It was World Gin Day this weekend, and like any good Bristol bar, Cargo Cantina has a bottle of Psychopomp for fans of juniper juice.
But another spirit is king here: tequila. Drink them straight and savour them. There’s no need for pouring the tequila served here on the first floor of Cargo 2 straight down the hatch when the different varieties have been aged for up to two years in white oak barrels and taste like coffee and chocolate.
There’s also mezcal, a close cousin of tequila. One of their main differences is that by law, tequila can be made with only one variety of agave, whereas mezcal can be made from more than 30. It is given its typically smoky flavour by the plant being baked underground in one step of an artisanal process that has remained unchanged for centuries.
Before opening this new bar, Bravas and Bakers & Co owners Imogen and Kieran Waite travelled to Mexico City with their young son and bar manager Sara, where they met some of the producers whose bottles of tequila and mezcal are now stocked on the Cargo Cantina shelves.
Because this is Wapping Wharf and not Guadalajara, there will unfortunately not be rival mariachi bands sat on the stools inside, matching each other tequila for tequila. But apart from that, this is about as authentic as it gets.
On a recent Friday lunchtime, seats at the bar or the tables on the outside terrace were the most sought after, with popular botanas, or bar snacks, including guacamole with baked tortillas; nachos served with cheese, guacamole, pickled jalapenos and red salsa; and even crickets, cooked in chilli and lime and tasting like crunchy raisins.
Because it was a bit early for a straight tequila, a margarita more than sufficed. There are three options: tequila, hibiscus or mezcal, with Imogen’s recommendation of the hibiscus made with hibiscus-infused El Jimador tequila, homemade lemonade and Triple Sec, with lavender salt around the rim of the glass.
The shot glasses come out at Cargo Cantina as the sun begins to set, with the glasses themselves having a crucifix underneath them. Like in many Mexican bars, these used to hold candles in a church before being requisitioned for spirit rather than spiritual matters.
Whereas tacos in Mexico are quick street food options, the tacos here, costing £2.75 each and served with three salsas of differing heat, are made with carefully sourced ingredients, although still small enough to be eaten in only a few bites.
All the tacos come with corn tortillas, with the tongue n cheek made with organic ox tongue and ox cheek; the cochinita pibil having middle white shoulder shredded with citrus, spices and annatto; and the avocado version containing nopal cactus and soft cheese with ancho chilli and coriander.
From that trio, the tongue n cheek was the standout option, the meat beautifully tender having been slow braised overnight, with added texture provided by slices of radish.
Tequila makes us happy. Terrorvision told us that. In Cargo Cantina, we can be very happy indeed.
Cargo Cantina, Cargo 2, Wapping Wharf, Bristol, BS1 6ZA
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