Dinner at a Mexican. Drinks there too!

So themed restaurants… What’s the deal?

Well sometimes I like a change. A change is good right?

This post is all about the ‘outing’ for my 26th birthday. I’ve always wanted to go to Chiquitos and try their cocktails, and as I rarely get to treat myself to a meal out; I felt it was the right time for a Mexican.

First let’s talk about the food, it’s unusual for me to discuss food on this blog I know, but for the sake of this post please allow it…

“Southern Fried Chicken breast and BBQ Pulled Pork”

…with skin on fries, onion rings and coleslaw.

This one of many choices from their Tex-Mex menu, it wasn’t too spicy but had just enough kick to let you know it had something about it. Pretty much everyone in our group had pulled pork of some variation on their plate so we definitely worked them hard on this dish.

A classic Mexican dish, like those you can expect to be served at Chiquito's
A classic Mexican dish, like those you can expect to be served at Chiquito’s

It was a great tasting meal. One which, when compared to other similar restaurants (such as Frankie & Benny’s) was far superior in every way. The member of staff we had was friendly and happy to help however he could, as well as suggesting the best way for us to order so as to save a little more money. So to summarise: Fantastic food, fantastic service and overall a fantastic day out.

Chiquito - A fantastically themed Mexican Restaurant & Bar.
Chiquito – A fantastically themed Mexican Restaurant & Bar.

So now let us move on to important section: the cocktails…

The first thing I do in places like this, is pick up the drinks menu and flip straight to the cocktail section. No, not because I’m set to get hammered, but I in fact like to have a brows and see what cocktails they have from a professional point of view. You can really tell a lot about the companies stance on cocktails from their menu: If it’s just classic cocktails like the Margarita and sea breeze then you know they don’t really care as much as they should (you’ll also find their beer/wine selection is rather large too). However if they have some themed cocktails and even a nice selection of the relevant themed spirit (in this case it’s a Mexican restaurant so Tequila would be the spirit of choice) then you know they have thought a lot about what they can offer and what cocktails are within the theme. Unsurprisingly I prefer the latter when I check out a restaurant.

If I go to an General American (U.S.A.) themed bar, id assume bourbon/vodka drinks would be the specific spirit, likewise I went to an Italian restaurant I’d like to see some Amaretto, Limoncello, Grappa & other aperitif’s on the menu. It’s a simple case of fitting the specific spirits to the theme, something a lot of restaurants do not tend to do (I find Frankie & Benny’s are guilty of this among others).

Chiquito’s have a very extensive collection of ‘themed’ and ‘neutral’ cocktails, as well as having different sections for vodka, rum and, of course, several pages dedicated to tequila (including the very nice touch of offering a cheeseboard style selection of their ‘premium’ tequilas).

Even with all the choice on offer (around 14 pages give or take), from great sounding cocktails like: “The June Bug” and the refreshingly sounding “Key West Cooler”. Yet it was surprisingly easy to pick the first cocktail the “Dark ‘N Stormy”.

Now in my true ‘Rum bandit’ form, I went straight to the Rum section of the menu. This was met with what can only be called ‘fate’. At the top of the list, was a pretty looking recipe going by the name of “Dark ‘N Stormy”.

Now I’ve been making these at my home with real (freshly squeezed) lime juice, fiery ginger beer and a whole host of sugar syrups/cordials for flavour tweaks (my favourite recipe is below)…

My Favoured Home-Made Dark ‘N Stormy Recipe

2 measure Kraken Black Spiced Rum

1 measure Elderflower cordial

½ measure lime juice

Top up Sainsbury’s Fiery Ginger beer

Build this drink in the order given, over ice in a tall Collins glass. Top up with the ginger beer and stir before serving with 2 straws and a lime wedge for garnish.

So naturally I felt impelled to try this first. I see from the menu that they make it with proper Bermudan Rum, Goslings Black Seal Rum – no less, and mixed in with Goslings Ginger Beer.

Now that’s all well and good (COCKTAIL SNOB ALERT), but the picture shows it also having a lime wedge floated on top (in an attractive jam jar glass as well) but there is NO mention of the Falernum that should ideally be involved (although in almost all cases simple sugar syrup would be used – although they make no mention of this either)…

Note: Sugar Syrup/Falernum (slightly alcoholic Bermudan sugar syrup), are in fact optional ingredients and as such did not affect the review at the end of this post…

As far as I could see their typical recipe is as follows:

Chiquito’s Dark ‘N Stormy

1 measure Goslings Black Seal Rum

Top up Goslings Ginger Beer

Wedge of lime to garnish.

Now this recipe is basic, at best. Taking into consideration the prices and the fact that the drinks come secondary to the food; the drink is pretty good. Simple and effective, it’s not going to win awards, but what they lack in detail they make up for by serving it in the pretty jam jar glasses.

Although technically speaking the above recipe is the classic Dark ‘N Stormy recipe, the drink I was given contained no lime, in fact the first one had a lemon slice instead. Whilst it may only look like a superficial mistake, the taste the lemon (or worse yet a lack of lime) gave to the drink skewed the flavour slightly. It is a shame as they are one of the very few places licensed to sell Goslings in the UK. The only thing I will say in their defence is that it was first thing on Easter Sunday that we had this meal. And as such, I shall return next week to see if the lime improves the flavour from the drink I had (in which case I shall publish a re-review of the cocktail).

Next up: Mai Tai.

Now this cocktail is rather famous as rum based exotic cocktails go. Bought for me by my friends (after several ‘this is the one I will have next’ comments) this drink was slightly longer and fruitier than expected. Also it’s worth noting that there was a flavour I could not quite put my finger on, and it kind of ruined the drink if I’m honest. All in all it came down to the drink having too many flavours and nothing to tie them altogether (like some fresh lime juice for example).

Compare these two very different recipes:

Classic Mai Tai recipe:

1 measure White Rum

1 measure Golden Rum

1 measure Dark Rum

½ measure Lime Juice

½ measure Orgeat Syrup

½ measure Orange Curacao

Top Tip: this is the most universally accepted ‘Trader Vic’ style Mai Tai.

Chiquito’s Mai Tai recipe:

Bacardi Rum

Triple Sec

Apricot Liqueur

Pineapple Juice

Grenadine Syrup

Note: I couldn’t gauge the amount of each ingredient used in the Chiquito recipe, although I assume it was similar measurements to the classic (with some fruit juice to lengthen the drink).

The thing with the Mai Tai is that back during the day, the recipe was kept secret. This mean recipes had to be made by taste, and well, let’s just say sometimes you’ll get Pineapple juice, but most of the time (rightly so) you wouldn’t.

The problem I have here is that the drink was slightly too sweet, and there was nothing holding all the flavours together. If you work for Chiquito’s then take note: take out the pineapple juice and maybe try something like cranberry juice, although it would be further from a Mai Tai, it would taste ten times better (especially when you add in the lime juice). I suppose the thing with ‘tiki’ style drinks like these is that tropical juices have the ability of lengthening the drink, without taking away from its exotic taste, which is obviously what they’ve gone for.

I believe that is what Chiquito’s have done with their version, made it both economically viable as well as easier on the alcohol so it is more popular among those not use to it (people who will try it when eating there – as opposed to off the street drinkers).

Next up: the Alabama Slammer

This cocktail is vodka based but still slightly fruity. I thought this to be a pretty good end to the trials, as it was rather exotic but also had a slightly deep south feel.

Chiquitos Alabama Slammer recipe:

Eristoff Vodka

Southern Comfort

Disaronno Amaretto

Orange Juice

Grenadine Syrup

Note: Again I couldn’t gauge how much of each ingredient was used, but I’d imagine it was 2 Vodka, 1 SoCo, ½ Amaretto, 2 OJ and ½ Grenadine… although that’s just an educated guess…

Now for the hard part… Let me explain: As with most cocktails, especially ones not commonly known, the difference in recipes can be endless. Most of these recipes use the same ingredients, but in different amounts, whilst some use completely different ingredients altogether…

The most consistent recipe I could find actually included Sloe Gin:

A classic Alabama Slammer cocktail recipe could be:

1 measure Southern Comfort

1 measure Vodka

1 measure Amaretto

1 measure Sloe Gin

2 measures Orange Juice

Dash Grenadine

Top Tip: the vodka and SoCo measures in this drink are interchangeable. If you prefer more SoCo then balance the alcohol more to your tastes, just make sure it still works out to the same measure amounts, i.e. 1.5 measures SoCo – ½ measure vodka).

Note: For any of you out there thinking “that sure looks a little like a Long Island Iced-Tea” you’re kind of right as some people do in fact call it the Long Island Iced Tea of the south…

Chiquito’s Mexican Bar & Grill; a summary of the day…

So Chiquito’s is a well-known bar/restaurant chain over here in the UK, arguably not as popular as Frankie & Benny’s (although they are both owned by the same parent company!). My personal preference (along with most of my friends’) is Chiquito’s. This is not just because of their superior menus (both food and drink menus are much more thought out) and food quality, but also the quality of their staff. The members of staff in Chiquito’s always seem like they enjoy working there, which I always find is better for morale in any business (and its customers). You also get a sense of knowledge from most of their staff.

In regards to the food served this time around, there was not a complaint to be found. The cocktails were good quality for the establishment in which they were served. Let’s face it; you don’t go to restaurants like this and expect the best cocktails in the world, but you still expect quality. And they were good enough for the quality you’d expect.

Whilst not necessarily all the classic recipes, they have added their own flavours and given them a tex-mex vibe. This makes the drinks a little longer, and arguably easier to drink with the meals, but they make up for this by having a large variety of cocktails using different spirits.

The Tequila: How Mexican do you want to go?

Tequila is by all accounts the most common spirit associated with Mexico. And as a Mexican themed restaurant, you’d assume that chiquito’s would have some variety in the tequila they serve. This is something they have not overlooked. When walking into the bar area and looking across the copious amount of bottles on display you’ll notice the big names; Jack Daniels, Eristoff Vodka, Goslings Black Seal Rum. But look closer and you’ll also see a rather extensive collection of Tequila’s. These brands are listed here (please forgive me for any missed, I didn’t have time to write all of them out):

Jose Cuervo Especial,

Jose Cuervo Clasico,

Gran Centenario Reposado,

Cazadores Anejo,

Patron XO Café,

Don Alvaro.

Tequila’s ranging from the brand leading ‘Jose Cuervo’ to the Ultra-Premium brand ‘Patron’ as well as a taster selection: choose 4 of their tequila’s to try with various complimenting flavours (citrus fruits & cinnamon).

Picture taken from www.Chiquito.co.uk: an example of a tequila samaple board.
Picture taken from http://www.Chiquito.co.uk: an example of a tequila sampling board.
I find this a perfect way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo!

Now for the cocktail reviews: This is a new feature and I’ve tried to be critical, but in a fair manner.

Dark ‘N Stormy

Recipe:

1 measure Goslings Black Seal Rum

Top up Goslings Ginger Beer

Wedge of lime to garnish.

 

Price: £5.50

Presentation      6.5/10

Ingredients         5/10

Taste                     5/10

Overall                 5.5/10

Mai Tai

Recipe:

Bacardi Rum

Triple Sec

Apricot Liqueur

Pineapple Juice

Grenadine Syrup

 

Price: £5.50

Presentation      3/10

Ingredients         7/10

Taste                     5/10

Overall                 5/10

Alabama Slammer

Recipe:

Eristoff Vodka

Southern Comfort

Disaronno Amaretto

Orange Juice

Grenadine Syrup

Price: £5.50

Presentation      5/10

Ingredients         8/10

Taste                     7/10

Overall                 6.7/10

These scores were given from a critical point of view. Although personally the Dark ‘N Stormy was my personal favourite, it was, overall, the bottom rated of the three. The Alabama Slammer benefitted from a nice garnish (the stemmed cherry added a little class to an otherwise dull drink).

The differences between the Alabama Slammer and Mai Tai were minimal, except for a slightly different taste (which you’d expect seeing as one is a rum based cocktail, the other a vodka one) but not enough to tell the drinks apart. This would not be a big issue if it were not for the fact that the drinks looked exactly the same! Minus the cherry of course!

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