By Alastair Sadler
TA-KO at Victory Mansions could be just another restaurant bar amongst the plethora strewn along Stoke Newington High Street. But I was intrigued by the name as Victory Mansions was the run-down apartment block where Winston Smith lived in George Orwell‘s book, 1984. I couldn’t wait to see how that fit with Ta-Ko. I mean, Mexican street food in a 1950s tenement building?
Having found the address through the kind of ‘telescreen’ device Orwell’s Winston Smith would have been familiar with (interestingly, it, too, was run by a company that seems to know my every whereabouts!), I make a mental note to Google “Big Brother”. Meanwhile, I figure ‘Ignorance is Strength.’
My dystopian analogy disappears as we enter number 18 (and not 101, as I had hoped). It’s warm, friendly and achieves a relaxed comfortable chic without having to try very hard. Film and book references are dotted around, and the high cane stools by the bar and simple tables certainly are inviting.
The circular design of the shelves behind the parquet-faced bar evoke a retro austerity, and the typewriter sitting at the edge of the bar left the distinct impression the owner – perhaps Orwell himself – had just popped out for a moment. Another author-ish touch is the palm tree wallpaper, which seemed to suggest a certain Ernest Hemingway had a say in the décor, giving the establishment more of a Sloppy Joes bar theme than sleek Havana Floridita.
Carefully collated cocktail menu
First, a cocktail. Stuart, our bar maestro, has done a superb job of collating the menu, carefully grouping drinks by style.
My ‘Plus One’ companion has a Holly Golightly, named after Audrey Hepburn‘s character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Served in a champagne coup, a mix of rose and elderflower infused Hendricks gin, lemon and, of course, bubbly. The result is stylish, elegant and crisp.
I go for the Winston Smith, so we’re back to 1984. Oh dear! If there’s one thing I need to share with the Thought Police it’s that I’ve a thing about Tiki mugs. I dislike them unreservedly. I dislike the shape, the feel and, above all, the way the straw slides horizontally through the nose for no other reason than to annoy. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never been to a proper Tiki bar or Polynesia. But then again, why would I, they’re full of Tiki mugs! Needless to say my personal Room 101 would be full of them. And yet the drink was delicious. Rich and complex, a fusion of fusions and infusions impossible to tease apart. These two ‘thoughts’ seem to contradict, proving Orwell was right when he wrote, “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”
The Ministry of Plenty
TA-KO’s Asian inspired tacos are all served on handmade 12cm, gluten free, soft corn tortillas. There were eight on the menu, and so while it’s practical to decide which ones you don’t want, it’s certainly not an easy task rejecting any.
My favourite was the torched sea bream with mackerel pate, pickles, crispy onions and umami paste. This really took me by surprise. Fresh and zingy and going in many directions at the same time. Loved it. Also, the palm sugar glazed beef short rib, pickled watermelon, quail egg, and wild blackberry sriracha. Totally the other end of the flavour experience, with warm, steady flavours… and almost earthy.
Be sure to also check out the Asian slaw. Burnt hispi cabbage with kaffir lime dressing and soooo good.
To drink, Plus One took Stuart’s advice and had a strong fruity red that seemed to say ‘the party starts here’. I went for a beer, but not just any beer. ‘Work’ is a six-grain unfiltered American Pale Ale by Forest Road Brewing Co. They’re so local, it’s within walking distance of the restaurant.
It’s certainly worth mentioning a few more TA-KO options to give a feel of how diverse the menu is:
- Charred sprouting broccoli and spring onion, with salted duck egg relish
- Blackened river trout, smoked aubergine nahm prik, lime labneh, and pickled cucumber
- Crispy cauliflower, black bean and tamarind ragu, avocado, and pepper mayo
- Nahm jim chicken, liver pate, pickles, crispy onions, and kampot pepper mayo
- Red pepper pork neck, mustard and cucumber relish, radish, and puffed pork
After that, a dessert would simply be taking the biscuit, so we went for a simple coffee and chocolate nib amaretto cream and orange madeleines.
In conclusion: TA-KO at Victory Mansions has a warm retro style. It’s the kind of place where you can meet friends, have a nice drink, and be blown away by exciting flavours and great service.
To learn more, visit their website at https://www.victorymansion.co.uk/
Contributor Alastair Sadler teaches salsa professionally and created the world’s first Salsa Rapido 1-Day Intensive Salsa Course. His hobby is stand up comedy, and in addition to acting as MC of Streetbeat’s Camden Comedy, he regularly takes his show to the Edinburgh Fringe. You’ll find him at www.streetbeat.co.uk.