is split into sharing startery-type things and substantial mains.
The startery-type things – tacos, tostados, quesadillas and the obligatory totopos (corn chips) and salsas – were among the more interesting things we tried though the corn chips & dips feel expensive at £10, especially as there’s always more salsa than chips but more chips is another £1 (and two of the dips have a £1 surcharge too).
My favourite starter by far was the Pork Carnitas and Apple Tacos (these are soft tacos, not the hard shells you might buy in supermarkets). Generously filled, though mercifully still easy to eat, the sharp apple nicely offset the rich pork – it’s a combo we all know works! The ceviche starter is more of a coctel de mariscos – a chilled soup of seafood – rather than the slices of cured fish on a plate. Perfectly nice, but not easy to share.
Burritos (here called burros) are served with the rice on the side rather than crammed into the tortilla. This leaves more room for the filling, which is a good thing in some ways, but also means that each bite is pretty similar. My “surf & turf” burrito was defintely laden down, but was pretty much all turf (beef) and not a whole lot of surf (garlic prawns). There’s the option to “go wet” with the burritos, which means a smothering of a delicious enchilada sauce and melted cheese. The sauce really adds something to the experience, but also adds £3 to the bill.
The churros (Mexican donuts) and chilli chocolate sauce are a must-have, and although we didn’t trouble the tequila menu on this visit, there’s always the option to wash them down with a sipping tequila (no shots here, thank you very much).
It’s fair to say that we had bill shock at the end – though we did get through three bottles of wine and two beers between six of us and our cocktails from downstairs were also on the bill. If you were watching the pesos then you’d need to keep an eye out for the extra charges such as the enchilada sauce or the £1 surcharge for guacamole. Better still, go for the early bird offer or just hang out in the bar drinking £5 cocktails at #whampsocial on March 12th!
@WHampstead We're introducing a new early bird offer – Sunday to Thursdays, 50% off entrees & mains ordered between 6 and 7pm.
— Mamacita (@MamacitaNW6) February 23, 2014
Now over to the rest of this month’s whampreviewers:
I started with the Hemingway Daiquiri. Like the old man himself, it was sharp and unfussy – thankfully it didn’t come out with anything sexist or homophobic. The food had improved on my previous visits to Mamacita. The sauce in my enchilada was richer than the capo of a Tijuana narco-cartel. Combined with a particularly pungent chorizo it was perhaps all a bit much, but that was my fault for not going for the pork, chicken or sweet potato version instead. Best of all was the excellent Flying Dog IPA with which I knocked it all back. I’ll definitely return, chiefly for the drinks and the relaxed, lively atmosphere.
We kicked the evening off with cocktails, I had a nicely balanced Elderflower and Cranberry Sangria – complete with decorative rosemary twig. It was lovely, and I’ll definitely be returning to sample more of the cocktail menu.
As the token vegetarian, I had a slightly different experience to the others with regards to food. The menu is fairly limited for us vegetarians (but in all fairness this isn’t unusual) and the options are… interesting. To start I had Hibiscus and Cucumber Tostadas. I’d never tried hibiscus (heathen that I am) so didn’t know what to expect; it was fairly sweet without being overwhelmingly so. I found it a slightly odd combination but I would order it again. I was then rather unadventurous and had a veggie burrito, which there isn’t a great deal to say about. It was tasty and very filling, but not the most exciting food I’ve ever eaten. In terms of the other options available I was particularly intrigued by the notion of ‘Sweet Potato Fries Enchiladas’ – the mind just boggles at what this could be. I’ll probably be returning in the near future just to find out!
Being a native San Diego transplant here in London, I tried to remain as unbiased as possible though for authenticity, the place gets pretty fair marks. The ambience is cozy and creative downstairs in the bar, but the tables upstairs are a bit too spread out for my tastes and the space could afford more oomph. Yes that’s a word.
The friendly but softspoken drinks bar serves up a range of uniquely blended, petite-sized margaritas though the beer selection could use a makeover; there are only two on there, one of which is a Mexican import. I ordered the frozen hibiscus margarita which was lovely and pretty, but not in a girly way. It was very tasty, so I greedily ordered another one.
Upstairs there was enough positive energy to indicate that people were genuinely enjoying themselves. And this is a reflection of the staff who are friendly and attentive. As much as Mamacita claims to be a Mexican Bodega, you must delve further into their website and you will see that they somewhere slipped in that they also blend Latin and Peruvian flavours into their dishes. Sorry guys, we don’t need fusion or contemporary. We want authentic. We want Mexican.
The menu is interesting enough; however too lacking not in variety but choice, especially for vegetarians. I was surprised to see Cotija cheese, a delicious, tangy soft farmer’s cheese, only used in a couple of the dishes. I was also a little disappointed to see the odd “aioli,” “fennel” and “ponzu” thrown my way. By the way, if you’re going to use chorizo, use the Mexican one, not the Spanish. They are TOTALLY different.
The starters were nice enough, especially the totopos and guacamole combination. The portions were a little small but the quality and freshness made up for it. I ordered the mariscos burro as my main. It contained prawns and was served lukewarm. A mortal sin in my book. However, being too polite to send it back, I tucked in and decided that the prawns were borderline raw, dully seasoned and didn’t work well at all with the contents of the burro. The red rice on the side was nothing to write home about. I am not sure what the puddle of creamy goo on the side was for either.
Dessert was fabulous and just what the doctor ordered. I enjoyed the best piping hot sugary churros I’ve sunk my teeth into in a long time. And the accompanying chocolate sauce with globules of chili oil: it works!
Mamacita is a colourful and pretty well-suited addition to the West Hampstead hood. I’d like to see some small changes to the menu and more tried-and-true authenticity though.
My blood orange margarita in Frida’s bar was gorgeous. Moving upstairs to the restaurant, we enjoyed a tasty selection of starters that reminded me of the wonderful sharing dishes at Wahaca. It would be a pleasant option to enjoy these for the entire meal. Sadly my main, the Mexican Baja fish and chips, was far better to look at than to eat. A fun display of four pieces of fried fish was surrounded by a generous serving of sweet potato fries, wrapped in a cone of branded paper for that authentic fish and chip wrap experience (with slaw and sauce on the side). But it was just too salty for me and the all-fried style of the dish was ultimately overwhelming. The fish pieces themselves were tasty, but I wish there had been more fish and less fries. Churros for dessert did not disappoint, along with the surprisingly spicy chocolate sauce. Next time I’m eating starters all night.
Pre-dinner margaritas in Frida’s Bar downstairs went down very well. As usual, I opted for the classic margarita – delicious, but I did feel a pang of envy seeing my companions’ Blood Orange margaritas, which looked very pretty with flowers floating on the top.
The starters we shared were the highlight of the meal for me, particularly the unusual Hibiscus and Cucumber Tostadas hitting the perfect balance of sweet and sharp flavours. My main course, the vegetarian burrito, was very stodgy and filling (great if you arrive hungry!) and definitely benefited from the addition of a well-spiced enchilada sauce and melted cheese on top (this comes at a slightly pricy £3 supplement).
Overall I enjoyed the food and loved the ambience. I’ll be back, but perhaps more often for cocktails and light snacks rather than a full dinner.
202 West End Lane
LONDON NW6 1SG
t: 0203 602 0862