El Marchador offers a vegan, gluten free take on Mexican food (with a few other Latin American influences thrown in for good measure).
The venue used to be Sandinista, named for the Nicaraguan revolutionaries. El Marchador has shifted focus, north to Mexico, offering a menu that lends itself well to mixing and matching and sharing.
Tacos are sold in pairs at £5.50 (or “5 ½“ as the menu has it – what’s with the current aversion on menus to writing prices in the standard way? What is gained by writing fractions, or “5.5”? Anyway…) but it’s a Tuesday, which in El Marchador is Taco Tuesday – tacos are a pound each. We ordered the Baja tofish and the barbacoa jackfruit options. The tofish is a strip of tofu with a crisp crumb coating. It’s drier and chewier than fresh tofu, and, crucially, more flavoursome. I’m not sure how convincingly fishy the flavour is, but it’s convincingly tasty. There’s a hint of ocean from seaweed – there’s a small piece in my tofish strip – and a pleasing savouriness that sits well with the accompanying lightly pickled onion strips, tangy guacamole, and shredded cabbage. I’d recommend starting with these tacos rather than eating them after the more boldly-flavoured and chile-heavy options, but don’t take this to mean I think they are bland in any way.
Barbacoa stews are traditionally slow-cooked meat concoctions. Jackfruit is found quite a lot in vegan cooking as an alternative to slow-cooked meats for the way it falls apart into chunky strands, looking much like pulled pork. Having never eaten pulled pork I can’t comment on the textural similarities – but here the stew is, for me, slightly lacking in chew. The soft jackfruit offers little resistance to the bite. Pickled cabbage comes partly to the rescue, bringing crunch and freshness to the deep, slightly smoky notes of the jackfruit, with more acidity and heat from a red chile sauce. From a practical point of view, though, the wetness of the stew means there is a great risk of large blobs of it escaping – though possibly my taco-eating technique is partly to blame here.
From the sandwiches / tortillas section of the menu came cauli asada, a marinated cauliflower steak with chimichurri dressing and charred spring onions, served in a bread roll that doesn’t suffer in the slightest from being gluten-free. The thick slice of cauliflower was cooked perfectly – lightly charred at the edges, retaining a satisfying amount of bite without being undercooked. The marinade was subtle, allowing the pleasing sulphurous quality of cauliflower to come through, in turn set off by the green chimichurri dressing, vibrant with herbs, chile and vinegar. Charred spring onions brought an extra note of sweetness and freshness. If you are sharing this dish, be warned that the lack of a knife renders it near-impossible to split without just eating half and passing it over. No doubt the friendly staff would give you a knife if you asked, but I’d suggest instead using this as an excuse to get one of these sandwiches all to yourself.
Chile guisado is described as Mexican-inspired chile non carne. (yes, the vegan spelling of this is correct!). At risk of showing my age, a useful reference point here is TVP – Textured Vegetable Protein – an old-school veggie ingredient that will inspire fond memories or chills down the spine (depending on the skill with which it was cooked) in anyone who remembers it. El Marchador’s dish reminded me of TVP stews, though far more finely minced than that ingredient used to be – the chew that was missing from the jackfruit is present here despite the dish’s fine texture. But for me, the dish was let down somewhat by the over-dominance of cinnamon in its flavour – that and heat were all that were present, and nice as the tortilla chips and sour ‘cream’ and chile slice toppings were, they didn’t bring enough contrast to the relentless cinnamon. I love cinnamon in savoury dishes, but this hearty bowl of stew became a bit monotonous even when split between two of us. We’d made the mistake of working through our dishes mostly sequentially rather than mixing and matching, which would no doubt have helped, but the wonderful interplay of deep and rich and light and fresh in the rest of our meal (especially the tofish taco and cauli sandwich) was missing in this stew. The menu has a nachos option, to which you can add ‘chile’ for a small supplement (£2, or “2”), and I suspect the nachos’ queso sauce, pickles, salsa and jalapenos would serve well to complement and cut through the warmth and depth of the cinnamon.
We stuck to beer from the small but interesting range on tap; but for those who prefer tequila there is an extensive menu of options – one to shoot, and a good number to sip or to savour.
On November 2nd, El Marchador is holding a Day of the Dead festival from midday until late. Fancy dress is encouraged.
Photography by Mark Wheelwright (markwheelwright.co.uk)