A trip to Mexico to discover its food and drink left Joe Cribley with a taste for its authentic cuisine and the inspiration to bring it to Sheffield.
That little adventure led to Bar Pina, created from a former engineering workshop in Kelham Island.
Joehas worked at Great Gatsby on Division Street and was general manager at Picture House Social, got the chance to visit Mexico, courtesy of a tequila supplier.
“Myself and my old boss spent two weeks in Mexico, travelled round and went to distilleries, immersing ourselves in the drinks culture and cuisine. We had an idea that the trip could launch a concept for a bar. That was about 18 months ago.
“I came back with quite a fond liking for Mexican cuisine.”
Joe reckons there are only three or four places in the North selling authentic Mexican food, as opposed to Tex-Mex. Joe said he’s not snobby about fajitas but they aren’t what he found in Mexico.
He was fascinated to find some of the diverse influences brought to the country by different invaders. “One of the most famous tacos, the al pastor, is a shawarma style, taking an influence from the Lebanese conquistadores.”
All the tacos on the menu come from different regions - the beer-battered fish taco is from Baja in the north-west and the birria, made with braised ox cheek, is a speciality of the western state of Jalisco.
Head chef Steven Mullins can vouch for the authenticity of the beer-steamed clams on the snacks part of the menu. His aunt lives in the Baha area, where they are served everywhere at beach bars with tortillas.
Joe has become a exponent of mezcal, the spirit made from 300-plus varieties of the agave plant.
He said that tequila is made in one region with one variety of agave, whereas mezcal has endless regional varieties, depending on the plants used and the local climate and soil.
The cocktail menu features margaritas made with both spirits, plus a range of other mezcal cocktails.
I opted for the classic margarita (£8), made with Don Julio Blanco, and it was great.
We visited on a sunny Thursday evening, parking on Harvest Lane, and easily spotted the bar with its huge Kid Acne artwork on the side.
Drinkers were enjoying the outside area and there’s a bar up on a mezzanine level but we avoided that because there was football on the TVs.
The atmosphere is completely different in the main space, open to the roof with bare brickwork walls, decorated with works from lots of contemporary city artists.
The semi-open kitchen is housed in a space that gives an upmarket nod to cantina style and the accent blue and yellow colours are restrained.
A bar runs all along one wall and food service is pub style: order and pay at the bar and food is brought to you.
The short menu is split into two pages – grapefruit coloured for meat and cactus green for the entirely vegan selection, which uses oyster mushrooms and jackfruit to reproduce the texture of the meat on the other menu.
Vegan food channel BOSH! helped develop the dishes and Sheffielder Joe also got support from his parents , Frank and Lisa who run a catering business, .
Chef Steven said that all the tortillas for the tacos are hand made on the premises in a taco press and the different colours are mainly down to different colours of corn, although the red ones are coloured with beetroot.
They are delicious, really adding to the dishes.
My friend Sara and I opted to try two taco dishes, the beer-battered fish baja and the vegan pimiento, plus the beer-steamed clams and the salad from the snacks menu.
We settled down for a chat over a drink - Sara loved her bottled Mexican Pacifico beer - and the food arrived after a reasonable interval.
Serving is tapas style, so the dishes arrive in fairly quick succession. It’s mainly finger food but we had to ask for cutlery for the salad.
Each serving features two small tacos that arrive on an enamelled tin plate.
It may be authentic but I didn’t think the perfectly delicious beer-battered fish worked in the taco and preferred to eat it separately, then enjoy the black taco with its tasty red cabbage, avocado salsa and onion fillings.
The pimiento tacos were a big success, with the sweet, slightly spicy roast red pepper bursting on the tongue.
This was served in a pinky-red tortilla filled with refried beans, spring onion, green chilli and avocado salsa.
The bowl of beer-steamed clams came with black, white and yellow tortillas and the very welcome addition of a little pot of red salsa, which added a great zing to the dish.
It might be an idea to provide a little bowl to put the empty shells in.
The vegan salad was a big winner, a lovely mixture of lime-dressed salad leaves, avocado, radish, cucumber and tomato, topped with thinly-sliced crunchy black totopos tortilla chips.
Flavours were clean and often subtle, rather than the mainly spicy food I’d anticipated.
Sadly, we didn’t get a chance to enjoy the churros dessert as we ordered only a few minutes before the kitchen closed at 9pm.
Overall, this place is a great addition to Kelham Island’s food and drink offerings, and it knows its market pretty well. Our bill came to £34.30, including drinks.