I was recently invited along to Tex-Mex restaurant, Chiquito in Cardiff’s Old Brewery Quarter for ‘Chiquila’ – an evening of street food and tequila pairing. This was the fourth Chiquila event that Chiquito has organised but significantly, the evening I attended in Cardiff was the first to take place outside London.
When I caught a glimpse of the Chiquila pairing menu, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it offered something a little different to what you would expect from a Tex-Mex chain restaurant that currently has no less than 85 UK outlets. Similarly, I was pleased to hear that around 86% of the food on Chiquito’s menus is prepared fresh in-house.
The drinks had been carefully selected to show how the different flavours found in different varieties of tequila can be used to create a range of exciting cocktails. Each one was been hand-picked by Chiquito’s Head of Bar, Ross Walton, who included some of the lesser known drinks he discovered whilst on his travels in Mexico last year.
Meanwhile, the street food menu was designed by Chiquito’s Executive Head Chef, Simon Xavier and reflected the dishes traditionally sold by Mexican street vendors, with simple, fresh tastes and cooking styles derived from the United States and Southern Europe, combined with Chiquito’s unique feel to create bespoke dishes that complemented the tequila cocktails.
The street food and tequila pairing menu kicked off with a pre-starter of tortilla chips with beet feta whip and fresh salsa, served with Le Patrionic – a light, zesty cocktail of Patron Blanco tequila, St Germain elderflower liqueur and tonic water.
The beet feta whip was smooth and creamy, with a barely-there hint of beetroot and tangy feta cheese. The consistency was ideal for dipping the tortilla chips in. Meanwhile, the salsa was bursting with fresh, piquant flavours and although I could’ve tolerated a higher level of spice, it was about right for my housemate, James, who accompanied me to Chiquito.
The only downside of this dish was that there was no fresh guacamole to dip our nachos into. The menu stated that the tortilla chips would be served with beet feta whip and fresh guacamole but this wasn’t the case, so I assume the salsa was a replacement. However, I absolutely adore guacamole and it was strange to eat tortilla chips without it.
The first course included mouthwateringly more-ish, crunchy halloumi bites – chunks of halloumi cheese fried in light breadcrumbs, topped with a sweet cranberry salsa, a slice of red chilli and fresh coriander. Halloumi is one of my favourite kinds of cheese and I’ve never thought of frying it before, but I’m definitely going to try this at home as an indulgent treat or a tapas dish for a dinner party.
The halloumi bites were paired with a fresh pineapple and cracked black pepper margarita cocktail, made using 100% agave tequila. This had a thick, foamy texture, similar to that of milkshake. We struggled to taste the pineapple, but we could definitely taste the black pepper and we thought we could detect a hint of salt too; an interesting take on the traditional margarita, but the original wins hands down for me!
This was accompanied by a mini soft white tortilla filled with baby gem lettuce, vibrant pink onions and chipotle cod loin, finished with creamy chipotle mayo. When we tasted this dish, James and I gave each other that raised eyebrow, wide-eyed look you give someone when you’re dining out in a restaurant and you’re both enjoying the food so much, yet you don’t say anything because you either don’t want to stop eating it, or you just can’t think of the words to describe how incredible it tastes. I am genuinely gutted that the soft cod taco isn’t available on Chiquito’s regular menu; James and I both agreed that we would’ve been back to order this as a full-size portion by now if it was.
Our third course took the form of two small skewers of habanero- and honey-glazed chicken. Scrumptiously sweet and smoky, the chicken was tender and juicy and tasted delicious topped with a dollop of soured cream and a sprinkling of paprika.
The chicken skewers were served with tequila con sangrita – a trio of spicy sangrita, Gran Centenario Blanco tequila and cleansing sangrita verde (ordered from left to right in the below picture). We were told that we could either sip each drink slowly or down them in one go; after noting the thick consistency of the sangrita and sangrita verde, I gulped all three down as quickly as I could. They went to my head almost instantly (which may also have had something to do with the three tequila cocktails I’d drunk beforehand!) and they definitely introduced an element of fun to our dining experience, although in future I would probably only order these if I was to visit Chiquito on an evening-out with friends.
Our final savoury course was the chimchurri skirt skeak, served on a bed of roasted onion and peppers. As Chiquito’s food expert, Simon, explained, skirt has always been regarded as a cheap, tough cut of steak, but if it is prepared the right way, it can taste fantastic. He told us that the best way to prepare it is to give it a good beating beforehand to break up the gristle and then to cook it for no longer than two minutes per side, until just medium-rare. Indeed, the skirt steak was succulent and lean and the freshly made chimcurri marinade ignited the dish with fascinating, fragrant flavours.
The steak was matched with an 1800 Cabernet smoked rosemary Margarita, concocted from a mixture of 1800 Reposado – one of Jose Cuerbo’s best-kept secrets – a blend of tequilas matured in French and American Oak for up to a year to produce vanilla and caramel tones.
For dessert, we indulged in freshly baked, hot churros filled with rich, dark chocolate sauce, served with Patron XO Incendio – a chilli-chocolate flavoured tequila, served warm. The churros tasted even better dipped into the chilli-chocolate tequila, which was too pungent for me to consume alone as a drink.
We had a fantastic time at Chiquito’s Chiquila street food and tequila pairing evening. It was refreshing to see a chain restaurant dishing up authentic, freshly prepared dishes like those we sampled at Chiquito. I still can’t stop thinking about that cod taco! At £25 for five courses, the Chiquila pairing menu can’t be beaten on price; you’d pay a lot more than that for five cocktails alone in most bars I know of! To find out if Chiquito will be holding a Chiquila street food and tequila pairing evening in a city near you, or to place a booking, click here.
The Old Brewery Quarter
(029) 2038 7465
I was invited to Chiquito as a guest and our food and drink was provided complimentary; however, I was not obliged to write a positive review.
What’s your favourite dish on Chiquito’s Chiquila tasting menu? Drop me a comment below… I love hearing your thoughts!