Seven ways with... Mexican food

By Alison Baker

- Last updated on GMT

Albion Tavern: sells approximately 50 picnic boards every week
Albion Tavern: sells approximately 50 picnic boards every week

Related tags Mexican cuisine Tortilla

With 2015 officially ‘the Year of Mexico’ in the UK, Alison Baker looks at different ways in which licensees can utilise all that Mexican food has to offer.

1 Barbecue benefits

Mexican food, with its summertime associations, makes a great addition to any pub’s barbecue offering. Northumbrian freehold pub the Feathers, in Hedley-on-the-Hill, opted to host a Mexican taqueria and barbecue last bank holiday Monday to draw in the crowds. Customers could choose from a range of taco fillings including roe deer and Hidalgo-style buffalo worms, opting for one taco as a snack and three for a main course. Antojitos, or ‘little cravings’, a seafood offering and a selection of premium Mexican craft beers and themed cocktails were also on the menu.

Footfall was double that expected, with more than 300 tacos sold. Co-proprietor Helen Greer says: “The event was great fun and we got to offer something completely different. Next time, we would be more prepared for the large numbers of people this event attracted and have a faster barbecue system in place.”

2 Theme nights

Operators wishing to ride the Mexican wave of popularity, without fundamentally changing their food offering, should consider hosting a theme night such as the one planned by chef/owner James Lowe at his pub, the Maypole Inn, in Thurloxton, Somerset, later this month. Diners at the Enterprise Inns site will enjoy an all-you-can-eat Mexican buffet for £10 per head. Pubco JD Wetherspoon has also introduced a Mexican night to its weekly food clubs.

The Mexican Monday menu offers a choice of four dishes, plus a drink, including a Naked Burrito lower-carb option. Similarly, Northbar, a group of craft beer bars in Leeds, has introduced a Tequila Tuesday themed night at its six sites. For £6, guests can enjoy three shots of El Jimador tequila, served with a verdita chaser of coriander, mint, chilli, pineapple juice and salt or two tequila cocktails for £10. Nachos with a tequila fondue are also available for snacking.

The Plough, in Harborne, Birmingham, offered a range of chilli-flavoured specials to celebrate Birmingham’s annual chilli festival in September last year. The pub, which has a lose working relationship with Pip’s Hot Sauces, incorporated the company’s Nagatropolis super-hot chilli sauce into some of its chilli specials. Pip also invented a special chilli relish for the pub’s festival.

3 Go authentic

At the Squid & Whale, in Glasgow, you won’t find fajitas or chimichangas on the menu. The Scottish bar and cantina prides itself on offering real Mexican food, serving diners hearty chillies and moles, home-made salsa and guacamole and fresh fish ceviche. Antojitos, tostadas, tacos and burritos sit alongside plates such as Chile con Venado (£12.95), a venison and chorizo chilli with green rice and camarones (£12.95), consisting of sautéed shrimp, onion and peppers in a hot tomato and chilli sauce.

Licensees worried about alienating less adventurous customers should consider adding more modified dishes to menus. Wellington Pub Company lease, the Fox, at Burwell, in Cambridgeshire, has toned down many of its Mexican recipes to suit the British palate but offers more obscure dishes as specials.

Bob Taylor, chef-proprietor of the free-of-tie pub, which also sells about 40 varieties of tequila, has been successfully using Mexican cooking to enhance the rural pub’s destination status since taking over there more than 10 years ago.

4 Picnic boards

Shepherd Neame tenancy the Albion Tavern, in Faversham, Kent, offers Mexican picnic boards to share as part of its Mexican and English menu. Served on olive wood boards, the platters were introduced at the pub two years ago to replace the previously popular El Combo with a fresher, healthier alternative. Popular year-round, the pub sells approximately 50 picnic boards each week. Gareth Finney,chef/director of five-site parent company Ultimate Entertainment Services, says: “Because there are quite a few elements to the dish, it appeals to everyone, either as a sharing starter, as a snacking board with drinks or for families.”

The boards, which are priced at £16.35 and described as ‘a feast for two and titbits for four’, include house quesadillas, barbecue chicken wings, calamari and smoky pulled pork lettuce parcels as well as buttered corn cobs, corn chips and dips. The site, which has an 80:20 Mexican:English menu split, has been serving Mexican food for almost 10 years.  It now serves between 700 and 800 covers per week in a 45-seat pub.

5 Take it away

Gloucestershire pub the Royal Oak, in Tetbury, has recently launched a Tex Mex cantina, serving a selection of Deep South and Mexican-inspired dishes with the pub’s own Tetbury twist, from May to September. Available on Thursday and Friday evenings and from noon at weekends and on bank holidays, the full ‘Tet Mex’ menu is also available to take away.

“We wanted to offer customers the choice as well as encourage people to consider that we have an eating offer that is stand-alone from the pub and could easily pop up at parties, events and festivals, as well as at home” explains owner of the freehold pub, Kate Lewis. The menu is prepped, cooked and served from a fully fitted converted Airstream trailer.

Customers can phone in or order from the garden from a menu that includes pulled pork burritos, hot chilli dogs and shellfish gumbo. The pub uses compostable cardboard take-out boxes and recycled paper bags from eco-friendly packaging supplier, Vegware. Menu postcards are also available for customers to take home. As well as a takeaway option with a difference, the menu is proving a great hit both as an event catering offer and a more informal style of dining, as well as relieving pressure on the pub’s main kitchen and front-of-house team.

6 From sandwiches and bar snacks to desserts…

The diversity of flavours emanating from Mexico and the Deep South lends itself to a number of different catering options for licensees — from breakfast dishes such as the breakfast burrito and eggs bravos, sandwiches and bar snacks to appetising desserts — opening up valuable income streams.

Funnybone Foodservice, which specialises in American, Tex Mex and Mexican foods, has introduced a new range of products to satisfy the needs of licensees looking to introduce some Mexican heat to their snack offerings. Chefs can choose from from a range that includes taquitos — filled crispy flour tortillas ideal as an appetiser, starter or as part of a sharing platter; and empanadas — stuffed mini pastry parcels with fillings such as creamy corn, spiced beef and habanero chicken, which are designed to be used as a starter or sharing platter ingredient.

Many outlets offering a themed menu stop short of desserts but there is a range of traditional Mexican sweet dishes to enjoy. Options served the Fox & Hounds, in Funtington, West Sussex, include churros (crispy Mexican doughnuts) served with dark chocolate sauce, and Tres Leches cake, made with three types of milk — evaporated, condensed and cream — which was served with toffee sauce. Other sweets could include chimichangas and fruit filled burritos. 

7 Young at heart

Fun, colourful and vibrant, Mexican cuisine is as at home on a kids’ menu as it is elsewhere, with many operators now introducing southern-inspired dishes to their regular children’s offering. Restaurant bar and Mexican grill chain Chiquito offers younger diners a mini barbecue wrap alongside more traditional kids’ favourites and have recently introduced a young adults’ menu, for children aged between six and 14, offering a wider range of flavours. Dishes include make-your-own fajitas, grilled chicken skewers and a tortilla tower — a beef or veggie chilli layered between tortillas and topped with the company’s signature tomato sauce.

Similarly, Pachangas, the Mexican restaurant and bar offering from Oxfordshire-based pub operator Brakspear, offers a Mexikids menu to its younger customers. Formerly the Beer Tree, in Henley-on-Thames, the restaurant’s menu includes chicken fajitas for young diners to roll themselves, barbecue ribs and tacos with a choice of fillings. Pinatas are also available on request.

Basmati rice burritos

There’s an opportunity to be innovative with Mexican-themed menu options, claims Mark Lyddy, head of foodservice at rice supplier Tilda.

One such approach, he suggests, is to follow a trend in casual dining by adding the “versatile and popular” burrito to menus.

“Burritos are easy to make, cheap to produce, increasingly in demand and incredibly adaptable — a true all-day option for pubs to profit from,” Lyddy says.

Tilda Foodservice supplies most high-street Mexican chains, and Lyddy claims there has been a move away from the usual long-grain rice to basmati because of its “superb flavour and presentation credentials”.

“Basmati is very much a ‘calorie bargain’ — a half cup cooked serving is just over 100 calories, meaning it is healthier than long-grain rice and keeps you fuller for longer,” he adds.

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