The Alamo

It’s not Mexican…It’s Texican!

The catchy tagline for the eaterie that sprang up overnight last weekend pretty much describes its attitude to food. It replaced the Organic Bar and Kitchen opposite the Picturehouse which had started out so promising but rapidly deteriorated to mediocrity.

We yawned when we saw it – that makes four Tex-mex cafes in Greenwich Town centre now, when really, unless you’re in the Stockyards at Fort Worth, the most anyone needs is one – but in the interests of fairness we determined to visit so that I could report back.

I confess I rather like tex-mex food – it’s uncomplicated and brassy yet full of flavour – I didn’t really think much could go wrong.

It didn’t take much more than swaggering through the solid plywood “saloon doors” (which could have someone’s eye out if they’re not careful) that The Alamo is going for the kitsch vote. It had been done out in ‘jolly Mexican’ fashion – blankets and guitars on the wall, dodgy naive-style murals of cowboys and gunfighters and a ’tiled roof’ over the bar. Along the window a row of sundry sombreros and jokeshop cowboy hats waited patiently on hooks like a comedy bunch of ‘Mexicans’ on siesta.

The place was quite full – mainly of people like us – plainly checking out the joint. Most of them grimly wore their sombreros, desperately trying to have fun in that oddly eccentric way that only sober English people can. La Vida Loca blared out from the sound system.

I am a student of kitsch – I love it with a passion, so I am very sad to say that this is not kitsch – or not knowingly so at least. It is only so in a secondary sense – in that it’s any kind of art that’s missed its mark. This is far too self-conscious – and frankly is just downright naff. This is trying too hard with neither enough cash – nor love – invested.

It was “fiesta time” (see my review of Babur a few days ago to see festivals being done well) which meant that there was some Corona Beer bunting and cocktails were £ 2.95 to “senoritas.”

The albeit fun-ly dressed waitresses and the MD, dressed as a Mexican cowboy (rather well, I have to admit,) were at least friendly – if a little daffy – but I can forgive daffiness on the opening of a new restauarant. My companions tried to order various beers but the only one that seemed to be available was the heavily-promoted Corona. I decided to test out a Marguerita.

It was in chatting to the staff that the mists began to clear as to why this transformation had happened so fast. This has the same owners as the previous organic cafe. They had apparently started out with good intentions, but had gradually reduced the organic content (and, I can assure you, the quality) to a mere 50%. Sadly the custom had reduced by rather more.

I had always been slightly suspicious of the organic part of the previous restaurant (in my original review I had been surprised on its opening how little they had seemed to know about the ingredients) and now it was clear – it hadn’t been a passion – merely something they thought would make money.

And The Alamo is the latest idea.

The Corona was fine (naturally – though sadly without the frozen glasses you actually get in Texas) but my Marguerita was so watery that it was difficult to tell quite what it should have been. The salt around the edge was authentic enough and the time it took to arrive implied that it had been freshly made – but the taste implied a mix.

I have mentioned I like tex-mex food, so I was still hopeful of a good meal. I confess to a sneaking enjoyment of the music – very much “party latino,” so was happy to wait. We estimated an hour’s wait – but it came in more like 20 minutes – not bad for a minute kitchen which, I suspect is part of the reason why this restaurant has historically had problems.

The blackened ribs lived up to their name – literally falling off the bone, juicy and smothered in a fruity, tangy sauce. An excellent choice. The rest wasn’t nearly so good. Packet nachos and, and, I quote, “the world’s most boring chili.” It was clearly cheap mince and “no noticeable chili flavour” – much as my Marguerita had had no noticeable alcohol.

The vegetable fajitas arrived, sizzling on authentic griddles and my heart rose. They were fresh vegetables and looked good. But these had merely been fried in oil and they too had no real flavour. The guacamole was insipid and the rest of the accompaniments bland.

Having said that, there was plenty of it and enjoyable enough if you weren’t looking for authentic tex-mex cuisine. My companion, after several more attempts at finding a beer on the menu that wasn’t Corona, managed to secure what I suspect was the only bottle of San Miguel in the joint. I didn’t want to repeat my Marguerita experience and, curiously enough, was unmoved at the thought of the other cocktails and line-’em-up shooters – which all seemed to involve Baileys and included the nausea-inducing “Blow Job” (subtle, eh,) consisting of Baileys, Banana Liqueur and cream. Let’s not even go there.

The lights went out and Anita O’Day’s “The Peanut Vendor” was cut off in mid-yodel. A be-candelled cake was brought out and we were all expected to sing to the embarrassed birthday girl.

And that was when it hit me. This restaurant isn’t meant for diners. This is aimed at the party market – and, if the place is actually big enough (a big “if,”) it should do well at this. When you’re out for an office party, hen night or group outing, no one actually tastes the food as long as the alcohol keeps coming. There are special deals for group bookings which involve a special (read “cheap”) menu and a free crate of, ahem, Corona. THIS is where they’ll make their cash – not in trying to appeal to anyone who’s actually going to take any notice of what they’re eating.

The ladies was out of order.

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