Shakti Kitchen: a fresh, hearty and healthy take on Tex-Mex from Oxford’s vegan cuisine queen.
While Tex-Mex first arrived proper in the UK food scene in the 1970s, Mexico fever has completely exploded in the UK over the last ten years. It’s easy to see why – the easy assembly serves a good basis for a fast-food chain (it feels like there are literally hundreds in Britain) but most importantly it’s so good. So where exactly does Oxford fit into this picture? Excepting a couple of chains in town, it’s unclear how a traditionally meaty and carby food-style with perhaps an unfair fast-food reputation fits in with the hip, young and environmentally conscious clientele of the city.
Enter Shakti Kitchen.
Every Friday, founder and head chef Sarada Wong runs a takeaway service from Shakti Kitchen, operating on the corner of Magdalen and Stanley Road. Each week she serves a different cuisine and the diversity is staggering. So far, she has covered Bengali, Thai, Arabic, Balinese, Moroccan and Singaporean-inspired food.
Sarada’s shapeshifting takeaway feasts are generous and affordable, and here’s the kicker: it’s all vegan. I was lucky enough to try her fresh and healthy take on my humble fave, Tex-Mex. Here’s what I thought.
The first course was a ‘fully loaded’ vegan burrito. This was available in a tortilla, or boxed, for the carb-conscious (both £14).
Shakti Kitchen has an emphasis on unprocessed, fresh ingredients and they don’t use any refined sugar. This was obvious from the get-go because the veggies were so delicious. Fresh carrots, radishes, salsa and sweetcorn made for a guilt-free experience, as opposed to the typical fatty and processed takeaways I’m ashamed to eat as regularly as I do.
The black beans were a slam-dunk, but I was pleasantly surprised by some of the bolder flavour decisions too: I can safely say that roast potatoes in a burrito definitively work, and the cashew-based sour cream is a remarkable achievement. I had to keep checking that it was really made from cashews – that’s the sign of a great vegan substitute. And this is no tasting menu – you get so much food for your 14 quid.
Despite all this, there was something missing; for me, a burrito without cheese is a difficult sell. I was also disappointed in the lack of spice in the dish. A small pot of chilli oil was provided; but when it comes to Mexican food, I prefer the hot and spicy flavour to permeate the whole dish.
Now onto dessert.
Shakti Kitchen served up two Mexican-inspired tarts, chilli chocolate and avocado lime, for a fiver each.
The chocolate tart, topped with goji berries and with a biscuit-base, was as ‘rich and decadent’ as described, and a great foil to the healthier-tasting first course. I was initially sceptical of the avocado tart; guacamole cheesecake doesn’t scream delicious, but I was completely blown away. The creaminess of the avocado has convinced me it’s the perfect dessert ingredient and it works so well with the almonds. It’s an utter stroke of genius and a sensational end to the meal.
It’s these bold taste experiments that keep people coming back to Shakti Kitchen. I’m determined to try another week where those vegan flavour combos can really shine. And Sarada, if you’re reading this, please can you send me the recipe for the avocado tart?
Stanley Road, East Oxford
We dined as guests of Shakti Kitchen, all views remain our own