We’ve had little tastes of South American cuisine in Leicester before, most notably one of my favourite street food vendors, Tasty Gonzalez (Empanada Social Club) who sadly no longer trade at Leicester Market but do still pop up at festivals and events from time to time. However in terms of permanent fixtures we haven’t seen anything of real note since the one upstairs on Belvoir Street closed down nearly 10 years ago, we’ve just been left with the larger chains which give a more sanitized take on Central and South American classics.
|Press Launch: The Bloggers Are Coming!
So I had high hopes for Bodega Cantina, which is part of the much smaller Bitter and Twisted Group, based in Birmingham. I’d also heard some great reviews about the Birmingham Bodega so things were looking good. Hearing that Ellis Andrew, formerly of The Case, had come over as Head Chef was also reassuring. It looked like this would be a restaurant in a safe pair of hands.
Phenomenal then, to be invited along to the press launch night at Bodega along with The Boy. Lots of familiar faces – I think Leicester Bloggers are turning into a bit of a mafia now, they get everywhere. (Naturally I’m kidding, they’re all wonderful). Upon arrival we were welcomed with a traditional Margarita. This was a generous mix of tequila, Cointreau and lime with a salt rim that was not over heavy and delivered just the right amount of tang and punch. A great start, and a good opportunity to peruse the cocktail menu which has a great selection of tequila, mezcal, rum, pisco and cachaca based drinks – and more besides. The Boy was particularly impressed with Mexican craft lager that had been selected.
The decor is a vibrant mix of colourful South American influence. I can’t help but feel that relatively new cuisines to the UK tend to go a little overboard with decoration, in the same way that 1950s Italian cafes in the UK were almost a romanticised view of a real Italian trattoria, but at the same time I do like it. I’m a HUGE fan of Lucha Libre, having had the best night of my life watching it in an arena in Santiago de Chile so I loved all of the Lucha imagery, cartoons and even action figures. It’s bright, fun and a comfortable and pleasant place to hang out for dinner or drinks.
On to the food and we were treated to a selection of light bites to sample across the evening. The full menu is large and varied with signature flavours and ingredients from across the South American world. You can have Ecuadorian style prawns to start, Brazilian classic Xim Xim for main and Mexican style churros to finish. A culinary adventure which I am looking forward to embarking upon.
|Stuffed jalapeno with sour cream
In the meantime, the dishes that we sampled were of a really high quality. Proper nachos, homemade from deep fried sections of tortilla were generously topped with a fresh salsa, sour cream and a particularly flavourful and delicious guacamole – along with cheese and jalapenos. Finger licking and delicious. Big fat jalapenos, stuffed with cheese and deep fried in breadcrumbs added a pleasant, but sensible heat for vegetarians and the rest to enjoy.
Succulent Cuban albondigas (meatballs) were served in a rich and thick tomato sauce, while my absolute favourite was the quesadilla – stuffed full of chicken, cheese and lightly spiced – they oozed and dribbled deliciously down the fingers. You have no option but to get stuck in with this style of food.
|Sweet potato and bean tacos (v)
I was less enthusiastic about the bean tacos, despite them being topped with a slice of avocado, my secret love. They looked the part and it was great to be able to taste the sweet potato and bean flavours individually, however I thought they were a little underseasoned – there was no kick or zing in this dish.
We also had mini dishes of the Brazilian Xim Xim brought around – chicken and prawns in a decadently creamy sauce served with rice. It was subtle in flavour, so the chicken and prawns were not drowned out, but the sauce was beautifully luxurious – a great dish.
First impressions are therefore resolutely positive. A friendly and welcoming staff team, a relaxed menu with fun food and a great cocktail menu make this have all the hallmarks of a restaurant that will be a real hit in Leicester. Many thanks to them for inviting us along to try their food and we are very much looking forward to going back to enjoy the full menu. Vamos!