MENTION the word mojito to a group of my friends and their enthusiastic reaction is almost Pavlov’s dog-like, so when a city Mexican restaurant said it was running a mojito masterclass we had to check it out.
Janet in particular is our queen of mojito-making – she is keeping a keen eye on the mint in her garden to see when she can start attacking it and she even has her own muddler, which you need to pound some of the ingredients together in the glass, so the staff at Chiquito in Valley Centertainment were certain to be under some expert scrutiny.
Cocktail masterclasses are a regular feature at the restaurant – you could learn to make margaritas in January – and the deal is that anyone who orders a main course on the night and joins in the masterclass will get their drink for free.
The restaurant is in the middle of the range of all those Centertainment restaurants where you can eat your way pretty well round the world, probably before going bowling or off to the cinema.
On arrival we got a warm welcome from the staff, some of whom were sporting sombreros and ponchos.
The restaurant is all dark wood with the tables split mainly into booths and there are some very eye-catching giant chandeliers made with empty beer bottles. A long bar and an open kitchen run along one side of the place.
We ordered a pitcher of margaritas (£12.99) and some good tortilla chips and salsa arrived on the table shortly afterwards. Going to a chain restaurant you expect that a lot of the food will come pre-prepared from a central kitchen, so the appearance of fresh tomato and coriander was reassuring.
Our very friendly waitress, who is obviously well used to big groups of people too busy chatting to sort out their orders, explained that we could either have some mojitos delivered to the table or we could go and join Scott when we were ready for the masterclass.
So, after giving our food orders, we joined Scott at the table where he was set up. One of our group admired his sombrero, so several more were obtained for us to wear for the session.
Masterclass is stretching it a bit but Scott showed us how you put sugar, a handful of mint leaves, a piece of lime, ice and white rum into a long tumbler and then get your muddler – I’ve used the end of a rolling pin at home – and gently mash it down until the sugar dissolves and the juices from the mint and lime mix with the rum.
We were given the option of adding fruit juice and then the concoction was topped up with a lot of crushed ice but usually you would add soda water as well. Add a sprig of mint and some straws.
Well pleased with our creations, we returned to the table just as the starters were arriving.
There’s a main menu with all the choices you’d expect and also one offering two courses for £9.99 on weekdays from 5pm, so we opted to try that out.
There’s also a main menu and a special one for the kids.
We tried very good nachos with melted cheese, jalapeño peppers, guacamole, sour cream and salsa, pleasant but bland deep-filled potato skins with sour cream, spring onion and cheese, a well-received shrimp cocktail taco – a spiced-up prawn cocktail with guacamole in a taco shell – and chipotle meatballs.
The meatballs, in a tomato and pepper sauce topped with cheese, were fine but the star was the lovely sweet cornbread that came with them.
Other choices on this menu are chicken wings in various sauces, jalapeno chilli poppers, garlic flatbread tostadas, Caesar salad or chicken and corn chowder. There’s also plenty of choices for main courses, from burgers to pasta, oddly enough, Mexican classics like fajitas and tortilla wraps and salads.
Side orders cost an extra £1.29.
The menu makes a big point of saying you can have food spicy or mild, presumably because it caters for a lot of family parties. The dishes are rated for heat with little chilli logos but you can ask for it how you want it.
I tried the spiciest dish on the menu, the pollo del fuego – translated as fiery chicken – so I was expecting it to live up to its RED HOT! billing.
Disappointingly, it hardly even registered on the heat scale but it was a pleasantly tasty and generous plateful of guajillo chilli-marinated chicken breast, Mexican spiced rice, fajita roasted vegetables and sour cream. My chicken was a little chewy but my friend Bahia said hers was fine.
We also tried a fajita roasted vegetable salad and a Southwest Caesar salad with smoky red pepper croutons, which coudl have done with more exciting salad leaves, an interesting chilli that came with spiced rice, tortilla chips, sour cream and salsa, and a tasty veggie jambalaya, which is spiced fried rice with mixed bean chilli, a tomato sauce and roasted vegetables.
You might want to leave some room for pud on the strength of the one we all shared. You get little shot glasses of minted double chocolate mousse, mango and passion fruit cheesecake, key lime pie, tiramisu and banoffi toffee and they went down a treat. Prices start at one shot for £1.79 and all five for £6.99.
Our group enjoyed trying them all and a lively debate ensued on the merits of each. Minted double chocolate and mango and passion fruit came out top.
We also tried the Caffe Mexicano (£2.39), which was an interesting mix of espresso and hot chocolate.
Our bill came to an amazingly cheap £89 for six people. Of course, we’d had the free cocktails.
Chiquito has a fiesta running from Thursday, April 21 for a fortnight. Events include a wedding-themed fancy dress party on Friday 29 and a day-long carnival-style event on Monday May 2.
The fiesta will also be raising money for Casa Alianza, a charity providing aid to homeless children in Mexico.
lVerdict: A lively place and good value but they need to turn up the heat a bit.
lOpen: noon to 11pm Monday to Saturday, noon to 10.30pm Sunday.
lChiquito, Valley Centertainment, Sheffield S9. Tel 244 7005. www.chiquito.co.uk