This review originally appeared on the Culture Vulture website.
Just weeks before learning of the existence of Cielo Blanco, I had quite literally begged Mexican restaurant chain Wahaca to move further north than Stratford.
“PLEASE,” I bleated via the medium of tweet, “Leeds needs you.”
Unsurprisingly, my pleas were politely swept under the virtual rug and it seemed my obsession with Oaxacan street food would have to continue dictating my social commitments during trips to London.
But it was with the opening of the new Trinity shopping centre that I heard an eatery boasting a similar menu to that of my southern fave was opening its doors.
I. COULDN’T. WAIT. So down I went with my pal a week last Thursday, salivating at the thought of all the guacamole I could now consume not 200 miles away, but on my own doorstep.
On arrival, it was evident the restaurant was popular, but being a party of only two I immediately spotted a table that could happily have accommodated us, albeit in the breeze of the front door. “Table for two?” I asked the host chirpily.
“It’s going to be about 15 minutes,” he said, consulting what appeared to be a reservations list on an iPad. “Can I have your name?”
“Oh we’ll just hang about here and wait,” I replied breezily.
“Well that’s fine, but I still need your name,” he snapped.
Sufficiently scolded, we were asked to sit at the bar, where we waited. And waited. And waited a bit more, until I asked, with a touch of impatience, if we had, perhaps, been forgotten about?
Out came the iPad: “Good job you mentioned it, your name hasn’t saved in the reservations list.”
Oh, the perils of technology.
We were asked to wait another five minutes when I pointed out the still empty table by the door, which by this point had been vacant for half an hour.
“Oh,” our host laughed, “I could have sat you there 30 minutes ago.”
Our waitress quickly came to take our order – a delectable sounding spread of steak tostada, pulled pork tacos, chicken quesadilla, achiote ribs, turtle bean tostadas and a squash salad.
While we waited for our food, we nibbled on some crisp, homemade tortilla chips served with three thimbles containing salsa and an unidentified green liquid. Our extra guacamole arrived a few minutes later in the world’s smallest ramekin and our mental scorecards flashed: Wahaca 1, Cielo Blanco -100.
Around 25 minutes later, our mains began to arrive and we delved in, eager to judge the Mexican fare by our high Wahacan standards.
But no sooner had I ravenously pounced on the steak tostada, it was whisked away by the host who declared that they “had caught at the edges”.
With my stomach practically eating itself by this point, I settled for picking at the turtle bean tostadas – where I could find no evidence of beans – and the pork tacos with pineapple salsa – where I could find no fruit.
Minor foodie gripes aside however, this is a restaurant which undoubtedly knows its way around a pig. The aforementioned tacos provided satisfying bite-size portions of juicy shredded pork and the meat on the achiote ribs slipped off the bone and into the accompanying pot of sweet and spicy barbecue sauce like they couldn’t wait to get it on.
The mix of flavours and textures in the squash salad was a refreshing break from the cheesy onslaught of the chicken quesadilla, with the beetroot and pumpkin seeds adding an earthiness to the dish.
Standout item however (when it returned ten minutes later) was the steak tostada. Chunks of North Yorkshire rump cooked medium rare and slathered in a jalapeno ketchup: a blissful morsel if ever I ate one.
Despite the unnecessary addition of grated carrot on every dish and the appearance on my plate of a very black hair which could not have come from my own bleached blonde head, the food was of good quality and could easily compete with, ahem, other successful Mexican restaurants. It was also good value for money, at just £10.95 a head.
But on the whole, the experience was let down by the hit-and-miss service. Perhaps the early teething problems will become a thing of the past when the staff and restaurant are more established. For my money however, a quicker turnaround in the kitchen and a lot less carrot would go a long way to improving Cielo Blanco.