AYE YI YI, BANG BANG! THINGS ARE HOTTING UP FOR VEGANS AT CHIQUITO

I only mentioned in my Frankie and Benny’s review a few months back, that Chiquito, being part of the same restaurant group, was lagging behind in the provision of plant-based eats. Since then, in an ironic turn of events, Frankies has slashed its vegan menu by half (my son is heartbroken that they no longer serve chickenless nuggets – Frankies, you are bad people)…BUT, Chiquito has boldly stepped up to the mark.

You can now experience Fajitas with more than just griddled veg; nachos with everything including vegan cheese and dairy free sour cream and – a drool inducing range of desserts. They’ve even separated all of this into a vegan menu so you feel spoiled for choice. Like a meat eater in a Marco Pierre White, but without the worry of colon cancer. I’m pleased to say most of the food was excellent but I did have a couple of whinge points. Read on to find out what’s hot and what’s not. (No pun intended.)

For starters we had Sweet Potato Skins with five bean chilli, vegan cheese (they use good old Violife) and vegan creme fraiche (Oatly) in place of sour cream; and Vegan Nachos topped with everything you’d expect – guacamole, salsa, cheese and more Oatly creme fraiche. (Which I have to say is a triumph – I have a great and easy recipe for Vegan Sour Cream, but Oatly’s creme fraiche is also bang on, straight from the carton.)

The nachos were beaut – but you can’t really get nachos wrong, if you do, you should have to face a firing squad of angry Mexican bandits. The Sweet Potato Skins were good too, nicely spiced and flavoursome – I would complain about the texture of Violife when it’s been heated or put under a grill but I can’t hold that against Chiquito. It’s just the down side of vegan cheese. The nachos though, it was all about the nachos.

When it came to mains I experienced major food envy – James had ordered Vegan Fajitas with Oumph – a satisfyingly chewy and firm vegan version of meat. I had opted for the Banana Blossom burger with Cassava Fries. Mine was OK at best. The Cassava Fries were hot and crisp, (something between a roast potato and a parsnip) and actually really moreish, but by themselves – quite dry. Actually really dry. Like Carlos Santana’s sandal. To make matters worse, the burger was dry too. To add to the disappointment it was the first time I’d tried Banana Blossom, but the inside of this burger was indistinguishable from any other vegan mash-up lurking inside some breadcrumbs. On the menu it said it comes topped with Slaw, Greens and Violife Cream Cheese but I couldn’t see or taste any of these! There was something on top of the burger but I think it was hummous and as such, somewhat misplaced in a Mexican diner. I asked for a side of guac to dip the fries into and I enjoyed these but overall the burger was a bland anti-climax that stuck my mouth together.

The Fajitas however – these looked (and tasted, I tried some…) incredible. The Oumph (despite having stupid name) is a really good meat alternative and works well griddled and a little charred. It’s fibrous and chewy and has a meaty flavour. The cheese and sour cream swapped for Violife and Oatly Creme Fraiche meant that together, it was like any other fajita experience. Definitely worth going back for. (It’s a shame the vegan version is isn’t included in the £5 Fajitas offer that Chiquito does every week. Sort this out Chiquito – it’s nothing short of discrimination.)

I was impressed with dessert too – there were only three options but it’s better than the zero there used to be! We had Churros with vegan chocolate sauce and Chocolate Coconut Lava Cake (which I SWEAR you used to be able to get at Frankies…?!) with vegan vanilla Nice (ice) Cream. I don’t think you could tell either of these dishes were dairy free – they were rich, sweet and a great end to a meal with coffee. The Lava Cake wasn’t overpoweringly coconutty either – James can’t abide coconut but he could hardly taste it. I guess not so good if you love coconut, but great if you think it’s the fodder of Satan.

As usual, I have to high five Chiquito for making this effort to include vegans and not resisting the obvious social change towards plant-based living. Many places still look at you like you’re a leper and expect you order a side salad and a bread roll. So thank you Chiquito. We will be back for more nachos and Fajitas.

P.S. Sort the burger – there is no excuse for a dry burger. None.