LA’s most popular fusion food lands in Bow Wharf, where tacos and tostadas from Mexico meet gochujang sauce and Korean fried chicken
If you often walk from Mile End to Victoria Park, you’ll be familiar with Bow Wharf’s recognisable black gates and large metal sign on Grove Road, with East London Liquor Company’s tall distillery chimney marking the place.
Peering through the gates, the site appears to be dominated by a car park. But on the left, under a charming canopy of vines and fairy lights, you will find the Wharf’s newest attraction: Mexican Seoul taco bar.
Conceived by chef Ashley Chipchase during lockdown in 2020, Mexican Seoul started its life as a street food vendor selling its trademark wings and tacos at Brick Lane food market and festivals such as Glastonbury and Secret Garden Party.
In June this year, the pop-up vendor found its first permanent home on the outskirts of Victoria Park after launching a crowdfunding campaign to help with installation costs.
In just over one month, Mexican Seoul had successfully raised £11,020 from 107 supporters, who Chipchase refers to as his ‘gochu-gang’ – a play on Gojuchang Korean red pepper paste.
Despite the restaurant’s location being slightly off the beaten track in Bow Wharf, its loyal customers already know where to find it, with roughly a third of tables in its large indoor and outdoor dining areas occupied on a blustery Wednesday evening.
While it might have never crossed your mind to mix miso mayo with salsa verde, at Mexican Seoul, they don’t shy away from bold flavours. The resulting dishes are pleasantly balanced, full of unique and exciting culinary combinations.
Soft-shell tacos, salsa verde, and ‘elote’ (corn) ribs from Mexico, join Korean Bulgogi beef, double-fried chicken wings and a good dousing of gochujang sauce in a happy union.
Mexican-Korean fusion food originated in Los Angeles more than a decade ago where it fast gained popularity, though it is not yet commonplace on the streets of East London.
The restaurant’s neon light installations, exposed brick walls and black and white floors are a subtle nod to its American roots, without appearing garish or out of place in the East End.
All cocktails are priced at £12 and feature Mexican and Korean twists: mescal replaces gin in a negroni and a bloody mary is infused with kimchi rather than horseradish.
It’s a welcome sight to see a select eight-dish menu which is split into small bites, tacos and wings that come out in no particular order. I’d recommend choosing one dish from each section per person, which makes for a filling meal.
The sticky ‘gochu-gang’ sauce coating the restaurant’s crispy chicken wings and vegetarian cauli-bites might’ve been too much if it weren’t for the fiery kick of the Picante cocktail which balanced the sweetness nicely.
The wings at Mexican Seoul have even caught the attention of the British MC Novelist, hailing them in a video on Instagram: ‘The best wings I ever had.’
Another standout dish is the pork tacos where thinly sliced pork belly marinated for 24 hours is enveloped by a light corn tortilla, topped with Korean slaw and fried leeks, and brightened with a fresh salsa verde.
And though the meat might take centre stage, the restaurant’s vegan, vegetarian and fish options are not to be overlooked. Corn husks cut lengthways to resemble ‘ribs’, are grilled and topped with miso mayo, pecorino cheese and Korean chilli creating a smoky, deeply flavoursome plate.
With all the dishes ranging from £7.50 – £12, you’ll likely spend about £40 per person for a meal and drinks at Mexican Seoul, and you won’t be going home hungry.
The friendly waiters and a wide variety of soulful and lively songs create an easy-going atmosphere in the dog-friendly space, which is well-suited to celebrations and larger groups of people.
Owner and chef Chipchase serves tables and welcomes customers proudly into his first proper restaurant, a refreshing change to the absent heads of hospitality chains that dominate many East End high streets.
Delivering our bill in an old Ella Fitzgerald cassette case, he talks excitedly of his plans to host inclusive DJ and live music nights at Mexican Seoul, finishing at 1 am. Who knows, you might even bump into Novelist.
For more places to eat in the East End, read our piece about Globe Town’s new ‘Cari-vegan’ eatery.
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