Cielo Blanco: Riding the Wahaca train to nowhere.

Imagine a world where chain restaurants are the best example of a country’s food. You know, as if Wagamama had the best noodles you’ve ever eaten, Garfunkel’s had the best pie and mash or Sunday roast in England or Wahaca left your mouth in wonderment with the flavors of Mexican food. Finding it difficult? I know I am. I personally avoid chains because I usually find that they care more about the food than these chains and manage to do an overall better job. So when I heard about Cielo Blanco’s new opening in Exmouth Market, I was excited to give it a try. They had three years in Leeds before opening a second location in London, so if something can survive that long plus make enough money to open in London, it must be good, right? Plus, Exmouth Market typically has good food, so it seemed like a winner.

To try it out, I went with some of my lovely fellow Boozy Bunchers Vicky, Linzi and Jules to give it a try. When I arrived, I saw the bright blue outside, and my first thought was that it seemed a bit, well, bright. It looked like they were trying too hard to style themselves like Wahaca. I just don’t see Wahaca or this place representing Mexico in their style, so my hopes were starting to get deflated. Another worrisome point was the lack of anyone who looked like they spoke Spanish working in the restaurant. Maybe it will still be good? I tried not to prejudge.

Something about the interior seemed off as well, but we sat down and perused the menu. While Vicky and I were waiting for others to arrive, we ordered a couple of drinks. I had the avocadorita which is like a margarita with avocado. I mean it sounded intriguing, interesting and creative so why not? Vicky got the grapefruit and pineapple margarita. We were also explained the menu which is pretty much the most confusing menu I could have possibly imagined. The sharing plates say that you order six dishes. But no, it’s actually three per person. So if you have the minimum of two, it is six dishes, but if you have three it’s nine. But it doesn’t say that, but the waitress explained it. Kind of. The sharing board is for two people. But priced per person? Why? Why not make a menu that doesn’t require five minutes of explanation? We also tried to order guac and queso fundido while we were waiting, but I think the sheer volume of questions about the menu made the waitress forget.

Drinks were, well, average? I didn’t hate my avocadorita, but I didn’t love it either. They tasted like there wasn’t much alcohol in them either. When Linzi and Jules arrived, they both had some sort of cocktail, both of which were fairly average as well. You know it’s bad when everyone switches directly to Mezcal or wine and avoids the cocktail list. We did finally manage to order some queso and guac. The Mezcal came with a sangrita, and there were three options on the menu, but only two available. For the first round, we all went with the spicy tomato (and man it was spicy and actually fairly good), but it was too spicy for Vicky who switched to the grape (and I tried that one of hers and it was disgusting).

Starters were a bit uninspiring. The guac was pretty flavorless, and it just made me annoyed. Plus it was served with an avocado pit. Why? It just sat in the dish and had to be pushed around out of the way. Was that to prove it was fresh? Maybe if they just made delicious guac instead of guac that tasted like it could be bought from Tesco, they wouldn’t need to prove its freshness. The best part of queso was the chorizo as the dip itself was grainy and unpleasant. This really just made me really worried about the food we ordered for mains. Jules ordered the vegetarian burrito and the grilled corn, the rest of us ordered the street food experience consisting of fish tacos (two portions because we love fish tacos), anchovy tostadas, ribs, goat flautas, chile rellenos, mushroom quesadillas, salmon ceviche and a last minute change to pork pibil tacos (as they didn’t actually do what we really wanted). We also decided to try the chipotle slaw and the sweet potato fries. (Even though this clearly is a sign that they have no idea what they were doing, I mean fries at a Mexican restaurant is a huge red flag. The other was when the waitress called the chile rellenos, stuffed jalapenos, as they are very much not the same thing.)

So I’ll start with the good. The sweet potato fries were one of the better things we ordered sadly. I don’t even imagine they are home made. The mushroom quesadilla was stuffed full of mushrooms and actually quite good. The best thing I ate were the anchovy tostadas as they felt light and fresh and full of flavor and what I imagine good Mexican could be. But that was about the limit of what I can describe as good with this meal. They also weren’t afraid of kicking up the heat, which is nice in a Mexican restaurant.

However, with that heat, you also need a balance of flavor, and they were really bad at that. The ceviche was fairly substandard. It really lacked the freshness you get in a cevice, the salmon was fishy tasting, and the scallops were kind of weird. The flautas were boring and lacked any sort of punch. The chipotle slaw was drenched in mayonnaise, and all we could taste was spice. Linzi thought it was overwhelming until she started adding it to everything on the table in order to give it any sort of semblance of flavor. Jules said her burrito was incredibly dry (and also started adding the slaw for moisture). The ribs were uninspired. The chile rellenos were disappointingly bland and boring and the owners clearly have no idea what they are supposed to be. Vicky spit out the pork pibil taco. The fish tacos were greasy and lacked flavor as the fish pieces were too small to actually taste of anything.

Honestly, it was as if the owners ate at Wahaca and thought it was the best thing they could have ever eaten so decided to open up a restaurant because they thought they could do similarly. (See introductory statement.) Well they did do similarly, as Wahaca is fairly substandard as Mexican goes, and this was far worse. It’s the worst example of Anglicized Mexican food. I guess something like this works okay outside of London, but in London where there is a huge choice in Mexican restaurants that actually are amazing Mexican restaurants and not some shallow attempt to make something that barely resembles Mexican, they really need to step up the game. I don’t really see them lasting that long with food like this, as a person literally could go to Wahaca for something better.

The venue was so loud that we decided we should leave as soon as possible, so we didn’t even look to see if they had dessert. We opted to have a bit of a walk as Jules made the bold statement “I wanna exercise this outta me.” I have to say that we all felt the same as it felt like we were eating for the sake of eating and not for the sake of enjoyment. I personally would say to avoid this place as there are far better Mexican restaurants in London and far better restaurants in Exmouth Market. However, to end this on a positive note, here are some selfies of the lovely people who went to dinner:

Food: ★★
Service: ★★★

Atmosphere: ★★
Overall: ★★

Cielo Blanco
55-57 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QL

Cielo Blanco Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Square Meal

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