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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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)