An unparalleled celebration of authentic Mexican cuisine and culture was front and centre at the unique Cantina Kahlo when Lawson Misquitta visited for a memorable experience.
Along the coastline in Seef sits The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain and within it is a special place called Cantina Kahlo – a remarkable restaurant offering an immersive journey through the vibrant flavours of authentic Mexican cuisine.
As we step into the eatery, I immediately find myself enthralled by the large and colourful space. Unlike many restaurants that go for more modern and contemporary styling, Cantina Kahlo couldn’t be further away. Almost as if stepping into the living room of that particular eccentric friend who unapologetically wears their influences and inspirations on their sleeve, this venue is styled ever so distinctly. The primary muse is the restaurant’s namesake, the inimitable and brilliant Mexican artist – Frida Kahlo. She adorns the walls in numerous colourful canvas paintings, along with many other motifs that spotlight Mexican culture. The restaurant offers plenty of outdoor seating, which can be thoroughly enjoyed in cooler weather.
As we took our seats, we were soon greeted by the Manager, Ommar Garcia. Welcoming and very friendly, he radiated a genuine enthusiasm while hosting us. As we scanned the menu, we were made aware that 26 new dishes were recently added, and we couldn’t have been more delighted to try some of them.
First to arrive at our table was a round of drinks. Cool, colourful and full of flavour, the virgin Berry Margarita, Passion Fruit Mojito, Xolotl (a concoction of orange, lime juice and passion fruit) and Enamora (a delicious mix of strawberry, blackberry and pineapple) had us refreshed and raring to go. The drinks were accompanied by bowls of warm and crisp tortilla chips with a mix of yellow corn and flour options served with a tasty salsa fresca that I kept returning to throughout the meal.
We kicked-off lunch with four different kinds of ceviche – yes, you read that right. The first was a plate of Aguachile De Pulpo that included perfectly cooked octopus that was salty but slightly sweet and had a pleasingly tender bite, married with burned jalapeno, garlic oil, red onion, guajillo chilli and tomato juice. The second was a humble Ceviche De Camaron with cooked shrimp, habanero, lime, tomato and delicious diced mango, bringing a certain spark of flavour to every spoonful. The third was the stylishly plated Aguachile Lazaro served in a hollowed-out coconut shell in a mortar. The chopped-up pieces of succulent seabass were dressed in soy sauce and lemon juice. Like the others, it had the right balance of seafood, seasoning and mouth-watering citrus punch. But for the fourth, an unexpected option – Ceviche De Hongos, where mushrooms replaced the seafood. Prepared in a lime-based mixture of jalapeno, rosemary and thyme – the dish proved to be a spicy, bright and lovely surprise.
The next appetiser was the elegantly presented Ensalada De Coliflor, a colourful mix of locally sourced cauliflowers served over a smooth, creamy puree of more cauliflower with crunchy pumpkin seeds. Then followed another first for many of us at the table, Chicharrón De Hongos, a selection of fine mushrooms deep fried to a crunchy texture and then marinated with soy and lemon juice and served on velvety rich guacamole with freshly prepared warm tortillas. This was an undeniable favourite at the table!
While still salivating from the previous appetisers, our table was soon graced with a round of quick bites of street food dishes commonly found across Mexico. The first was the delicious Sopes Con Carne, a thick corn tortilla-like masa cake topped with black beans and savoury Wagyu short ribs, finished with tomatillo and sour cream. We also had a tasty mixture of melted cheese with pico de gallo, mushroom and morita chilli called Queso Fundido Con Champiñones. Then, closing out the appetisers came the Flautas De Pollos – tightly rolled deep-fried tacos with a cheesy chicken filling topped with sour cream and serrano chilli sauce. It offered that palate-pleasing crisp with a soft, chewy interior.
We were then visited by the restaurant’s Chef de Cuisine, Cesar De Jesus Gil. He emphasised the use of local and fresh ingredients while including more options, even for the vegetarian section of the menu. Our conversation with him left us excited about the upcoming main courses.
The first to arrive was the Enchiladas De Ribeye. Enchiladas are a traditional and popular Mexican dish that combines corn tortilla, meat, cheese and sauce. The flawlessly prepared ribeye meat melted in our mouths – this was a personal favourite of mine. We also tried the Enchiladas Vegetarianas, which sticks to the same winning formula but employs a medley of deliciously seasoned vegetables as the filling.
This was followed by the Mole Con Vegetales, an intensely thick, rich and flavourful sauce (there are many versions of it throughout Mexico). We had one with a strongly pronounced chocolate flavour, tempered with spices and several other ingredients, setting the base for this eclectic dish topped with baby corn, zucchini, carrot and cherry tomatoes.
The final main course was the Pulpo Braseado. An octopus tentacle grilled to perfection and flavoured with bright and tangy guajillo chilli. Tender, succulent and delightfully meaty with a pinch of heat, it paired impeccably with the bed of buttery sweet corn.
As the curtains to this exquisite meal drew to a close, we indulged our sweet tooth. The Coco Flan was a velvety, rich, sweet custard topped with caramel sauce. Prepared using coconut milk and finished with whipped cream and a delicately flaky Buñuelos de Viento (crispy fritter), every bite was a voyage of textures and I kept returning for more. Then came the amazing Kahlo Cake, a toasted corn cake with a texture surprisingly similar to a date cake surrounded by a tempting vanilla sauce and topped with a luscious berry sorbet. And last was Pastel De Chocolate, a light, fluffy cake with a chocolatey molten centre, swirled meringue and a heavenly dollop of vanilla ice cream that divinely tied it all together.
Cantina Kahlo coloured in one of the most fascinating afternoons I’ve experienced in a while. We left the restaurant extremely satisfied and thoroughly impressed with the sensational food, the knowledgeable staff that took us on a journey to Mexico and the phenomenal atmosphere. The evenings are even livelier, with a Mariachi band serenading guests with regional Mexican music. It somehow manages to get better, which guarantees a return visit from me.