In Brick Lane’s Old Truman Brewery, a casual new diner from the founders of Wahaca; the food has its moments, but the whole experience can be somewhat uneven.
Thomasina Miers and Mark Selby seem to be paid-up subscribers to the notion that the art of cool is being in the know. The name of the Wahaca founders’ latest venture, DF Mexico – a very permanent-looking ‘pop-up’ in Brick Lane’s Old Truman Brewery – announces itself as a reliquary of insider information: did you know that Mexico City locals refer to their town as distrito federal? For the truly nonchalant amongst them, it’s simply DF, apparently (in the same way DC is some other capital).
We didn’t know, but always happy to learn, and as Wahaca continues its impressive rate of expansion – now moving into the slightly-dull territory of ‘town centre failsafe’ – any brand new concept from Miers and Selby seemed worth investigating.
On our rainy Thursday lunchtime visit, the place was packed. We grabbed two free window-bar seats, and minutes after we sat down there was a queue spilling out onto the street; we watched as servers deftly weaved their way through a buzzy lunchtime crowd.
‘Servers’ is a term used with care: we’d half-expected the lack of reservations, but we weren’t banking on self-service, where orders are made at a bar-like counter near the entrance. Some may find this an irritation, but at the very least it did allow for a leisurely reading of an inviting menu.
The food is billed as a kind-of Mexican/US fusion, and without the guidance of table-side service we definitely over-ordered, enticed by the promised comforts of crumbed cod tacos and NYC-style pork pibil tortas (your bog standard Tex-Mex this ain’t).
The former was enjoyable if surprisingly forgettable, rescued slightly by the tangy chipotle mayo. The torta was a strangely lukewarm disappointment, as if it had spent too long cooling at the pass. Runaway favourite was the steak and cheese ‘alambres’, a DIY taco sharing board that came with pleasingly soft tacos and an excellent hot dipping sauce.
It being a weekday lunchtime, and with a busy afternoon in store, we nobly stuck to the soft drinks on offer – free refills of in-house juices, which included a novel cold horchata concoction.
Self-service dining? Bottomless soft-drinks? While DF Mexico feels very much tailored to Brick Lane’s urbane but unfussy youf, it’s hard not to compare the experience to that of a Nando’s. Suppose it’s not inconceivable that Miers and Selby smell another roll out…
The ordering of dessert required another trip to the self-service counter. The possibility of soft-serve ice cream (the only pudding on offer) brought to mind halcyon days of Mr Whippy vans. It was, however, worth stretching the legs for. Both flavours we tried – passion fruit with caramelised coconut, and the Dulce de leche with candied peanut – were excellent.