[Disclosure: I was given a £40 voucher towards our meal at Bodega Cantina for the purposes of this blog]
It’s always sad when a restaurant closes, and we’re seeing far too much of it these days. But when one rises from the ashes and reopens its doors, you can’t help but be a bit heartened. Bodega Cantina in Leamington is back, breathing life back into another unit on the Parade. It closed down last year but for whatever reason has now reopened its doors, bringing its South American-inspired food, along with cocktails and general fiesta feel to the town.
Okay, so Bodega Cantina isn’t a one-off independent, but it doesn’t really count as a chain either, with just three branches, all in the Midlands. The Leamington branch is pretty extensive and a riotous mix of colours, patterns and murals.
Mix that with different lighting levels, an array of seating options from tables to high tables to booths. Something for everyone and all that, whether you’re trying to spice up date night, have a rowdy bottomless brunch or all the other occasions in between that merit food and drink (which, let’s be honest, is all of them).
The menu echoes this ‘something for everyone’ feel. If you’re after a niche Mexican cantina or a Brazilian Churrascaria then you might find the broad brush offering at Bodega Cantina a bit too mainstream, but if you want broad choice then you’ll definitely get this. Mexican ‘street food’, tacos, ‘large plates’, ‘sharing plates’.
There are vegan and halal choices too, plus a kids’ menu too. And a pretty good value lunch menu offering tacos, quesadillas and burritos with a side for £9-11. Can’t sniff at that.
The service is earnest and friendly – proof that it’s not only independents who can get this side of things right. We even meet the chef, who is out of the kitchen at several junctures checking on diners throughout the restaurant. It’s clear he cares, and that’s reassuring in and of itself.
We decide to start with one of the smaller dishes, then go for a larger plate each. In hindsight perhaps we should have made our plans clear, as everything went on to arrive at once, leaving us with a pile of food to wade through in one go. With that in mind, if you head to Bodega Cantina and plan on doing something similar, you might want to mention whether you’re hoping to treat something as a starter and something as a main.
Tacos filled with slow-roasted Dr Pepper marinated pork topped aren’t half bad. The blue corn tacos aren’t like your Old El Paso flour versions, but they’re not meant to be, and these aren’t a bad example. The pork is moist, tender and has a delicate sweetness courtesy of the Dr Pepper, offset by a tang from the pickled pink onions and a crunch courtesy of pickled red cabbage.
They’re pretty good, but beaten to top starter spot by my mate’s Mexican Cola wings which are big old boys, cooked well, with a crispy coating. I’m not sure how distinctive the promised ‘signature cola syrup’ is, but as half decent wings go, they tick all the boxes. A bit of heat without being too spicy, plenty of meat, a slight sweetness. Not life-affirming but I would happily order again.
For main I opt for a Brazilian dish – a Xim Xim curry that I’m told is super tasty and packs a punch. It’s a hearty bowl of food, studded with prawns, chicken and vegetables. But the sauce, despite promising peanut butter and coconut sauce along with chilli, garlic and lemon juice, doesn’t quite deliver on the big hit of flavour I’m hoping for.
It’s coconutty and warming, and the fresh chilli scattered over with abandon adds raw heat, but I would have loved more of the punch I was promised from the sauce, along with more peanut. That said, it’s enjoyable enough for me to want to take the leftovers home with me which – and props to the guys at Bodega Cantina for making me up the best presented leftovers box I’ve ever had, complete with garnish.
My friend opts for the Brazilian rump steak which gets the thumbs up. It’s tender, she tells me, and cooked well, with a piquant chimichurri on top. A way out there South American classic? Perhaps not. But a decent steak main course for £16.50 which I don’t think you can complain about in this day and age.
We’re pretty full so the churros will have to wait for next time as ice cream is all we can manage. Affogato for me – always a winner. I’m not sure you need a review of this. It’s ice cream and coffee. Though next time I might go for their Mexican version that comes with a shot of coffee-infused tequila. Because who wouldn’t want to lace their dessert with a shot?
All in all, it’s a good experience. In a town bursting at the seams with excellent independent restaurants serving cuisine from around the world, Bodega Cantina joins a long list of food options. But with reasonable prices, an accessible, broad menu, and friendly staff who are eager to please, it’s got plenty going for it and bridges the gap nicely between Leamington’s indies and chains.