London’s not great at rooftops. New York is a natural. Downtown LA has plenty. Barcelona overflows with 8th-floor terraces. Hong Kong and Singapore, pushed ever upwards, have thousands by necessity. But in London, the great, futuristic cosmopolis of Europe, the roof terrace is almost always an afterthought, an add-on; a half-baked, health-and-safety-bothering improvisation. Something to do with our palladian-gothic architecture, perhaps (too many sloped and angular roofs). A lot to do with the weather. And it’s cultural, too. When the rooftop bar craze first swelled, in about 2014, it was homemade by its nature — a rag-tag, the-lift-doesn’t-work-but-thats-part-of-the-fun congregation on disused multi-storey car parks and old warehouses; places with barely working bathrooms but plenty of Leeds graduates with large pupils. It didn’t necessarily inspire confidence and sophistication — you wouldn’t take your mother to the Prince of Wales in Brixton. Things have scarcely matured in the years since.
Soho House, it should be said, has long been an outrider in this respect — a place that always felt New York-Continental in its leanings, and can appreciate the unique pleasure of a cigarette with a view. But Maya at the Hoxton is the group’s most un-London London rooftop yet, perhaps. To travel up in the dark wood lift (I almost wrote elevator) and emerge, several floors later, in the bright, hazy sunshine of a June evening is to be transported to another city entirely, almost. The view here is of a capital at its most lively and modern. Not the picture postcard skyline of the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament (though you can probably see these too) — but a glass and steel cityscape which reminds you you’re in an expensive, heaving, creative metropolis. In this age of limited travel — and to a West London boy sick on stucco — it is positively mind-expanding.
The food doesn’t hurt, either. Maya trades in Mexican-inspired fayre without the pudgy influence of America. It is fresh and vibrant and often surprising, and it flitters along a tightrope between wholesome and healthy. And it’s brilliantly done. You know you’re in good company as soon as you spot the michelada on the menu — a spiced, citrusy bloody mary, slaked by off-dry lager, which so rare in London but is always an almost childish treat, as if mixed by a bored six-year-old with a hangover.
Then there are the tacos, which are worth the altitude sickness alone. The baja cod numbers were crunchy, delicious delights, spiked with a little warming chipotle mayo, and holding that sweet earthiness of all decent corn bread. The chicken tinga was strong, too — charred lovingly and topped with refried beans and pico de gallo. Down in the ‘plates’ — which cry out to be shared — I’d opt for the Seabass a La Talla, which is simply but beautifully done, basking in a chill-flecked adobo marinade. And the ribeye asado, too, which is almost Argentine in its aspirations — hunky, gorgeously seared, nicely marbled, and complemented by long chunks of grilled sweet potatoes.
Most impressive of all, perhaps, was a plant-based mushroom quesadilla — an oxymoron, you’d think — which was heavily hyped but didn’t disappoint. The faux-cheddar was indistinguishable from the real thing, with that mid-nineties pizza advert stringiness you’d hope for — but it felt lighter and somehow nuttier, too. This is a unique sorcery. Everyone at Maya is charming, and everything is beautifully finished — we were particularly fond of some raffia lampshades, which hung from the thick oak roof beams like mid-century lanterns. I’d steal them if I was tall enough. Oh, and there are churros, by the way, which are never not fun. Maya — come for the views, stay for the deep-fried dough.
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