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The first thing I did after arriving at the show, stowing my luggage, and investing in an overpriced and unnecessary program, was to head over to the ticket booth for the "Birmingham Bites" tasting theatre, starring top B'ham chefs. Tickets, only available at the show, cost all of UKP 3.50. There were only 30 seats available per show, and only four shows a day. I'd missed the morning sales, but came back a good twenty minutes before the afternoon tickets were due to go on sale. It's just as well I did: the two people in front of me claimed the last two tickets... until another couple realized they had a celebrity chef show conflict, freeing up two tickets - one of which as all mine!

The show I lucked into starred the food from Sante Fe restaurant, a Mexican-themed foodery. We gathered at the gate to the fenced-off tasting theatre area a good fifteen minutes before the event was due to start. Round tables were draped with white linen tableclothes, with linen napkins, glassware, real silverware, china, and cheap chairs swathed in fabric and bows to look elegant. Waiters poured our water. By restaurant standards, it was expectable; by the standards of an enormous, over-crowded food fair, it was decadent. Up on a raised dais, our host, a perky media person, interviewed the chef and general manager of the restaurant, providing running commentary on the Santa Fe cocktail scene, Mexican food, and the restaurant's cookery.

Going in, I had my doubts. I have only ever had mediocre to lousy Mexican food in the UK. To my relief, this was some of the best and most interesting Mexican food I've ever eaten. Really. We began spiced tortilla chips, accompanied by a tortilla bowl half-filled with chunky garlic-and-coriander spiced guacamole and rich, spicy, chipotle-and-tomato salsa. Our main was lime, coriander, and olive oil marinated salmon resting on two salads. The slaw salad featured a chiffonade of red cabbage and carrot, among other veggies, tossed with balsamic viegar, brown sugar, and cherry vinegar. The fruit salad was comprised of pineapple, mango, cucumber, red pepper, coriander, and mint. The plating was completed with a sultana-chili-cinnamon-red wine vinegar reduction, a beautifully-balanced set of flavors all together. Finally, our unexpected feast was completed with a mango-and-cinnamon American-style cheesecake with biscuit base, topped with a smooth mango coulis. I liked the flavors, but I've become rather picky about my cheesecake lately, and thought the texture coarser than I liked. But that's a minor quibble in the scheme of things.

The event was meant to be comprised of tasting portions, but our chef hadn't gotten the message. We had full-sized portions, by far the best meal I've ever eaten for UKP 3.50!

Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
naxos
Dec. 5th, 2005 11:24 pm (UTC)
I recall going to a Santa Fe, Islington (75 Upper St) a while back, am pretty sure it's the same group, and the food was really rather good - and we're pretty sure it's still doing good business, having walked past it a couple of weeks ago. But £3.50 is a remarkably good deal, though!
owlfish
Dec. 6th, 2005 11:05 pm (UTC)
It sounds good, but isn't listed on the main Sante Fe restaurant website so I'm not sure whether or not it is one of theirs.
naxos
Dec. 11th, 2005 03:11 pm (UTC)
judging books by their covers I know, but the logos and graphic art looks so similar, I'd be surprised if they weren't affiliated.

Have a great time in Canada and best of luck for the thesis defence!
a_d_medievalist
Dec. 6th, 2005 02:43 am (UTC)
I don't suppose "bites" has the same colloquial usage in England that it does here ...
owlfish
Dec. 6th, 2005 06:24 pm (UTC)
The pun was intentional. Ah, sarky Brits.
a_d_medievalist
Dec. 6th, 2005 06:38 pm (UTC)
good -- because I didn't want to offend any of the Brummies we know :-)
sioneva
Dec. 6th, 2005 10:01 am (UTC)
I've been craving Mexican food so much :/
redjanet
Dec. 6th, 2005 05:35 pm (UTC)
there's a Santa Fe in Bluewater that we go to quite often. i really like them! some of their food is a bit too spicy for me, but they'll tone it down if you ask. i've never had a bad meal there, even when it's just for their burgers wrapped in tortilla. the fries they serve with it are deliciously spiced and i'm not a fry person. their desserts are heavenly. i had the toasted coconut and rum ice-cream the last time and it's served in a big cookie-ish thing and i'm getting really hungry writing this comment right now...
owlfish
Dec. 6th, 2005 06:27 pm (UTC)
I was never sure how to get to Bluewater, but idle staring at a DLR map the other day showed me that trains go there. Do you drive there?

I'd be very interested in seeing what the restaurant is like - and more of their desserts - having tried some of the highlights!
redjanet
Dec. 6th, 2005 06:35 pm (UTC)
if you take the train to Greenhithe (you might have to change at Dartford), there's a shuttle bus that takes you straight there i believe. we drive there as it's only a fifteen minute drive away for us. we're there all the time!

maybe we should meet up and go there together sometime? i'm not sure when i'll be free because of all the stuff happening this month (xmas festivities, possibly moving, etc.), but maybe sometime in the new year?
owlfish
Dec. 6th, 2005 11:05 pm (UTC)
I would love to. I don't have time until New Year's either. The next few weeks are a little crazy, and even the first half of January isn't that sedate. The second half, however, should be entirely feasible.
a_d_medievalist
Dec. 6th, 2005 06:43 pm (UTC)
As a child of the southwest, may I say that burgers wrapped in tortillas are just wrong? Flour tortillas are mostly wrong, anyway. Argh.

Also wrong is the recent discovery that I have become allergic to avocados. Apparently, people with allergies to latex often develop allergies to avos and figs. I am too young to give up guacamole. Oh well -- I can still make it, if I wear gloves!

But Mexican food sans avocado isn't quite right.
redjanet
Dec. 6th, 2005 06:50 pm (UTC)
As a child of the southwest, may I say that burgers wrapped in tortillas are just wrong? Flour tortillas are mostly wrong, anyway. Argh.

oh. sorry. i still think they taste nice though!

i'm sorry about your allergy to avocados. that is wrong.
a_d_medievalist
Dec. 6th, 2005 07:24 pm (UTC)
I don't doubt the taste :-) just the concept!

but then tacos are kinda like burgers ...

my new discovery is salvadorean pupusas -- amazingly unhealthy, but tasty. There's a Salvadorean bakery, restaurant, and pupuseria (it's a real word!) down the street a few blocks from me -- pupusas are kind of like fritters, I guess -- dough wrapped around beans, cheese meat, whatever, and fried, served with a fresh salsa that's kind of mild and sweet and a spicy marinated cabbage salad.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )