HACIENDA Coastal Mexican – bringing the spirit of Baja California to the tables of Cape Town – has been open for a smidge more than two months. In that time, I’ve seen many positive reviews and comments online and on social media. Having now eaten there myself, I can tell you all the good things are true.
If you’re trying to place the location on the corner of Bree and Shortmarket streets, it’s where Chefs Warehouse used to be; Liam has relocated across the road to The Bailey, and due to a good relationship with the guys who own Hacienda (and a few other restaurants too; watch this space), they moved in when he moved out.
This is not your Tex-Mex joint. There are no nachos on the menu, not even fancy nachos. Another good relationship, with Patrón Tequila, led to Hacienda being the official House of Patrón, with a dazzling selection of tequilas not available anywhere else, as well as exposing the restaurant’s chefs (there are two Joshes in the kitchen) to authentic dishes you’re unlikely to find anywhere else in Cape Town either. For the geographically challenged, Baja California is a Mexican state on the Baja California Peninsula, bordering the US state of California. This is the region represented at Hacienda.
The meal begins with the arrival of what they call a service attendant. Lelethu was a delight throughout, always there when we needed her most. Like when I needed a second margarita because the first one was just so perfect. She gave us a quick explanation of the menu, then presented totopos (corn chips but bright red, green, and black – the tortillas too – very striking). They are coal-smoked al carbon, achiote spiced, and coriander and spinach, and served along with three mother sauces: pasta de frijol (spiced black bean), salsa verde (green tomatillo), and adobo Oaxaca (red adobo rub).
No sooner had we begun tucking into these and Lelethu was back with a trolley to prepare our guacamole in front of us. It’s A Thing they do here, and not only is it fun to watch but oh boy, that guac is something else. I don’t think I’ll ever be happy again with the way I make it at home.
The dishes are tapas style (large tapas style I should point out) and it’s recommended to choose two or three dishes per person. My friend was very concerned we were not reaching this quota but I think dessert got us comfortably over the line. You can also order a set menu for two for R949 which is an excellent option.
After the guacamole and extra tortillas, we absolutely had to have the mole. The menu informs you how to pronounce it so you don’t feel like an idiot. Mole is an incredible thing, a complex layering of flavours and ingredients that never ends. It’s alive – on the day we were there, it was 191 days old, spicy and smoky. But not too spicy, I was thankful to discover. It’s not the style of the cuisine but burny sauces are provided for those who want them.
My friend is vegetarian so I often join him when we eat out together, and never have regrets. We ordered Oaxaca adobe rice with salsa verde, queso fresco and guajillo cauliflower. Delicious. I felt I had to get some animal protein in me, however, so I got pollo barbacoa – barbecue chicken, which interestingly enough was the autocorrection from the Spanish, with coriander caviar, avocado crema and pico de Gallo, from the tacos section of the menu. Keith had de frijoles (beans) with salt baked beetroot, salsa de chicharos (peas) and basil cress. Our frijol negro with mushroom sofrito and chipotle powder hadn’t yet been served and I wondered if we should ask about it or let it go; I was quite full by then. But it arrived and I had the tiniest taste. Best darn beans ever.
There are churros among the three desserts, which all sound so tempting and so delectable. I have a thing for churros, and have been seeking even halfway decent ones in this country for years. With no expectations, I ordered them (to share, we’d already packed up leftovers for Keith’s supper). Served with burnt banana dulce and chocolate guajillo ice cream, I might not have been surprised by the waffle shapes if I understood more Spanish, but initial skepticism immediately gave way with the first bite, gently crisp and light as air. Superb. I want to go back again and again for more.
What a fabulous meal, a combination of excellent food, elevated flavours, and wonderfully friendly and efficient service. Do yourself a favour and book as soon as possible. The cocktail list is spectacular, as are all the tequilas you can sample (on our own or as a tasting flight), and margaritas are half price every day from 4-5.3pm (except First Thursdays). Keith tried both the non-alcoholic cocktails and commented most highly of them. The website is basic for now (although you can view the full menu and all the necessary details are there) so check Hacienda out on Facebook and Instagram.
PHOTO CREDIT: Bianca Coleman ©