Food review, El Guaca, Newmarket: 'Great-tasting, simple Mexican food'
- Credit: Simon Weir/Archant
I can't wait for pubs and restaurants to reopen for indoor service again - I'm sure you feel the same. This past weekend hammered home how hard the enforced outdoor operations are for everyone, as my planned restaurant review was a total wash-out. Gardeners will tell you we needed the rain, but it's not what was wanted for eating in an exposed area. Disconsolate, I got a takeaway instead.
Come Monday, I emailed the editor to say: I know I'm on deadline, but it was too wet for the planned review; is there anywhere doing takeaway food you'd like me to cover tonight. The answer (clearly) was Newmarket's El Guaca Mexican Grill... the very place I'd been to for Saturday night's takeaway.
Now, I regard this as a good thing. I'd be more than happy to have Mexican food every day of the week anyway, but the prospect of returning to El Guaca 48 hours after the weekend's meal delighted both me and my partner, Ali - and she's not such a spice-fiend. So that already tells you that it's pretty good.
Though I think perhaps Ali was happy to go back for her starter alone. The jalapeno poppers (£6.75) are simple spicy peppers filled with cream cheese, coated in a gluten-free crumb and deep fried, served with a little plastic pot of a spicy salsa (NB: having eaten in the restaurant when it first opened, I promise you their presentation is better than my home-plating for these pics). They are delicious. "To be honest, I could have a couple of portions and call that a meal," Ali admitted.
I'd gone for the southwest spring rolls (£6.25) which aren't so much spring rolls but tightly sealed tortillas filled with chipotle chicken, peppers and a large amount of oozing cheese. The menu says they're deep-fried, but they certainly weren't greasy. Instead they were soft, tasty and only mildly spicy.
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If you like your Mexican food to be fiery, you need to specify when ordering: as a rule, I'd say the dishes range from suitable-for-children to mildly piquant, rather than outright hot. This makes sense, as you're unlikely to get anything that's too outrageous for cautious eaters, but the chilli level can be dialled up to suit - with takeaways, I found in the past that it means they come with an extra pot of potent chilli sauce that you can add to taste, but this time I forgot to request it.
That meant my main course of the chipotle chicken enchilada (£12.45) was big on flavour but quite mild. The chicken flavour came through well, with a smoky hint of chilli, tamed by the creamy sauce. It came with red rice (again, my plating doesn't do it justice) and a hit of avocado. My only criticism was that, for me, it could have had more rice - but I'm a large human with an endless appetite for Mexican food... I suspect the portion size is about perfect for most people.
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Still, to be on the safe side I'd also ordered a trio of side dishes: extra guacamole (£3.95), red jalapeno coleslaw (£2.25) and sweet potato fries (£3.50). The guacamole was superb: zingy with lime and coriander, behind the rich and creamy avocado flavour. The coleslaw provided a nice, fresh crunch, with the occasional spike of heat from the pepper running through it. The sweet potato fries were tasty, though they'd sacrificed a little crispness to the takeaway container (but sweet potato fries are never as crisp as potato ones).
Having had the outstanding hake in salsa (£13.95) on Saturday, Ali opted instead for the fish taco (£9.95). This is two small fillets of hake ("It tastes really fishy," noted Ali) in soft tortillas, with guacamole, salad and a green salsa that gave the whole thing an extra and very tasty dimension. I'd thought it looked like a small portion - part of my justification for getting the fries for us to share - but in fact Ali struggled to finish it.
El Guaca does offer desserts - ice cream, churros with dulce de leche, bunuelos (another kind of Mexican doughnut) - but I didn't think any of them would be flattered by the takeaway treatment: these are best when they're fresh from the fryer (well, not the ice cream, obviously). They're a treat to save for when the restaurant opens for indoor eating on Monday (May 17).
Anyway, with the side dishes this was a very filling meal which, to be honest, was a little surprising. Even after a near identical experience just 48 hours earlier, I left El Guaca clutching the bag of food and thinking, "Not sure there's enough..." In fact there was ample. Well-judged portions of great-tasting, simple food and at £45.10, I'd say it's good value too. I'll certainly be going back - though I might leave it a bit longer between visits this time.
El Guaca Mexican Grill, 4 Exeter Road, Newmarket, CB8 8LT. Tel: 01638 665345.
* We pay for all meals and restaurants do not know they are being reviewed.