Chica Linda, Surry Hills
|Chicken Hearts with Bacon, Cilantro and Tougarashi, $6|
After months of being tempted by countless Instagram photos of mouthwatering foods coming out of the kitchens at Drink and Dine's (the same people who brought you The Oxford Tavern, the House of Crabs and others) latest offering - Chica Linda - I finally got the chance to taste some of this goodness myself.
After all, when a restaurant menu says "Latino specialities", I imagine someone's abuela puttering about behind a stove, loading up plates full of fragrant, punchy food.
And I think that people's abuelas can often be very underrated.
|Chicharones, with guasacaca|
Crackling by any other name...Chicharones are the deep fried pork rinds - which makes them puff up and gives them a rice-bubble-crispy texture, and make them so much more addictive. They're not quite as heavy as regular crackling that's done in an oven, and this version is served with guasacaca, which is a Venezuelan dip that's made with avocados, parsley, green peppers, garlic and vinegar. It's almost like chimichurri and guacamole decided to have a love-child. Paired with chicharones? It's the perfect beer snack.
|From left: Txistora with Aji Chilli and Pineapple, $14, and Black Kingfish Ceviche with Casava, Amarillo, Chilli, $6|
We also had other small bites: the Txistora (Tx is apparently pronounced like a 'ch') is a spanish fast cure sausage flavoured with paprika and salt, much like the chorizo's milder cousin. The Ceviche is a fish dish that's been cured with an acid, like lime juice, and this particular one was served with chilli.
|From left: Smoked Pork Arepa, with honey chipotle glaze and pickled slaw, $6, Grilled Cheese Arepa, $6|
The arepas were like sliders, but instead of buns, what sandwiched the filling were two discs of biscuit-like cornbread. Really, the name arepa refers to that bread. We got the pork and the haloumi filled ones, and while the bread was a touch more dense than I was expecting, the flavour from the filling made up for it. The pork was juicier than the grilled cheese, because of the honey and chipotle glaze, but I actually much preferred the haloumi arepa - the creamy avocado and salty cheese just went a bit better with the corn bread.
|BBQ Cuttlefish, with Paw paw and Ancho Chilli, $15|
I've always seen cuttlefish as the meatier, more robust cousin of the omnipresent squid. Where squid can have a melt-in-your-mouth tenderness, cuttlefish has a meaty firmness, and much much more flavour. This BBQ Cuttlefish actually momentarily transported me back to my childhood, where my mother used to cook rehydrated dried cuttlefish with a lashing of hoisin sauce. No hoisin here, but the paw paw lends a certain sweetness to the cuttlefish, and I could just imagine having this on a hot bowl of steaming rice.
|Asado Prawns with Tamarillo Salsa, $15|
Asado usually refers to a method of barbecuing open flames and smouldering coals, much like the Australian idea of barbecuing, but without the perceived civility of closed pits and electric or gas heat sources. COAL ALL THE WAY BABY!
|Asado Steak Skewers with Chimmichurri, $35|
We had the Asado Steak, and the Asado Prawns. The prawns were smoky, with the tanginess from the tamarillo salsa lifting the entire dish and complementing the char in the prawn. The steak, on the other hand, wasn't quite as well executed - although you could argue that prawns are easier to cook. I started off with really juicy pieces of well-seasoned steak, with just enough fat left on them to round out a rich beefiness. Unfortunately, although they were meant to be cooked to medium, some of the pieces were more well done than others, which took away some of the enjoyment. Which was quite sad, since the pieces that were good, were really good, and the chimichurri made a fantastic foil to the smoky/salty charred crust on the outside of the meat.
In all, I really enjoyed the food at Chica Linda - I did think that they executed the small plates better than the larger plates, which works out for me anyway, because you get more variety! There were definitely hidden gems - I highly recommend the chicken hearts with bacon (pictured above). It's got a fantastic smoky flavour, enhanced by a coriander sauce and tougarashi, which is a Japanese chilli pepper.
I also really loved the atmosphere. The colourful tiles really set the mood, and I love how all the plates were mismatched - it really looked like an abuela's home! The waitress was also super friendly and welcoming - she answered the many questions that I had, and provided not only information on what went into the food, but also a bit of the culture behind it.
If you like smoke, fire and the heartiness of Latin American cooking, Chica Linda is definitely a place to try.
Have you been? What do you think?
Note: Tammi and dining partner from Insatiable Munchies dined as guests of Chica Linda.