By Anaam Ikram
From the streets of Mexico, to the aromatic kitchens of a traditional Mexican home, Cantina Kahlo brings to Bahrain an exciting and authentic Mexican dining experience, which takes guests through a gastronomic trip of Mexico and allowing diners to experience the culture. Located at The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain, Cantina Kahlo commemorates the lush Mexican heritage and art to host diners in a setting that transports them out of Bahrain and into an exciting dining journey like never before. Perle Magazine got to experience the cuisine and spoke to Chef de Cuisine, Cesar De Leon Torres about the tantalising menu at Cantina Kahlo and their efforts to keep it true to Mexican culinary practices.
Boasting an extensive menu that highlights the traditional and specialty Mexican dishes as well as the popular street foods, Cantina Kahlo offers its customers a wide variety of dishes that allow them to experience true Mexican flavours. Importing the key ingredients from Mexico to ensure the taste remains as close to that one would find dining in Mexico, Cantina Kahlo’s menu is hearty and delicious. The menu, which was created by Chef Cesar, has a selection of salads, soups, street food options, seafood dishes, desserts, and the ever-famous traditional Mexican Tacos.
Starting the culinary experience with the traditional Mexican drinks, Agua de Jamaica made from hibiscus flower water, Horchata water that is a rice based drink, and Tamarindo water, at Cantina Kahlo the drinks as well are created keeping in mind Mexican taste and flavours to serve as a cooling accompaniment with the food. The main attraction from the starters is the Guacamole, the avocado-based dip mixed with home-made tortilla chips served in a traditional molcajete, a volcanic rock that has been a part of preparing Mexican cuisine from the pre-Hispanic era. The molcajete, is also used to make a variety of salsas in the homes of Mexico. Along with the guacamole, the Salsa Fresca is also an enjoyable starter made from fresh ingredients with sweet flavours of pineapple, pomegranate, and mango are mixed with savoury ingredients and a little bit of chilli create a delicious dish. The dishes are prepared as soon as an order comes in and their fresh flavours can be tasted throughout.
For those who enjoy seafood as starters, the Aguachile de Pulpo is perfect. It originates from the northwest region of Mexico, and is liquid in texture because of the blend of coriander, lime juice, and chilli together and is poured on the seafood used in the dish, which, in this case was octopus. Adding a twist to Mexican dining, Cantina Kahlo also serves the special Latin American dish, Ceviches, and offers three variations (one being a vegetarian option). Che De Leon prepared the Ceviche Hamachi with limejuice – to cure the fish – and combined together the rich flavours of pepper, pomegranate, coriander, cucumber, onion, chilli, and avocado to create a dish that was not only colourful in sight but also in flavour with the fish especially soft due to its special preparation method. The vegetarian ceviche is prepared using fresh vegetables such as mushrooms, jicama, avocado, tomato, and onion, coriander leaves, and some chilli for a hearty starter option. The aguachile and the cheviches are also eaten with corn chips.
The small but delicious selection of salads at Cantina Kahlo provides an insight into the interesting combination of ingredients that are used to create traditional Mexican salads. The Quinoa y Atun is the seafood salad option made using two different types of quinoa and tuna as the main ingredients, as well as avocados, and grilled corn, garnished with fresh greens. With Quinoa and avocados being ingredients that are rich in fibre and necessary fats, the Quinoa y Atun is a wholesome dish for those who wish to enjoy a meal that is filling but not too heavy. The Verde salad is a tasty combination of greens, avocado, heirloom tomatoes, queso fresco that is grilled and dices, fried chickpeas, with lime dressing, and garnished with grated queso fresco. The fresh tasting salad is rich in taste and the crispy queso fresco and chickpeas add a delicious crunchy element. Offered in a generous serving size, the salad can be enough on its own.
“It is easy to write a menu, but the hard part is to make sure all the flavours go together and everything is balanced”, says Chef Cesar. Working with a team of 15 chefs in the kitchen Chef Cesar says they aim to keep the flavours as close to traditional Mexican tastes, and add their special touches to the presentation of the food.
Having worked extensively in different countries after receiving his culinary education in Argentina to become an expert in all kinds of cuisine, especially Mexican cuisine, Chef Cesar’s path to becoming a chef was inspired by his passion to learn about different people and different cultures. Initially wanting to become a pilot for the very same reason, Chef Cesar found himself drawn to the culinary arts after having experienced the excitement of being in a kitchen and still being able to purse his dream of exploring different cultures through their cuisine. “I started to see the world in a different way. Many times it makes you appreciate the food you eat because each dish has a history, a background story behind it, and you can feel that when you taste different dishes. When I speak to my chefs about Mexican food, and you can hear the passion when they talk about it and describe how their mothers used to cook the food – with all their heart”, Chef says, and adds that this history is important and they try to maintain as much of that as possible in Cantina Kahlo so as not to lose the authenticity of the cuisine.
For the sharing platter, Chef Cesar presented the Flautas Vegetarianas, Sopes Con Carne, and Queso Fundido. Inspired by the popular street foods of Mexico and offering their gourmet version, restaurant staff, Maria de Pablos, explains it is common to see vendors making all these dishes from scratch for customers to enjoy them as they are going about their day. The Flautas Vegetarianas are the only hard-shell tacos served at Cantina Kahlo, as she explains that traditionally hard-shell tacos are not used that often in Mexican cuisine. The taco – which is usually made using chicken – which is a flour tortilla filled with sour cream, fresh cheese, chilli sauce, and topped with some lettuce. A very common dish prepared in Mexican homes, Maria explains you can see the mothers and grandmothers regularly preparing the dish. The Sopes Con Carne is prepared on freshly made dough, topped with wagyu short ribs, sauce made from refried beans, fresh cheese, and salsa fresca. Bursting with flavours, the bite-sized dish is perfect to share as a snack while waiting for mains. The Queso Fundido is a melted cheese dish with mushroom, pico de gallo, morita chilli, served with freshly made flour tortillas so the diners can make their own tacos. The slightly spicy dish is very rich in flavour as each individual ingredient can be tasted with each bite.
No meal would be complete without the typical Mexican dish, the tacos. Made with corn tortillas, the tacos are synonymous with any type of Mexican cuisine. The restaurant menu boasts 8 different variations of the soft tacos with chicken, red meat, seafood, and vegetables, as well as the option of ordering a selection of 6 tacos. The Al Pastor taco is made using chicken marinated in pineapple juice and achiote paste – a very traditional Mexican ingredient used for flavour and colour – decorated with a dried pineapple slice, resulting in a delicious chicken dish with a hint of sweet aftertaste. The Tacos Alambre are the flank steak tacos and a little bit spicy as they are made using ancho sauce, but the flavours are enriched even more with the addition of red bell peppers and cheese. The Hongos Y Flor De Calabaza are the vegetarian tacos made with mushrooms that are sautéed with onions and garlic, sour cream, and zucchini flower added on top. The tacos are incredibly scrumptious and will always leave the diners wanting for more. The salsa that accompanies the tacos also adds zest to each taco option and truly allows the diners to understand the Mexican dining culture.
For the entrees, the talented Chef Cesar, whose expertise lies within Mexican cuisine and general passion for creating visually appealing and mouth-watering food, created the Huachinango A La Veracruzana and Costillas de res Braseadas. Bringing the taste of Veracruz to Bahrain, the Huachinango is a seafood dish made with sea bass prepared in the same manner as it would be in Mexico. Paired with a tangy and spicy sauce, the Huachinango is topped with a crispy Chicharrón made from fish skin, making the dish look as unique as it tastes. The Costillas de res Braseadas is an ideal dish for meat lovers as the Wagyu short rib is braised with vegetables and spices and cooked for 2 and half hours to make ensure its soft and tender texture. Topped with a Mole de Olla sauce and served with grilled vegetables, the Costillas de res Braseadas is a flavorous and hearty meal. Traditionally, the chef explains, the Mole de Olla is prepared like a stew, but to add his own personal touch to the dish, he prepared it as a sauce and is complemented with a black bean sauce as well that adds extra richness to the overall dish.
Finishing off the meal on a sweet note, Chef Cesar prepared one of the most enjoyed Mexican street-dessert, Churros, and the very traditional Pastel de Tres Leches cake. The Pastel de Tres Leches is a soft vanilla cake with three-milk sauce. The three-milk sauce is made from evaporated, condensed, and normal milk and is poured over it. Personalising the dish, Chef Cesar added more flavour to the cake by adding mango and strawberry, and topped it off with vanilla whipped cream and meringue to the dish to balance the very sweet taste of the cake. Maria adds that the dish is a staple in almost every celebration, the Pastel de Tres Leches is a sweet and scrumptious treat. The Churros, found commonly everywhere and in an abundance of flavours, are served with chocolate, Dulce de Leche, and guava – a popularly enjoyed fruit in Mexico – sauces. Maria adds in Mexico, the Churros are much bigger in size and are available in many different flavours, with some already filled with chocolate sauce. At Cantina Kahlo, the freshly made dough is rolled into sticks and deep-fried, then coated with cinnamon and sugar and served hot. The crispy sweet sticks pair perfectly with the sauces, and allows the diners to truly experience the simple yet delightful Mexican gastronomy.
Mirroring the hotel’s art-inspired aesthetic, Cantina Kahlo’s interior reflects a similar theme keeping in mind the Mexican culture and results in an uplifting but comfortable and cosy ambiance. With deep sea-green walls and ceiling, and brightly coloured furniture, and walls donning various art pieces, and even a portrait of revolutionary Mexican artist and after whom the restaurant has been named, Frida Kahlo, the restaurant itself is stands as a work of art. In the daytime, ample sunlight is allowed him, brightly lightening up the space, and allowing diners to notice the carefully placed details that portray elements of the Mexican culture as a whole. In the evening, the lights are dimmed and diners can enjoy their meal in the pleasant setting, as they revel in the rich Mexican cuisine. For those who enjoy an al fresco dining setting, the outdoor seating area is perfect faces the Ritz Carlton Hotel’s picturesque manmade lagoon and lush gardens providing a stunning view with delicious food, and also leads to the Kahlo Club, the open-air lounge in which the diners can indulge in a smaller version of the menu. “When you come to Cantina Kahlo, you have actually crossed the border into Mexico. When you come here you see we are really bringing to Bahrain whatever you will find in Mexico, from the food to the drinks, and you’ll find we celebrate the colours and traditions of Mexico.”
A suitable venue for any celebratory occasion as well, Cantina Kahlo’s spacious location provides ample space and for diners to mark their special moments at the restaurant and hosts them in an inviting ambiance, making their moments even more memorable. Whether it is for lunch, dinner, or sharing special moments with family and friends, Cantina Kahlo is the perfect spot in Bahrain to take pleasure in authentic and delicious Mexican cuisine and culture under one roof.
For more information and reservations:
The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain
(00973) 1758 6499
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