Top Tables

El Ta’koy, restaurant review: A fun, flirty little spot

The food at Luis Pous’ Covent Garden bolthole El Ta’koy ranges from middling to pretty damn good, but boy... those cocktails are dangerously delicious, says Kate Ng

Monday 27 February 2023 17:54 GMT
The Hawaiian fried chicken popcorn and the tuna and caviar taquitos are where it’s at on the small plates menu
The Hawaiian fried chicken popcorn and the tuna and caviar taquitos are where it’s at on the small plates menu (Kate Ng)

I’m far from the first person to complain about what a chore it is to walk through Covent Garden, nor will I be the last. Is it pretty? Yes. But it’s also heaving with tourists; from those pretending to star in their very own Richard Curtis film, to influencers posing in front of the Glossier store, to people who seem to think the Apple shop is a tourist attraction in its own right. All in all, a rather bizarre place to be.

There are some good things about it, though. The TK Maxx on Long Acre often delivers on the marked-down designer goods – once, I found a pair of Miu Miu platforms in there. I still couldn’t afford them, even at 80 per cent off, but I’ll always remember them as the ones that got away. Sigh.

Covent Garden is also home to some brilliant food options, but they usually fall either side of the dining-out spectrum: very fancy fine dining (Clos Maggiore, Frog, Cafe Murano, etc) or chain after chain after chain (The Ivy, Benito’s Hat, Din Tai Fung). Seven Dials Market is one that bridges the gap with some seriously good options that won’t break the bank.

But I’m not shoving my way through the crowd for any of those today. I’m heading for a two-hour holiday, a tiny jolly in the basement of 3 Henrietta Street, where El Ta’koy is nestled. The small but perfectly formed restaurant and tiki bar is helmed by award-winning Cuban American chef Luis Pous.

El Ta’koy bills itself as a Hawaiian restaurant, and the island’s cuisine complements Pous’ specialty, which is fusing Asian and Cuban flavours. Fresh fish, particularly tuna, features heavily on the menu in the form of poke bowls and ceviche. Sweet, tart bursts of pineapple dot just about every item, and you can get four (four!) types of lumpia, a kind of spring roll that originated in the Philippines.

The food served at El Ta’koy ranges from middling to pretty darn good. My partner and I ordered a sharing plate of Kauai nachos (not a play on the Japanese word for “cute”, but rather a reference to Hawaii’s fourth largest island) with roasted mushrooms. The portion was absolutely enormous, but disappointing. I was hoping for lovely caramelised-around-the-edges, salty, earthy mushrooms, but they were soggy and lacking instead. I suspect the meatier rendition of this dish would have been a better choice.

Things vastly improve with a bowl of Hawaiian fried chicken popcorn so moreish I simply can’t stop myself from eating “just another bite”. They’re crunchy and chewy, with a mildly sweet glaze that is a delight to tuck into. But the tuna and caviar taquitos are where it’s at when it comes to the small plates. They sound lavish and rich (they absolutely are) and the chef that night is generous with his portions, stuffing the delicate, crispy taquito to the absolute brim with well-seasoned, fatty tuna. There’s a hint of sesame oil about everything that brings out the flavour of the fish even more.

The cocktails are dangerously delicious (Kate Ng)

We also order two plates of tacos, one with lamb barbacoa and another with ahi tuna poke. My goodness, this place has big portions. Each plate comes with two tacos side by side, with a small mountain of filling in each one. It takes a bit of time to work out the best way to eat them – fold and pick up with one hand? Or roll and tuck? Maybe it’s better to flatten out the fillings to even out the distribution, and then fold. Then, to head tilt or not to head tilt? Turns out the head tilt is unavoidable and you need to bite into it decisively and quickly once you pick the taco up, otherwise it might just tumble out the other side.

The best way to order at El Ta’koy is to either go for a sharing dish to start and mains, but no side dishes. Or mains and side dishes, and no sharing dish. The plates here are generous and you will eat well no matter how you choose, but I found that these combinations were probably best. And, if you choose well, either combination could mean dinner for two for under £50, which is pretty damn decent if you ask me.

But oh, let me tell you about the cocktails. Dangerously delicious. The spiced mango daiquiri packs a punch without you even knowing. It tastes like a decadent Rubicon juice box. Little would you know, there are two types of rum in there. The classic Jungle Bird is a little spicier, a little more bitter, but still has plenty of bang for its buck. I can see myself here for a girl’s night out over plenty of cocktails and small plates.

It’s a fun, flirty little spot that tucks you away from the overwhelming hustle and bustle of Covent Garden, then releases you back into the night a happier, fuller person.

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