Holding down the dinner scene in Battersea is a great selection of independent restaurants the likes of BaBaboom, but it's not just kebabs that those hopping off at Clapham Junction can now enjoy. Fresh to the area and mustering up all the bare brick you can handle, Cartel Battersea offer up a teasing of tacos just south of the river. I headed on down to see if they could square up to the miles of Mexican restaurants found on London's streets.
The Venue and Atmosphere
Easy to get to, with an exterior of deep sea blue as a marker, Cartel Battersea is pretty fair to spot amongst the businesses on Battersea Park Road. As we walked in we were met with an East London aesthetic right away. Bare brick walls, low hanging lights and nods to vintage school chairs give Cartel the interiors of a venue not too dissimilar of that found in Hackney Wick. Some may think the trend tired, but with a hands-on dish such as tacos, something casual, unvarnished and raw works for me, no matter how many times it's been done. While Cartel wasn't bursting at the seams with diners, they're a new spot, and still managed to pull in a healthy crowd of local almost-30-somethings, all while making sure we were never a tequila down.
The Food and Drink
Not one to throw myself at a taco too early, one has got to be proper like, we thought we'd get messed up over their salsa trio and freshly made tortilla chips (£5) to start. I'm not normally a hot-head, but all of the sauces came with clear bite. While two I couldn't handle spice-wise, the green tomato mix had a hint of chilli, but still led into the nacho bite nicely. Classic margarita alongside them? I couldn't resist. Not one for the faint hearted, not only did this come with the ultimate tart edge, Cartel don't hold back when it comes to what you came for, the alcohol. Five of these and i'd be riding a cat home.
Before I got to the cat, it was only right to start on what I came here for, and that the catos... I mean tacos. The perfect sharing meal, we decided to bulk out on almost everything, ordering the ultimate veggie and pescatarian mix. Between us we shared the the tofu with black bean and roasted tomato in chipotle sauce, the roasted plantain and butternut squash with pumpkin seed salsa, and the Baja Fish with tempura battered cod fillet with avocado salsa, pico de gallo and lime mayo (£7) all set alongside with a helping of sweet potato fries and an asparagus, peppers and chipotle mayo quesadilla. I told you, we bulked. Immediately impressed with the texture of tofu, baja fish and plantain, Cartel weren't shy on heaping the ingredients and backing up each with a mayo/salsa that complimented perfectly. Stand out to me was the baja fish however. Not only a generous portion on a large taco, the freshness, crisp batter and pico de gallo mayo gave an impressive, almost sweet edge to the dish. I personally didn't rate the quesadilla due to a lack of chipotle thwack, but i'd do terrible things to get familiar with their fries again.
There's one thing you can't miss at Cartel, and that's a little insider knowledge from their tequila team. Closing on two different types, these fired up picks were served with instruction and flavour commentary. Trust me, no necking.
While slowly but surely making their way on to the Battersea scene, i've got pretty high hopes for a taqueria like Cartel. Not only do they know how to treat tequila and mezcal with grace, their tacos are affordable, offer a really unique variety onto London's ever-growing Mexican scene and they can churn out baja better than i've seen in a while.