Tacky Bell

Ankur asks:

Walking through the town centre this afternoon made me wonder why there were so many seemingly very similar (and tatty) Mexican/Spanish joints in Greenwich? Are they all owned by the same person/company? Did Greenwich at some point in the past go through a Mexican wave (bad but intended pun)? I am hoping you can shed some light on this perplexing Mexican mystery.

The Phantom replies:

Think yourself lucky Ankur – there are actually fewer ‘Mexican’ / ‘Tex-Mex’ restaurants here than there were even a couple of years ago. The one that really stank is long gone (hands up who remembers The Alamo, opposite Greenwich Picturehouse – a truly abysmal experience from the word go).

To be honest who owns what in Greenwich Town centre is a mystery to me. I understand that one or two of the noodle bars are owned by one company but as for the Tex-Mex I really don’t know. I don’t think the Spanish restaurant is owned by any of the Texican places but in truth, I’m not party to who owns what – I just don’t move in those circles. I am a consumer, not a purveyor and as such nobody tells me nothing.

Over the years I have tried them all though. There isn’t one of them I’d go back to; indeed one of them I didn’t actually stay long enough to order food in. It’s not that I don’t like Tex-Mex food, I just don’t like this Tex Mex food. Certainly when I had pals staying from New Mexico, I took them elsewhere.

Why are there so many? Well, my guess (and it’s only a guess) is that it’s cheap and comparitively easy to do. The ingredients, especially the veg, by their very nature, cost little, and if you slather enough sauce over the meat you can hide a multitude of sins.

It’s possible the various Tex-Mex places in Greenwich town centre have improved since I was last inside one – a good couple of years ago at least – but with a list of places still to test, I’m not going back for a while.

Not that they care. They’re not here for locals. They’re here for the constant supply of tourists who will only ever visit Greenwich once and, even if they don’t enjoy the food, will chalk it up to experience and perhaps mention to a couple of friends (far away) not to go to so-and-so, something the friend will have almost certainly forgotten when they come here.

The closest I’ve had reasonable Tex-Mex recently was, actually, the one time I visited Westfield and, being freaked out by the crowds, retreated to Wahaca, which I really enjoyed. I’ve since eaten in the Soho branch too and liked that as well. Sadly, IMHO, this is one example of a chain being better than an independent (or at least the comparitive indies we have).

I’m not advocating a branch of Wahaca in Greenwich, I just wish the restaurants we have would up their game. But while there are once-only tourists filling the seats every day, I’m not holding out much hope.

I already know what the comments section’s going to be like today – full of people defending these glorious places, telling me how much they enjoy them and that I’m a snob. I’m cool with that.

Tell me convincing reasons why I should go back to any of these places and I will.

19 Comments to “Tacky Bell”

  1. Paddy says:

    I don’t think your a snob at all – those restaurants are rubbish, by anyone’s standards. Thankfully Greenwich has some good restaurants as well – such as Bianca and Inside. Shame there aren’t more though..

  2. Sheila says:

    100% agree with you – those tex mex places are shockingly poor.

  3. Franklin says:

    I don’t think the Tex-Mex places are meant to cater to the tourist trade (who tend to have vacated Greenwich by dark), they’re meant to cater to groups of partying twenty-somethings – hen nights, lads on the lash – who want to drink flaming sambucas and tequila slammers and don’t know or care that the food is inedible. And who make Greenwich town centre so attractive of a Friday evening…

  4. As an american ex-pat, I think they do appeal to the US tourists at least. Many of whom will shy away from Japanese, Thai, and Indian food. (their loss!) Tex-Mex is an American staple and seems a safe bet – but these restaurants really are pretty poor. The new places on the dock might see the end of some perhaps? Well known chains with reasonable (if not great) food might push out the small mediocre places, for good or bad.

  5. I truly don’t want to see the end of independent places – but indies that come up with such poor – well, everything, give the good indies a bad name. Places like Bianco 43, Inside, Kum Luang (yeah, I like them) The Hill, etc. that DO come up with the goods will suffer if people think that all independents are going to be duff.

  6. Jon Lee says:

    I’d love to see a Wahaca in Greenwich, chain or not. In the meantime just jump on the DLR and go to the one in Canary Wharf.
    Off topic a bit I know, but the new sushi place is pretty good. A nice range of sake to try out. It’s called Aji Ichiban. On Nelson road.

  7. Alfron says:

    The tex-mex places are horrible. I know that the ‘Desperados’ one at least isn’t entirely independent – there’s one on Upper Street in Islington which is much, much higher quality, offering Mexican tapas along with the usuals.

    Being a ‘twenty-something’ myself, I can’t believe these places are supposed to cater for us… I can’t think of anywhere I’d like to hang out less on a weekend evening. Or any time if I’m honest. And I don’t really see why a hen or stag do would come to Greenwich (I mean this as a positive for Greenwich…)

    Agree with Jon Lee, I think a Wahaca would be welcome here, chain or not it is always brilliant quality and a billion miles away from the slop you get at the alternatives…

  8. Kate says:

    Tried both the Tex-Mex and the Spanish places, all equally dreadful and tasteless.

    I love Mexican food and was bitterly dissappointed with the processed gloop sorry-excuse-for-Mexican-food that arrived on my plate. I was even silly enough to think I had just gone on a ‘bad night’ so tried it again a while later and was even more underwhelmed.

    The Spanish restaurant fared no better. Half the shellfish on our dish was unopened (so off)and the prawns looked like they had been draged through the bottom of the thames before serving.

    I dont know who any of these establishments are catering for except one-visit customers who go there, realise how poor it is, then never return.

  9. Richard says:

    Hopefully the new chains will hammer these woeful places in the centre of Greenwich. I would rather eat at Pizza Express over any of the independent places near by. If these places were replaced by quality chains I wouldnt grumble. Lets be honest Greenwich can only sustain so many higher end places (Riv, Inside, Guildford) so I would gladly swap the horrible tex mex for a Wahacha or even a Strada.

  10. Ooh – have to disagree with you there, Richard – Pizza Express over Bianco 43? Not for me ;-)

    I truly don’t want to lose the indies – when they’re good they’re very very good. It’s just when they’re bad…

  11. Richard says:

    I would rather have a take away pizza from the Hill and a glass of Malbec whilst I wait but I digress….

  12. tintinhaddock says:

    It’s a shame because the old Burton’s site (where Cafe Sol is) is a gorgeous building. Having lived in Texas for a few years I think the most authentic Tex-Mex is The Texas Embassy just up from Charing X – they even give you a free Margarita if you have a Texas driving licence!
    I’m always amazed at how Green Village is still going. I think they must make their money from renting out the flats above because there is never anyone eating in there.

  13. Fatty Fatty BumBum says:

    I also never understood who eats in the Green Village and yesterday I noticed it seem to have shut up shop. There is scaffolding outside so maybe its shut for its annual deep clean but I hope its shut down and something semi-decent takes its place. The town centre is full of dreadful tourist orientated restaurants and pubs which are of no use to residents with any standards. The Beachcomber is another massive let-down, anyone tried Hilva?

  14. Nelson's Left Eye says:

    Bianco needs to sort out its kitchen and not rest on its glowing reviews.

    Went there twice within a week recently. The first time I had possibly the most delicious pizza I have ever known, each mouthful lasted a full minute!

    The second time was with my girlfriend. I ordered the same pizza again but was this time presented one with some inferior tasteless gloopy topping, while my girlfriend’s Quattro Formaggi arrived cold and minus any blue cheese, just the mild cheese toppings.
    It was sent back to the kitchen and a new one prepared…which also came without any blue cheese.

    I’m a big fan of Bianco and will go back again but that was a yellow card moment.

  15. Lupo says:

    I second the mention of Aji Ichiban, the new Japanese. More importantly, it’s not just a sushi place. It does pretty good noodles – ramen, udon – and a good range of family-style dishes. The staff are Chinese rather than Japanese, but the restaurant is surprisingly authentic – not a tourist trap.

  16. Ankur says:

    Thanks Phantom for posting and thanks for all the comments. I am glad I am not the only one who thinks those Tex-Mex places represent a shocking state of affairs in the town centre.

    I think you are absolutely right Phantom in that Greenwich’s boon is also its bane – being a popular tourist destination does mean a lot of very sub-standard businesses can thrive on the volume of one-off tourist custom.

    I do however disagree with the whole anti big-chains sentiment. To clarify, I have nothing against either the chains or indies – I think it should be case of may the best shop thrive!. It would be lovely to have excellent indies in town, but that sadly just in the case in Greenwich at the moment. It is also worth remembering that quite a few shops that are now chains started off as indies and capitalised on their success by opening more outlets. Franco Manca Pizza is one of the more famous and recent examples – it started off as an indie in Brixton market and now has shops in Chiswick and Westfield Stratford. They do stunning pizzas that would give even Bianco, which I love, a run for its money and yet since they are now a chain, they will be unwelcome in Greenwich going by some views expressed here. On the other end of the spectrum are places that started off as chains but are quite good – Byron, Wahaca, Girraffe, Pizza Express to name a few.

    The one good thing recognisable chains are great for I have to say is drawing out people, especially locals, which establishes a commercially viable town centre/high street. This in turn encourages indies to take a chance and sets them a bar to beat to get and keep custom. A couple of the new promenade outlets might go some way towards that as people have pointed out.

    I guess my view on the matter is that there is a nice balance to be had between indies and chains for a fun vibrant town centre. Hopefully with all the development slated for the next few years around Greenwich (market redevelopment, HoEG, Peninsula, Cruise Terminal…), we might end up with a better choice for locals and tourists alike. Of course we might go the other way get even more Tex Mex ‘choices’ – and that is scary thought!

  17. SophieM says:

    Another rec for Ajiichiban – tried it today thanks to the reviews on here. Lovely place and reasonably priced – it deserves support from locals I think.

  18. Riles says:

    I remember the Alamo. I don’t think you can call it a bad thing. The Alamo was so appallingly bad that it was hilarious, despite having a terrible meal, we had an absolutely memorable night. Was disappointed when it closed, as it seemed perfect for an episode of Gordon’s kitchen nightmares.

  19. Adam says:

    Have just been to dinner at Aji Ichiban. Really tasty food (tried ramen and tempura) and ridiculously cheap. Will definitely being going again