London's Leicester Square Kitchen is hosting a Frida Kahlo brunch for the next few months
Leicester Square is always seething with people, and none of them are Londoners. It’s a bit like Times Square: People who live in the city make an effort to avoid the place. But there are secret pockets of Leicester Square that make it worthwhile to visit, like the cellar wine bar where little has changed since 1978 and, for the time being, the Frida Kahlo brunch at Leicester Square Kitchen.
The Peruvian-Mexican restaurant is hosting the brunch in honor of the exhibition of the artist’s personal artifacts and clothes at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I haven’t seen the show as it’s sold out for weeks, but people on Instagram with more clout than I do say it’s great. Moving, they say; life-affirming, even. Everybody loves Frida.
Frida Kahlo, who died in 1954 at age 47, has become an inspiring and powerful symbol in her own right. Her unconventional life was revolutionary at the time and would be considered staunchly feminist even today. A bold artist and passionate woman, Kahlo persevered through pain as her body deteriorated. As imagined in the poem by Marty McConnell, Frida tells us not to wish away our cracked pasts: “Heart like a four-poster bed. Heart like a canvas. Heart leaking something so strong they can smell it in the street.”
Leicester Square Kitchen is in the Hampshire, a beautiful hotel that happens to be in an unremarkable location. On the whole, Mexican food in London is notoriously bad, so I’m only tentatively optimistic as I head out. I’ve invited my friend Gavin to accompany me, as he’s the kind of person who will travel into central London to meet you at 12:30 p.m. on a Saturday, just because.
Neither Gavin nor I have been to Mexico nor Peru, but we gather the food leans primarily on the latter country’s cuisine. The appetizer buffet has a duck and pomegranate salad with papaya chili dressing, there’s a lovely sea bass ceviche with white corn, adorable little tostadas with shredded crab and ginger mayo, and smoked tuna with tequila lime mustard—everything has lime on it. Lime’s such a happy flavor, I muse as I down my third drink; I’ve been awake for no more than three hours, and Gavin’s way ahead of me. “Never turn down a free lunch,” he chuckles, insisting that no, that’s how that expression goes in the North of England.
The main dishes arrive: Gavin’s having the lamb cutlets with red anticucho, and I get the stone bass with chili lime sea salt, which is the highlight of the meal. The servers keep pouring prosecco and then bring us three desserts: a coconut sorbet with mango, which I loved, something with berries, something panna cotta. Amir Jati, director of food and beverage service excellence at Edwardian Hotels London, emailed me before the brunch that the theme was paying respect to the origins of the restaurant’s concept: “The Frida Kahlo exhibition at the V&A is a perfect collaboration. It allows museum goers to extend the experience with the vibrant sounds, colors, and flavors of Mexico.”
London was in a perfect summer mood: It had finally rained after a week of stifling heat and the entire city exhaled with relief. Gavin and I talk about art, but neither of us are particularly familiar with Kahlo's work, and this brunch wasn’t adding anything to our knowledge. There’s a photo of her on the menu, and the walls were covered in flowers like the ones she often wore in her hair. There was a DJ playing what may generously be referred to as Latin remixes of pop songs, but they were way too loud and we had to strain slightly to hear each other across the small table.
I told Gavin what I’d read about Kahlo before heading out that morning, how she didn’t like cooking much but she loved to host. Kahlo’s stepdaughter Guadalupe Rivera Marin told the Washington Post that her mother “had a very advanced education for that era, she was very modern, but she didn’t cook and didn’t like to cook.” But she knew how to make a spectacle: “With Frida, everything was elaborate and decorated.”
The brunch at the Leicester Square Kitchen was certainly elaborate and decorated, even if it was more ceviche and margaritas than the mole and agua frescas that Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera would have served at their parties at Casa Azul. The service was good. The company was good. The music was too loud. London was warm and breezy. The food wasn’t bad, which in England is a sincere compliment, especially if there’s bottomless prosecco.
The Frida Kahlo brunch at Leicester Square Kitchen will run for six more Saturdays until November 3.