The Soho restaurant making (Mexican) waves, the team at City Pantry sit down with founder Laura Sheffield.
Bringing the freshest flavours and the boldest ingredients to the heart of Soho, Corazón has been making (Mexican) waves in the area straight from the word go. Tucked away just behind Oxford Street, Chef Paul Daniel has created a menu that revolves around honest cooking where flavour and fun take priority, for food that makes you happy. Again and again and again.
So to learn more about the delectable delights from a City Pantry-favourite, we grabbed five minutes with founder Laura Sheffield to talk inspirations, the future of Corazón and a certain delicious coconut flan.
What was your inspiration for Corazón and how did it start?
I grew up in Texas, eating more Mexican food probably than any other cuisine. Admittedly this was mostly Tex Mex – which horrifies a lot of foodies - but it does have its place! Moving up in the world of restaurants and becoming even more of a foodie living in NYC, I became aware of more ‘real’ Mexican food. Then after 10 years living in London, you could say I wrote a business plan to fill a void I desperately needed filling.
No-one was doing Mexican food the way I enjoyed eating it – not just high street burritos, or high end, big money in Mayfair. Just relaxed and totally fresh, fun in a great environment. Mexican food (and drink!) has this spirit of fun / happiness about it; it pleases your soul. No one was celebrating that in a way that resonated with me. Paul and I had been working together for a while and I somehow convinced him to join me on this crazy journey. We spent quite a lot of time travelling around Mexico and Paul did stages in some of the best Mexican restaurants in LA, San Francisco, Chicago and NYC. We opened on Poland Street in 2016.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when you set up shop?
Starting from scratch – in money, team and customer demand – is never to be underestimated. I think (almost) two years in we’ve realised what we’re doing is a little ‘ahead of the curve’ for London in both concept and location. We’re trying to change people’s perceptions of Mexican food, not just open another burger joint. Now we can gloat in the fact that it’s working, and we’re firmly loved and our reputation has grown – but the first year was tough and scary.
How did you start out with City Pantry?
A couple of restaurateur friends recommended it. We know people aren’t properly ‘dining out’ for lunch anymore – they’re grabbing a Pret and eating at their desks while doing work. We have to be flexible and meet diners however they wish to enjoy us – and if that means sending our food to their desks, then great! It works as a great ambassador for the restaurant, and we love seeing City Pantry customers pop in in for a Margarita or a special dinner out.
What's been your most interesting experience running Corazón?
Taste of London, without a doubt. It’s London’s biggest food festival in Regent's Park and we have taken part these past 2 years. London’s best restaurants are invited to put forward four signature dishes to the tens of thousands of curious foodies who turn up to try them. There’s an energy (even a competitiveness) that we seem to thrive on, even if it is the most nerve-wracking endeavour. Our first year, watching our queue stretch to the longest in the park – that was a real ‘we might be onto something here’ moment.
Favourite thing on the Corazón menu?
I am hard pressed to say (like picking a favourite child!), but the coconut flan is just sublime. And I don’t even eat much in the way of desserts! It will never come off the menu.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
We would love to have a small ‘family’ of 3 or 4 Corazon’s – likely in bigger spaces with lots of sunshine and outdoor space. Every day of this is a learning curve on which we thrive, so we will deliver a great dining experience in both food, service and vibe, always improving on our previous successes.
As foodies in London, we love to hear our vendor's favourite haunts...
For every day dining we love Hoppers – everything about it – the people behind it, the food, the adventurousness. Also we love a great Sunday lunch – Blacklock and the Bull & Last are our favourites.
Favourite restaurant in London?
River Café – unpretentious and the best Italian food ever.
Favourite watering hole?
I shouldn’t say it but… Corazón – honestly. Best music and Margaritas in London.
Favourite food blogger?
George Reynolds should/will be the next big household name in food writing. From his pieces I think, learn, and full-on belly laugh. No one could replace AA Gill but he might come close…
If you could be mentored by any chef, who would it be?
Diana Kennedy – a British lady who turned herself into the authority on Mexican cuisine. One of her books is called ‘Nothing Fancy, just Soul Satisfying Food’ which pretty much sums us up. She’s about 94 now living in Michochan and I’ve spent four years trying to meet her and wedge my way into her home / cooking school.
Thank you to Laura for speaking to us for our Meet the Restaurant series. If you want to read more, you can check out our interview with the creator of some of the best Jewish soul food in London, Monty's Deli.
Or better yet, skip the queues and order Corazón on City Pantry for your office instead.
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