It's a long time since I've been to a Chiquito's. Probably about 20 years, if I'm honest. I wasn't that impressed, I admit, so I never bothered to go back, especially when Wahaca surged into the forefront of Mexican food in the UK.
Wahaca aren't as good as they used to be, which seems to be the way of things when more and more branches open in quick succession, sadly. When a friend posted on instagram that she'd been to Chiquito's, and expressed glee that the new menu was excellent, I thought I'd give them another try. A lot can change in 20 years, after all! (I am aware that Wahaca's premise is different, before anyone says anything.)
My friend K and I went along on a balmy Tuesday evening. School holidays made for a rather packed restaurant, but to our surprise and pleasure, the noise level was completely manageable. The music didn't intrude, the staff were extremely attentive and lovely to everyone - great move there, they kept the kids occupied - and it was an altogether pleasant experience.
The tables are a little too close together, but it's a premium venue, on a prime location, so I imagine they have to pack in as many as they can.
We were brought a small dish of spiced popcorn, which both of us loved, and then we got to work on the menu.
They have a large array of drinks, and I was happy to see a non alcoholic cocktail, so I went for a Virgin Colada. I am so fed up of just being given the lemonade/cola choice, that it was a real treat to see care taken over the non alcohol imbibing people. It was more like a slushy, having a lot of crushed ice, but once I'd burrowed down with the straw, it tasted gorgeous. Pineapple and coconut is a real treat for me. The glass was very tall, and I ended up having to take it off the table to get a slurp!
K got a Mojito, which looked the part, but suffered from over syrup-ing. They are meant to be zingy, and tangy with the fresh lime and mint, but this was...well, it tasted like a Mojito Solero ice lolly. Way too sweet for a grown up drink. (All you need for a mojito is mint sprigs muddled with sugar and lime juice. Rum is added and topped with soda water. That's it. There should be no sugar syrup.)
We went for barbecue chicken wings and sweet potato chorizo croquettes to start.
The croquettes were also very sweet, as was the jalapeno jelly they were sat on. It had a good kick, but the sweetness of that, plus the chorizo, plus the sweet potato made the overall taste a bit lacking in zing. "Needs lime." we muttered.
The wings were fabulous. Good sized, very meaty, and sticky, with a good smokey depth to them and properly crispy edges. Might I suggest more napkins, or finger bowls though.
K went for Spiced Coconut Chicken as her main.
"Fresh chicken breast, ginger and red chilli in a spicy aromatic coconut sauce. Served with Mexican spiced rice, tortilla puffs and a dollop of whipped feta & honey"
It was a rather attractive presentation, and had me coveting the dish, though a small plate to go with it would have been useful, so you could mix things up. (We asked for, and very quickly got, a plate, so that worked out just fine.)
After tasting the rice, we pronounced it to be lovely, and perfectly cooked. Each grain separate, and coated in flavourful spices. Just right. The sauce for the chicken was....well, ok, it was tasty, yes, but again, far too sweet and there was no heat or discernible ginger to it. There was a large amount of chicken - this is a very generous dish - and the tortilla puffs were a thing of salted, golden beauty.
That sauce though...again we muttered "It needs lime." I think we'd hoped for that glorious smoke that comes with chipotle or ancho chiles, and it was missing from this. The coconut didn't come through very much either. We actually asked for a plate of lime wedges, and added the juice. It did help lift it, but not enough to make it better than just ok. It's got promise, but needs work.
I had three of the Street Food items.
Crispy Tacos (Two crispy tortillas filled with spicy chicken, melted cheese and topped with sour cream), Chilli Beef Empanadas (Crispy parcels, filled with your choice of: Spicy Chicken, Roasted Vegetables and Feta (v) or Beef Chilli) and Whipped Feta with Honey (A creamy feta & honey whip, served with toasted tortilla triangles and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds).
The tacos were brilliant. Crisp, but not to the point of shattering when you bit into them, and with a generous amount of filling.
Empanadas are one of my favourite things, and these did not disappoint. The beef chilli had smoke, and heat, and seriously rich depth. Next time I might get a platter of those, all to myself. Look at that glorious, pointed end. It was all crunch and soft, juicy insides.
The whipped feta and honey was exceptionally creamy, which make me think that there's not purely feta in there, because there was no salt tang at all. Feta is very distinctive, and I couldn't taste it. I'm Greek, feta is Important. The tortilla pieces that came with it were soft, not very toasted, and just didn't contrast with the dip. Now, the tortilla puffs would work amazingly well with the feta, as they are slightly salty, and that feta needed salt to work with the sweetness of the pomegranate seeds.
We did look longingly at the dessert menu, because there were Churros, but we were very full, so decided not to be piglets. I also ate way too many churros in Madrid last year, and I'm still not ready for any more.
Overall, we did enjoy our meal, and the staff were all properly lovely and kind.
Some of the dishes do need work, but I would be more than happy to go back and try again, as everything had promise, and some of it was outstanding. Plus I want to try their Pina Colada prawns!
K and I ate as guests of Chiquitos.