Bahrain’s Art of Mexican Cuisine
Set out on a gastronomic journey through Mexico, without ever leaving your table at Cantina Kahlo at The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain. From avocados imported from Mexico to a chef that hails from Latin America, discover what it takes to craft a delicious and authentic Mexican culinary experience on a remarkable island in the Middle East.
The Kingdom of Bahrain may be the smallest country in the Middle East, but it certainly proves that sometimes the most delightful things come in small packages. The 33-island archipelago, nicknamed the “Island of Pearls” for its famous pearl fisheries, has a history dating back 5,000 years and has mastered the delicate dance between old and new. Ancient mosques, forts and UNESCO World Heritage sites share real estate with ultra-modern skyscrapers and shopping centers lined with international luxury brands. There is no shortage of activities either, from bird watching and scuba diving to horseback riding and golf. The food scene is equally impressive and wide-ranging, with solid offerings that are both traditionally Bahraini and cosmopolitan. And now, thanks to a talented South American chef named Cesar Daniel de Leon Torres, the country can count fantastic — and authentic — Mexican cuisine among its diverse offerings.
A Chef that Hails from South America
Born in Uruguay just outside Punta del Este, the country’s immensely popular resort town (it’s been called South America’s answer to St. Tropez and the Hamptons), Torres grew up with a curiosity for traveling the world and understanding the influence of gastronomy. As soon as he graduated high school, he started what he calls his “journey to study the culinary arts” and went off to Argentina to work for the legendary Argentine chef Francis Mallmann, who is known for reinventing the art of cooking over fire. Then he made stops in places like Chile, Brazil, Mexico and Miami, among other destinations. “I had the opportunity to learn typical foods and amazing culinary techniques, get to know the culture and work with great chefs,” Torres says. By late 2016, he would find himself relocating halfway around the world (with his wife Silvina, and son, Benjamin) to The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain to open a Mexican restaurant.
Refined Dishes, Inspired by Ancestral Recipes
“Mexico inspires me because of its diversity, its people and its traditions,” Torres says. “Every single region has its own unique history and set of flavors.” Taking into account such a rich gastronomic legacy that goes back 9,000 years, Torres set out to create the most genuine iteration of Mexican food and put together the ultimate culinary journey at Cantina Kahlo.
Nearly all the ingredients used are imported from Central and South America from the avocados to the chili peppers, and his large team is comprised of Mexican chefs who each bring singular expertise of their respective hometown traditions — and often share their ancestral recipes. “I consider each and every one of them my family,” Torres says. “Having them here lets me travel to different regions of Mexico without ever leaving my kitchen.”
On the menu? Meals may start with handmade guacamole and salsa fresca, as well as other classic Mexican street food options, known as antojitos (“hot little cravings”). Offerings include king crab and mint ceviche, Wagyu beef sopes and red mole duck confit, among others. Popular mainstays like tacos, tamales, tortas are always on the menu, while seasonal plates may include a sea bass prepared in the style of Veracruz or prawns and octopus served alongside kale, Brussels sprouts and guajillo chile, encompassing traditions from all over the country.
Starting in March, Torres will institute a rotating menu to constantly refresh the offering of dishes and take advantage of the immense selection that Mexico offers. And he promises this: “The menu is unique in that we have items you can only find here in our restaurant and nowhere else in Bahrain.”
There’s another compelling reason to pay a visit. Designed by artist Rashid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa whose work has been showcased around the world, the restaurant pays homage to Mexico’s famous art scene. Its interior has been designed in vibrant, saturated colors and is like an emerald jewel box that seems to transport guests to the bustling, colorful shops and restaurants of Mexico City. (It’s also highly Instagram-friendly and perfect for an #RCMemories moment.)
And don’t miss out on the sister lounge, Kahlo Club, either — an ideal alfresco spot for post-dinner craft cocktails on a breezy evening. With the palm trees swaying overhead and the shore in view, you may momentarily think you’re in Mexico, and that’s the point.