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I spent my foodie formative years in California, so it’s no wonder that Mexican cuisine has a special place in my…um…stomach! Chef Ernesto Puga Cardoso has created a menu of classic and inventive dishes, subtly weaving in flavours of the Middle East and Orient. Hallelujah!
Caldera, or caldron, is a celebration of the culinary and the multi-culti melting pot. Just a ten minute walk from Hackney Central Station, this area has become gentrified without losing its diversity. If it’s not on your radar, it’s well worth a visit, especially now that there is modern Mexican on offer. And the prices cannot be beat! “Twofers” every day from 6 to 8 and on Tuesday, all tacos are £3!!!
The place is laid back, with a bit of edge and splashes of vibrant Mexican colour. I was greeted warmly by the bartender and our waitress was sweet as can be. While I waited for my guest, I ordered a passionfruit and chili margarita (£8.75). Not knowing about the “twofers” I was very happily surprised when my drink came as a pair. Red chillies, like devilish horns, perched on the rims. Delicious! Passion zing and a chili salted rim added fun and flavour while staying true to the classic. My intention of slurping them both up was foiled when my friend arrived and immediately confiscated one of them.
We started with totopos and guacamole (£6.25). Freshly made blue and yellow corn chips are so much better than the bagged variety. The dip could have used more punch but was fresh and tasty.
Before the food arrived, I ordered a glass of 2015 Crianza Rioja (£6) and girlfriend opted for another margie. This time, kumquat and coriander (£8.75). Oops. 2 more! Naturally, I was obliged to drink one. Another super drink. No salt, the bitter/sweet of kumquat and that special tart taste of coriander. They don’t call it happy hour for nothing!
The tacos come in 3’s. Baja-style cod (£8) is batter fried and served with chipotle aioli and prawn tacos (£7) with a spicy chili sauce. Both were great quality, absolutely fresh, full of zip and surprisingly, as with all the dishes, beautifully plated. Hats off to the kitchen and the care they take. You can see it and taste it. A side of Romanesco broccoli with garlic and onion dressing (£6) was a delight. Cardoso’s addition of miso is inspired. Asian/Mexican fusion is hard to beat.
Whole baby chicken al pastor with Habanero and jackfruit sauce (£10) will earn a return visit. For this price, I could not believe the quality. Classic al pastor is pork marinated in pineapple, chili and spices and grilled. It works a treat with chicken. Tender and succulent, spicy and fruity. Ten out of ten! Again, the plating was a picture.
Stuffed to the gills, I opted for the bartender dessert. A stemmed glass with biscuit crumb, dulce de leche and cream. A perfect ending at £3. Beat that!