For whom the (taco) bell tolls! La Pantera, Cardiff City centre

Way back in the misted of time, Taco Bell opened up in Cardiff to much fanfare (Wales Online got all overexcited about it for reasons unknown), with people queuing around the block (again for reasons unknown) to eat there. Even if a Taco Bell were to be my thing (never tried one, but nothing I have heard has me rushing to their door) I wouldn’t queue for hours for one.

I have to date not been impressed by any of the US fast food imports (Five Guys, Slim Chicken and Shakeshack/Shakedown) and I suspect Taco Bell is no different (i.e. mediocre at best), but who knows.

Whilst many still frequent said Taco Bell, the queues have died down, my (taco) bell is more likely to be rung elsewhere in town (food wise) and this brings me to La Pantera in Cardiff City Centre.

The spot that use to be Sully’s by day and Blue Honey by night, has been transformed into a taco joint with lucha libre memorabillia on the walls and lucha libre fights playing on the telly (took me back to the day’s of Saturday afternoon of ITV’s World of Sport watching Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Mick MacManus, with my Grandpa George – who absolutely loved it and gave short shrift to anyone suggesting any element of theatrics). The name, La Pantera (the panther), is no doubt based on a famous luchador.

The vibe is Mex to the max, but the food is unashamedly unauthentic. Personally, with a taco pretty much anything goes in my book – bit like a sarnie.

The food

With two work friends, who had made in back into the office (like breaking back into Staleg 19, due to ongoing Covid 19 protocols), we thought best go out for lunch (the inhouse restaurant/canteen a distant memory and I suspect very unlikely to return). As I had been very keen on trying the place since pre covid (back before the Big Bang) it was the venue of choice as my first indoor meal out since a rather fine and long boozy lunch at Tom Simmon’s gaff back in early December!!! Oh how time doesn’t fly when you are not having fun!

The brief menu has lots of interest on both the taco and the sides front, which made choices hard in a nice way. We decided the best way forward was to order all 3 of the tacos (which came in 3s) on offer and share, adding a portion of the nachos to kick things off.

The nachos were excellent examples of their kind (plenty of salt), with the creamy quacamole zinging with punchy lime, a good hit of chilli spice and a ready good earthy black bean puree.

My only slight criticism was the tomato salsa was a bit too chunky. I like some texture to a salsa, but more chopping than cutting the toms in half (good dressing on them though) would have been my preference. Nice, however, to see such a bountiful portion for a fiver.

With the tacos (all £8 for 3),as we shared we each got one of each variety on offer. Stopped any issues,of food envy arising.

Strangly for me I would say the pick of the bunch was the veggie number, with a fair bit of spice taken on nicely by the waxy new potatoes. The masala yoghurt and the mint pickle dressing that adorned the pots were both bob on.

The miso haddock was probably next in terms of enjoyment, with the interesting addition of the beetroot in jelly form.

Nice amount of haddock, that wasn’t overpowered by the miso, and a decent chilli hit . Personally I like my fish tacos Baja style, with the fish encased in a batter, which provides a nice textural contrast. These were, however, nice enough sans the batter.

The final of the trio of tacos was the beef shin with a horseradish croquette. From the on the board description these sounded like they would be on the money, but oddly was my least favourite out of the three.

Whilst nice enough, the croquette needed a bit more horseradish oomph, the beef was a touch light on the seasoning for my tastes and the tacos were just a tad over – verging on crispy – in parts.

These (albeit slight) issues were more than adequately addressed by the addition of the hot sauces bought to the table.

The two in-house made ones (the salsa verde and dark fruit – both on sale for a fiver) had a nice piquancy, without overpowering the base ingredients. The dark fruits, in particular, really pepped up the beef shin taco

The drink

The drinks offering centres on cocktails and Mexico’s answer to the US soda conglomerates in the form of Jarritos.

I tend to find some Jarritos can be very (Type 2 diabetes inducingly) sweet, but the choices here were all within my range of sugar tolerance. I think the pick of the bunch was the lime one (more R. White’s lemonade if you ask me). My tamarind one was not as tart as I had hoped, but was pleasant enough.

The verdict

I rather liked La Pantera. It offers decent value, with fun and inventive food and the place had a really nice vibe. Great as a lunch time venue, it also has the feel of a good pit stop to refuel at if out on the lash.

Would I go back? Yes, great little place and it is nice to see they mix up the menu each week so lots of incentive to go again. I think a side of elote and chicarrons (the latter a personal favourite of mine, but sadly not available this visit) would go down a treat next time.

Regardless of authenticity, I think supporting a good indie is way better than further lining the pockets of US mega corps (who seems to have come out of the pandemic relatively unscathed). It is the little guys that really need our support to fuel the post covid recovery and La Pantera is definately deserving of mucho apoyo.

The details

Address: 5 Quay Street, Cardiff, CF10 1DZ

Website: https://lapantera.co.uk/

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