I’ll be honest from the outset, I have not always been a fan of Mexican food, or Texan flavours or Tex-Mex or whatever they’re calling it these days, but I think that I’m getting sympathy cravings as Misia goes through her pregnancy. In the past few weeks I have made no less than 3 tortilla based meals and I’m starting to get a tongue for it, where I previously didn’t even fancy peppers so much I am now using a whole bell pepper in a wok full of minced beef and Mexican spices.
On the basis of this I decided that it was time for a visit to one of the newest additions to Cardiff’s culinary scene, the chain Tex-Mex restaurant Chimichanga which opened late last year on the East-Side of the new St David’s 2 shopping centre. Sitting alongside its chainy-buddies Pizza Express, Nando’s, Yo! Sushi and CafÃ© Rouge it seems well in its place. Would it do well elsewhere in Cardiff, say for example on St Mary Street? Something tells me that it wouldn’t, but this isn’t a blog about effective urban location demographics so let’s move on.
It was 3pm on a Wednesday and the entire centre was pretty much deserted, not like at 3pm last Wednesday afternoon, at the height of the Easter half-term holidays when the entire place was filled with screaming children, when I was secretly wishing they would all throw themselves face-first down the escalators. No, the place was empty.
After hanging around for 5 minutes to be shown to a seat, despite being the only people there, bar a party of 4 who were already tucking in, we were asked if we wanted to sit inside or outside, which was quite a puzzling question to be asked when you’re in a shopping centre. It turns out that there is an “outside” which is outside of what would be considered the main dining area, but of course is still inside, on the second floor of a shopping centre. A little puzzled we humoured him and said we’d sit inside, I guess it’s not quite summer yet so it might be chilly sitting outside. Inside a shopping centre.
The menu is extensive, with all the dishes you would expect from any good Tex-Mex restaurant, Tacos, Fajitas, Cajun Chicken, Chilli, Burritos and the rest. The choice looked good, now what would I choose?
The closest I suppose I have been to a Tex-Mex restaurant before would probably be Taco Bell which I sometimes stop by on my visits to the States. They do a mean 99¢ Burrito, let me tell you, they must either be making a fantastic loss on it or its all made out of ground-up horse bones because it’s packed with minced beef.
I had to try the Beef Burrito because it promises “A baked flour tortilla with jack cheese, sautÃ©ed onions and peppers garnished with sour cream, chives, guacamole and tortilla croutons”. Hell, if Taco Bell can do it right for GBP 0.75 (est) then for Â£10.25 this must be the mac-daddy of all Burritos. In fact it must be 13.66666666 times as good!
The chef was bored. I got a great view of his open-plan kitchen from my seat, and he was clearly not feeling the afternoon quiet spell. All alone with the shiny utensils, ovens and such he had nothing to do. I didn’t see his face light-up when he got our order, but I’m sure that it did. Finally, he could do what I can only imagine is his life’s work, to bring good Mexican food to the malnourished British public.
No less than 5 minutes after placing our order the plates were at the table, piping hot and waiting to be consumed. This chef is a wizard! Making a perfectly wrapped Burrito, garnished with hot beef chilli, nachos and salad and my dining partners “Grande Chicken Quesadilla” all by himself in 4.5 minutes flat? Wow.
Sarcasm aside for one second, we’re talking pre-made, pre-plated microwave job here aren’t we?
Seriously, if I wanted that I would have gone to Wetherspoons, where I could probably have had it for Â£3.99 or less.
What can I say? I noticed the quick turnaround time, attributed it to a microwave job and this immediately knocked 5 points off their possible 10 point review. It could only go down-hill from here.
The side garnish nachos were slightly soggy, something that is not good for any corn based snack and the Burrito itself was almost completely devoid of any flavour. It wasn’t wet, it wasn’t dry, it wasn’t spicy, it wasn’t mild, in fact, were there any spices in there at all? Nothing on the plate did anything to excite the taste buds at all, something that Tex-Mex is supposed to do with its fusion of spices from both North and South of the border. It’s supposed to reach up and bite you, but in a good way.
We were offered desserts but declined, dessert is never good in restaurants anyway.
But wait! There was one good thing. I ordered a beer with my meal, a San Miguel (from the choice of that, Brahama (which is Brazillian?!) or Corona) and the mug that was presented to me to pour it into had been kept in the freezer, a trick which always gets points in my book. There is nothing worse than pouring your cold bottle of beer into a warm pint glass.
Bill: Â£24.50 + tip.
Verdict: Go for the cold beer glasses and the amazing Tasmanian devil chef. The food? Old El Paso could have done better.