ook, this review wasn’t supposed to start like that. After weeks of tackling the operational turmoil that every new restaurant seems to experience in one form or another – namely, overworked crews, undertrained servers and hastily configured rooms that mean even great meals threaten to go under in the calamity of pranks – I had personally forbidden myself to refer to it. Everyone is in trouble. We all know that, as things stand, the hospitality world is in a rictus scramble to recreate pre-pandemic bonhomie without the staffing capacity to do so. I don’t need to work on this point every week.
But then, at Cavita in Marylebone, I went to the toilets very early to be greeted not only by the overpowering smell of newly applied paint (a week and a half after the place opened) but also by two abandoned brushes balanced on a urinal. It felt like a perfect encapsulation of the current mad, beating panic to be ready; should the ideal visual metaphor ultimately turn out to be another well-meaning opening that felt a bit rushed and flawed.
Well, it turns out there’s a big problem with that last piece of logic. And the problem is, this place – which is Mexican chef Adriana Cavita’s highly anticipated debut restaurant – is already absolutely good: a confident, jaw-dropping combination of abuela-level domestic generosity and top-notch chef technique that delivers flavors. which, at the same time, have both a familiarity and a flash of the unexpected, vividly drawn and shaken.
This brilliance appeared very early. Nestled in its dimly lit inner courtyard of a space, surrounded by decorative masks and a thick ceiling with twined hanging plants, we started with the aguachile rojo: a pretty ocean frieze of sashimi-style uncured royal fish, crunch- yielding rainbow radish, crushed grasshopper salt and an unassuming puddle of thin, marbled chili sauce that hit like a freight train of roaring heat. The pig’s head tamal brought the usual steamed corn pudding, extracted from huge chunks of pork and with a salty flavor carefully lifted by a tightly swaddled green cabbage blanket. And the smoked mushroom tetela – dense, rich mushrooms, plus roasted potatoes and other intensifying ingredients heaped onto what is almost a triangular, grilled tortilla dough – was like the dirtiest of comments mumbled to vegetarians. .
Cavita, the person, is a prodigious talent: a chef who worked at El Bulli as a teenager, graduated in gastronomy and explored her country’s underrated regional cuisines. Yet what’s most impressive about his restaurant is how unafraid he is to bring party spirit and a fresh take on crowd-pleasing roadside combinations. Which means you get a “Caesar” salad (a Mexican dish in the sense that it was invented in the 20s by the chef and owner of a Tijuana hotel) where the heavily charred greens increase the smoky umami at a frankly inappropriate level of desire; you get enticing and messy Baja fish tacos and beef shin quesabirria with a lacy collar of bubbling fried cheese; and, of course, main courses to share – either a whole wood-fired octopus or (our choice) a whole juicy, smoke-coated chicken placed in a buzzing green mole that can easily feed four people, and is supported by a fabric-wrapped pile of tortillas warm and palpably cool.
His immense quality and composure seep into the little things that turn a meal into a pleasure.
“I love it,” my brother said, shaking ice in his cocktail of rum and pickled beets, referring to nothing more than the general, glamorous crackle of the room and the rare, sure warmth of the hospitality. This is the other thing to note about Cavita. His immense quality and calmness seep into the little things that turn a meal into a pleasure. The breezy, knowledgeable staff carry squidgy rounds of pan de elote (corn cake) pudding; Mexican folk instruments hum in the background. There is undoubtedly a frantic effort (and a number of misplaced brushes) hidden in plain sight. But Cavita feels, in the face of the wobbly chaos of many other current openings, like a scintillating, fully-formed reminder of exactly how it should be done.
60 Wigmore Street, W1U 2RZ. Meal for two plus drinks around £170. Tuesday to Sunday, 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.; cavitarestaurant.com