– Truman Capps
When I first saw the building flying a Lone Star flag with ‘THE TEXAS EMBASSY’ written underneath it only a block away from Trafalgar Square, I thought, “Well, that’s it – London officially sucks now.” Then, I realized that it was not an actual embassy but instead a Tex-Mex restaurant right in the heart of London*.
*It’s directly adjacent to a building with big Canadian flags on it which I assume is the Canadian Embassy. And when I say Canadian Embassy, I’m pretty sure that it’s the governmental sort of embassy as opposed to a tourist trap Canadian cuisine restaurant. Although, knowing Canada, it could also be both – you might be able to chat with the ambassador over poutine, Miller High Life, and some smokes (which, naturally, are on the dessert menu.)
I vowed, when I first saw The Texas Embassy, that I would never go there. But I’ve been here for five weeks, nearly six, and Mexican restaurants are so rare that I’ve taken a picture of every one I’ve seen in all of my travels in the greater Southern England area (for a total of maybe three pictures).
In the desert, water is more valuable than gold – the good thing about the desert, though, is that you can fill up a canteen with water to take with you. Fajitas, on the other hand, don’t fit into a canteen very well, and they stink like the dickens before too long.
Thursday had been a rough day for me, thanks to two consecutive delayed trains and an ancient printer making me uber-late for class. Upon leaving school, my entire day stretching ahead of me and a weeklong trip to Europe starting the next day, I knew there was only one thing I could do to lift my spirits before my midterm vacation:
I had to have some Mexican food.
And sure, I would’ve loved to have gone to one of the little Mexican places I’d spotted in SoHo, but the fact of the matter is that London is an easy city to get lost in, what with its winding streets and even windier alleys, and I didn’t remember exactly where these restaurants were. The only Mexican place I knew the exact location of was The Texas Embassy.
I stepped inside and was seated by an Eastern European waiter whose English was not very good. The walls were adorned with big Southwestern/Mexican themed murals – banditos, fiestas, and The Alamo, with a few aged Texas vanity plates (‘HEYHALL’) tacked up for good measure.
When I got back from the bathroom, I found that the waiter had left a basket of corn chips and a little bowl of salsa on my table – this was encouraging, as in London they are very reluctant to give you anything for free. When you order curry, you’re really only ordering the sauce and the meat – you’ve got to pay an extra 2 pounds for the rice, unless you want to sit around eating straight curry sauce like some kind of douche.
I opened the menu as I devoured my free chips and looked over everything. Chips and salsa were listed on the appetizer menu (subtitled, “The first batch is on the house!”, so as to reassure you that they hadn’t already charged you for what you were eating). The menu was pretty small and significantly more Tex than Mex, but when the waiter finally arrived to take my order, I asked for a chimichanga and called it good.*
*When relating this experience to my host family later, my host sister stopped me and said, “Wait – what’s a chimichanga?”
As I sat around, waiting for my food, my drink conspicuously empty yet ignored and unrefilled, I noticed that the music playing the restaurant, which had at first been vaguely Latin, was now some old timey crooner of the Frank Sinatra/Tony Bennett variety, which clashed pretty hard with the Wild West motif on the walls. This furthered my suspicion that, to Englanders, Manhattan is ten miles away from Houston, which is fifteen miles away from Los Angeles.
At long last, my Eastern European waiter came by and dropped off my food, saying, “Here you go, boss,” before walking away. This line sounded about as natural as Carmen Electra’s breasts.
I dug into my food, which, as I had expected, was pretty damn sub-par. The rice was full of frozen pea and carrot squares and the chimichanga was bland overall. What’s more, this little experiment cost me 15 pounds.
I wanted to stand up on my chair and shout to the British people in the restaurant:
“Attention, British people! Do not eat here and think that you don’t like Mexican food – this is not what Mexican food is like! For you see, I come from a place called America, wherein one is entitled to as many free chips and salsa as he wants, and the food doesn’t taste like cardboard wrapped in cardboard! They don’t have to force a Mexican atmosphere because actual Mexicans work there, and unlike here, the waiters are so attentive that you barely have time to eat because you’re so busy telling them how good the food is!
Instead, I paid with cash and left. You don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone.
Truman Capps does this twice a week on his blog, Hair Guy.