★★★★☆ / Mexican

Tierra y Cielo review – delightfully different Mexican fine dining

This review of a Chiapas, Mexico, restaurant is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage

Drinking while eating out can be a thoroughly disheartening experience if you don’t imbibe alcohol. Dare to wander away from the usual carbonated drinks and you’ll encounter, like I have, watered down Virgin Marys, insipid cordials and thinly-disguised juices from concentrate. That makes Tierra y Cielo’s decision to offer a non-alcoholic pairing option for its tasting menu all the more welcome. This restaurant is located in San Cristobal de las Casas, a charming colonial-era city ideally located for exploring the Chiapas highlands of Mexico and the numerous sights surrounding it.

Tierra y Cielo itself is based around an open air courtyard where the kitchen grows some its own herbs. If the weather isn’t too brisk (the city is up in the mountains surrounded by pine trees) then it’s a fine place to sit and eat. Even if the menu wasn’t available in English, the fluent and charming head waiter was more than capable of helping me out.

Tortilla chips were crisp, light and nutty. Accompaniments included a spread that was halfway between butter and cottage cheese which tasted far better than it sounds. Red chilli sauce was actually spicy, while a sweet chutney bore a curious resemblance to Branston pickle.

tortilla chips and sauces at tierra y cielo

Not your auntie’s chips and dips.

Mildly nutty bean curd had the unexpected appearance of a Swiss roll and an equally surprising hint of cheesiness to it too. A tingly spice added another layer of flavour to what should’ve been a car crash, but turned out to be a rather scintillating amuse bouche. The accompanying soft drink of lemon and chia water was much more pedestrian, tasting just like lemonade.

bean curd at tierra y cielo

Roll with it.

bean curd at tierra y cielo mexico

Bean and gone.

lemon and chia water at tierra y cielo

When life gives your lemons, you freeze them and throw them as hard as you can at the motherfucker making your life a misery.

The blue corn tamales bore a passing resemblance to the Dim Sum classic of lotus rice, with sticky rice hiding inside the corn husk. The plum tomato sauce added a distinctive sweet-sharpness, but the cheese left me unmoved. The tascalate drink allegedly consisted of chocolate, corn, sugar and cinnamon. Its orangey colour may have led to a placebo taste of carrot, but cinnamon was definitely the dominant element here.

blue corn tamales in tomato sauce at tierra y cielo

I’ve managed to take a remarkably unappetising photo.

chocolate, corn, sugar and cinnamon tascalate at tierra y cielo

Definitely not an overpriced Diet Coke.

Bread soup was consomme-esque with a moreish honey-like flavour. Unctuous chunks of bread were joined by an assortment of fresh veg and, most notably, the punchy sweet sharpness of plantain puree. The egg brought little to the proceedings. A special mention has to go the corn flour tortillas which were wonderfully nutty and fluffy. In a land not short of high quality tortillas, these were the bee’s knees and puts the vast majority of their London counterparts to shame.

tortilla at tierra y cielo

I forgot to take a photo of the bread soup, here’s a photo of one of the excellent tortillas instead.

A creamy, cheddary ball came filled with okay-ish mushrooms. It had an Italian-esque feel due to the cheese and a recurrence of the sharp and sweet plum tomato sauce. Far better was the accompanying drink, another tascalate. This one tasted like almond or rice milk, but with an Ovaltine-y edge.

mushroom filled cheese ball in tomato sauce at tierra y cielo

Not mush room on this plate.

chocolate tascalate at tierra y cielo

Husk-y.

Earthy trout-like freshwater fish was served with fresh veg on top and crisp, lightly salted vegetables on the side. Punchy plantain slices and fiery sharp chillies were surprisingly complimentary and helped bind flora and fauna together. The combined boldness made the melon seed horchata dusted with cinnamon all the more welcome. Milky, nutty and refreshing, it almost resembled soybean milk.

trout, plantain and vegetables at tierra y cielo mexico

At least I’m pretty sure it was freshwater and trout-like.

trout and plantain at tierra y cielo

Trout pout.

melon seed horchata with cinnamon at tierra y cielo

You can get traditional horchata in convenience stores in at least some parts of Mexico. What I wouldn’t give for readily available horchata in London.

Firm chunks of chicken and sweet plantain slices were bathed in a sweet banana-esque mole that was also peppered with occasional sharp and spicy hits. Its relative richness made the bracingly cold chocolate and coffee tascalate all the more welcome despite its tame taste.

chicken and plantain in mole at tierra y cielo

Stop winking at me.

chicken and plantain in mole sauce at tierra y cielo mexico

Holy mole.

chocolate and coffee tascalate at tierra y cielo

Choco low.

The elaborately prepared Japanese siphon coffee had occasional hints of bitterness and acidity, but was overall a very mild, rounded and smooth coffee. It was pleasing enough, but I expected something more memorable given the seemingly intricate brewing process conducted tableside.

Japanese siphon coffee at tierra y cielo

Siphon filter.

Although far from bad, not one of the trio of mini desserts managed to stand out which made for a rather quiet and subdued end to an otherwise accomplished dinner. A competently made mergine was paired with a bitter chocolate sauce, while fritter-like chunks of roasted banana were coated in a creamy and nutty dressing. The one mini dessert that came closest to trumping its peers was a light, milky and nutty truffle-esque chocolate ball cake served with candied papaya-like fruit on the side.

meringue with chocolate sauce at tierra y cielo

Mini Mexican meringue.

roasted banana at tierra y cielo

That looks a bit rude, eh vicar?

chocolate cake with fruit at tierra y cielo

They must go through a lot of chocolate at this place.

The Verdict

Although undoubtedly gussied up for out-of-towners, Mexican and foreigner alike, Tierra y Cielo nonetheless provides a slickly executed insight into a genre of Mexican food that deserves much wider appreciation. If I’m ever in this part of the world again, you’ll have to keep me away with a stick. Probably several sticks and a large dog.

Name: Tierra y Cielo

Address: Benito Juárez 1, Centro Historico, Zona Centro, 29200 San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Phone: 0052 967 678 0354

Web: http://www.tierraycielo.com.mx/

Opening Hours: Tuesday-Friday 13.30 – 23.00; Saturday 08.00-23.00 and Sunday 08.00-18.00. Closed Monday. 

Reservations: highly recommended on or around weekends.

Average cost for one person excluding tip: MXN880 (£34 approx. at the time of writing) 

Rating★★★★☆

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