From the off I have to fess up and reveal I’ve never been to Mexico. The nearest I’ve been to the real deal is a restaurant in Bradford we used to go to 20 years ago called Cocina which served huge plates of re-fried beans and pitchers of beer. The food was delicious in a rustic sort of way but I can’t vouch for its authenticity.
Luckily, at the table with us is someone who has travelled widely in Latin America so we defer to Judith. All hail Judith!
Pinche Pinche’s previous incarnation was the slightly moribund (some say) Salsa Mexicana. Owner Simon Heath took a year’s sabbatical and travelled to Mexico to put some research in, bringing his experience back to Leeds 7 and applying it to the new menu. Those who ate there previously say it’s 10 times better now. Research well done then.
It’s early in the week so I wasn’t expecting a full house, but as the evening wears on it packs out. There’s all sorts of folk here having fun. I like the uplifting vibe, there’s something democratic about it, all embracing, inclusive.
The space is vibrant; burnt orange walls are hung with iconography and Day of the Dead masks, floors are wood and tables black formica. It’s certainly atmospheric, with a soundtrack more bossa nova than mariachi. A long padded banquette down one side is studded with cushions clad in kitsch cactus patterns with various messages written on the wall above. We hazard a guess at “A fatta de pan. Tortilla” but ask our friendly, unflappable and knowledgeable waiter Adam. Roughly, it’s “To hell with bread. Tortilla!”
A good looking cocktail list promises “a wide selection of hand-crafted, artisanal 100 per cent Agave Tequilas”. So there’s more than one way to drink a Margarita. I watch with longing as they get shaken at the bar and distributed round the room to non drivers. Grrr... The beer drinkers were happy though with a bottle or two of Negra Modelo which appeared to perfectly complement the spicy food and take the heat out of the more fiery dishes.
The menu features Tex Mex classics; fajitas (wraps you construct yourself at the table) quesadillas (grilled flour tortilla filled with melted cheese and pico de gallo) and enchiladas, burritos and chimichangas appear, plus antojitos, street food designed to be eaten with your hands. Too late I spot something called tlacoyos, described as torpedo shaped fried cakes made of maize flour topped with refried black beans and salsa verde. Next time.
Hass avocado guacamole is a pale green, punchy but creamy at the same time, a dish from heaven, scooped up with hand cut tortilla chips. Never has guacamole been so more-ish. Black olive, avocado and chipotle dip is big on taste if small on colour. But what matters is the hit of flavour.
Enchiladas (literally “to season with chile”) come bursting with herbed shredded chicken topped with sour cream and Jack cheese – a reliable favourite but the enchiladas de Barbacoa with slow braised lamb in Pasilla chile marinade is outstanding.
Mole chicken enchiliadas (on the specials board) is a dish found typically in Mexico City, and you could say it sums up the style here. Mole is a sauce made with 15 different chilies, nuts and pure chocolate, and in this case it covers two soft tortillas filled with shredded chicken and baked in the oven.
I’ve got to say it’s possibly one of the least appetizing plates of food I’ve seen in a while, at the same time one of the most interesting – and ultimately one of the tastiest. It’s a dish that just keeps giving; fireworks go off first in your mouth, then your brain and finally your feet – not with heat, despite the ridiculous number of chilies, but with subtlety and zing. A surprisingly complicated dance between sweet and savoury, it scores a direct hit.
We’re full, but we never let that get in the way of dessert. Tequila and lime sorbet infused with strawberry arrives in a cute shot glass and sets off another volley of pyrotechnics. My sweet potato and chocolate balls (cooked in orange juice, rolled in cocoa and coconut and served with a slew of mango coulis)are a mistake, but only because I’ve eaten so much. I only manage one, but what a stunner it is. Luxurious truffle-y nirvana with a spike of citrus.
Chef Ana Corona, originally from Cancun, says that her grandmother could tell whether food had been made with love, sadness or excitement. When the Mexican film Like Water for Chocolate came out I remember thinking how sensual food can be. I was standing in the fish shop at the time, but the principle remains.
More good news is that they open at 8.30am for breakfast. The even better news is that you can get churros. Churros! Angels-wing-light, fluffy doughnut fingers, basically. The best breakfast this side of Guadalajara.
As for authenticity; it wouldn’t have surprised me if Frida Kahlo had pitched up with Diego Rivera and ordered a couple of Margaritas.
Pinche Pinche, 116a Harrogate Road, Chapel Allerton, Leeds LS7 4NY. Open Tuesday-Friday 8.30am–2.30pm, then 6pm til late; Saturday 8.30am-4pm, then 6pm til late; Sunday 5pm til late. 0113 268 1110, www.pinchepinche.com