French Tacos Cafe, London and Chilli Cottage, Glasgow: Battle of the badly-named but rather tasty international foodstuffs from restaurants with corner locations

HELLO! *waves manically*

If you, like me, have often wondered what the BEST badly-named but rather tasty international foodstuff is, particularly from restaurants that occupy space at the corner of a row of shops, then this is the review for you. I have scoured the length* and breadth** of the country*** to find challengers for this rather niche challenge; one over 400 miles away from Shawarma Police HQ, the other… well, over the road actually. But whatever – here’s some content – the stuff that everyone loves!

First off, it’s time to meet the French Taco(s):

“Oooh a French Taco(s)! That sounds weird. What’s that then?”

Well, according to Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia what you can nick stuff off of, a French tacos is either a singular or a plural fast food item(s) “…which usually consists of a flour tortilla grilled and folded around a filling of French fries, cheese, and meat, among other deli ingredients.”. The entry continues to say that, despite the name, it’s more like a burrito – so we can instantly cross this one off our bingo cards:

“Badly named” – ✅ – reason… “Not a taco(s)”

But where am I going to get a French Tacos? Well, a cursory glance at the internet, on my phone, tells me that nowhere in Glasgow sell them. This is odd, because the specification above CLEARLY states that the ingredients include chips, cheese, and meat – three of the five food groups, and three out of the three good food groups, and as such you’d think Glasgow would be all over this French Tacos business – but no.

So I find myself in London, on unrelated matters. First time I’d been outside Scotland for ages, what with the pandemic restricting even domestic travel, but there I was, in London. I got off at Kings Cross, cross the road to get to St. Pancras to get a connecting train, when the thought occurred – my passport’s in my bag – I’ve got time to kill – why not jump on a Eurostar? I wandered up to the international platforms – took one look at the screen telling me of the entry requirements for France, Belgium, and the Netherlands – thought “fuck that”, and headed to the low-level platforms to escape to such exotic destinations as Kentish Town, “The Sutton Loop”, or Rainham (Kent). It did, nonetheless, give me a gentle reminder to try to find a French Tacos whilst in England’s capital; surely, with a relatively large Francophone population, London was bound to sell them somewhere, right?

Firstly, I was going to try a place called “The French Tacos” in Catford, in south London (and fortuitously, near my hotel). Alas, no luck. This place, which was situated but a stones throw away from a chiropody clinic where I had an ingrown toenail removed aged 17, was declared “permanently closed” by Google. I hope that these two events are unrelated. Next on my list, “French Tacos London” which is in Vauxhall, in the trendy food market/beer garden bit by the railway arches. No can do – they had an event on, with tickets and bouncers and that. Took one look at the queue, decided I couldn’t be bothered, so headed off to the last place I could find: The French Tacos Cafe.

The French Tacos Cafe, situated in London’s trendy London district, ticked the “badly named food” box, and also, as luck would have it, it’s a corner unit! ✅ Oh man, it was like all my Christmasses had come at once!

Inside the more-specifically Maida Vale corner cafe, twixt the roads of Chippenham and Harrow, and a stones throw from the very-green-due-to-algae Grand Union canal, a man is in front of me in the queue – speaking French! “This is the real deal”, I thought to myself. I scoured the menu – what to have? The French tacos is, like the burrito, or a Findus Crispy Pancake, a conduit rather than a food itself – the food merely takes the form of the French tacos – what’s in it is entirely up to you! On this occasion, I went for the large option (which gives me two fillings from the list and a choice of sauce) – so I went for the most French thing I could think of. Unfortunately, my imagination has been severely impaired due to incidents, so I ended up with minced beef, Cordon Bleu, and Algerian sauce.

As you can see, the French tacos is quite well crafted – chips up the top, meat down below, and oozing from top to bottom with both a cheese sauce and the aforementioned Algerian sauce (which I thought equally smoky, spicy and a little bit sweet – think your Subway South West Chipotle sauce with a bit of a kick to it), and I have to say, it was probably the best thing I’ve eaten all year – not withstanding the fact that I’ve made a terrible choice with the fillings (this would have worked out so much better had I gone for one of the many chicken options – Peri Chicken and even Jerk Chicken – and I went for fucking Cordon Bleu???)

Les frites were accompanied in this meal deal with “Oh No! Not More Les Frites”, though I can’t complain as the bag was small, and you didn’t get all that many chips in the wrap in the first instance. £7.50, with a can of coke zero.

French Tacos Cafe

Harrow Road, W9, London – nearest tube Westbourne Park

10/10.

As I was eating this, I thought – hang on a minute – are the French trying to claim they invented the Hoagie wrap???

Now, I’d wager that a lot of people who read this blog come from Glasgow or thereabouts. That said, I’m always semi-amazed the traffic the blog gets internationally, because in my mind this is principally a Glasgow thing, so why people in Australia, Germany or India want to see pictures of a half eaten wrap bought from a kebab shop in Govanhill is anyone’s guess – but I am grateful nonetheless. And yes, I am fully aware that I’m adding this as a postscript to a review of a London French Tacos cafe on a Glasgow shawarma/kebab blog – but I went down with the intention of eating one, seeing if I liked it, and if I did, I figured I’d question it’s non-availability north of the border. Then I remembered the Hoagie wrap.

The Hoagie wrap is, like its French cousin, not a hoagie. I know this because the rather splendid Hoagies in Mount Florida, right by Hampden Park, sell Hoagies, and they are a thing of beauty – but they’re basically a dirty burger equivalent of a footlong from a Subway. More on this over at Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia that’s really doing all the heavy lifting right now. The hoagie wrap, as implied above – is like a French taco. It’s not french, it’s not a taco, it’s not a hoagie, and now I’m confused. The hoagie wrap is, however, ingenious, and whoever came up with it deserves a medal.

Take your standard Glaswegian pre-emptive hangover cure – the humble doner meat, chips and cheese. For those outside the catchment area – no, I’m not taking the piss – this is a thing – and it does the job beautifully. But to correctly navigate a doner, chips and cheese meal of an evening, you need a plastic fork – and those things are bad for the environment. Why can’t you just put it in a wrap of some sort?

A cursory glance at the internet doesn’t tell us much about the history of the hoagie wrap – I myself first noticed it on menus around about the early 2010s in kebab shops in Glasgow’s south side – however this article in the Metro suggests the origin more vaguely being Scotland’s central belt: so anywhere from Greenock in the west to North Berwick in the east, I guess. Also: full disclosure – I’ve never actually eaten one.

Luckily, Shawarma Police HQ is conveniently located near this place:

“Wait a minute, that’s not on a corner”

Oh yes it is! Chilli Cottage, on Paisley Road West in Glasgow, is situated at the end of a bunch of flat roofed shops twixt the Rennie Macintosh designed Walmer Crescent, and the residential flats opposite. As a result, this is on a very sharp corner of an oval shaped row of shops, if you must be picky. More importantly, they sell (or so Just Eat told me) the hoagie wrap – the chips, cheese and doner meat in a chapati that I really didn’t have to go too far to get in order to do a comparison.

So I was a little worried when I opened the box, and found this:

I mean, say what you like, but that’s not a wrap. That’s a kebab. Don’t get me wrong, Chilli Cottage do excellent kebabs, but my first impressions were that they’d messed up my order. But wait! ZOOM IN. Bottom right hand of picture. ENHANCE! Zut alors, c’est que ce? DEUX POMMES FRITES?????

Yes, if you look closely enough, the chips are there. So I did some digging…

Ahh, those cheeky scamps! They’d hidden the chips – and the melted cheddar – right underneath! Well, this is back on!

Not a hoagie ✅

From a corner location ✅

Some self assembly required? 😞

Still, a few chips later, I was able to fashion this into a similar shape to that of the French Tacos

Like the French tacos – a choice of fillings available – so I went for the lamb doner. No cheese sauce here – just good old fashioned grated kebab shop cheese, plus a decent amount of chips. The sauce – regular chilli kebab sauce, as well as some salad, which in fairness the French tacos place didn’t have – and could well have done with…)

The Metro article sums this dish up quite nicely – it ‘solves every drunken dilemma of picking between chips and cheese or a kebab’ – though I think that’s unfair as I was remarkably sober when I ate this and still enjoyed it – though it wins no prizes otherwise.

I began this post-script by asking if the French were claiming the invention of the Scottish hoagie wrap – which, by my own mental timeline, would appear to have come first – however I’m biased – ultimately, I don’t know which came first. What I can say, with a certain amount of certainty, is that these two things evolved separately – the French tacos is a street food introduced to France by migrants, much like the Doner Kebab in Germany, and the Scottish hoagie wrap is likewise a fusion of cuisine which, I suppose, if nothing else shows that the Auld Alliance can be strengthened by a joint appreciation of all things double carbs.

Chilli Cottage, Paisley Road West

Lamb Doner Hoagie Wrap – £5 (plus free drink)

7/10

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