The Lim sisters’ maiden Mexican restaurant, Fresca aims to win local palates over one plate at a time

IN Spanish, fresca means fresh or cool. Fresca is also the name of the latest Mexican restaurant at The Gardens mall in Mid Valley – the fruit of two sisters’ labour of love and mutual passion for the robust cuisine of Mexico.

Although it is Lim Meng Jan’s maiden restaurant venture, she can rely on her elder sister and business partner, Lim Meng Lu, to guide them due to the latter’s invaluable experience in bringing the renowned Din Tai Fung franchise to Malaysia. Both sisters are looking to repeat that success with Fresca.

Having lived for years in Britain and travelled extensively for work and leisure, Meng Jan explains that their decision to open a Mexican restaurant here was borne out of the sisters’ shared love for Mexican food.

“Whenever we travel to Hong Kong and Singapore, we always check out different Mexican restaurants to satisfy our Mexican food cravings,” says the younger Lim sister. “Mexican cuisine is all the rage in these countries; the eateries are always packed.

“That’s when we realised that Kuala Lumpur doesn’t have any true-blue Mexican restaurant except for several Tex-Mex outlets. There’s so much more to Mexican food than that and Fresca aims to introduce locals to a wider selection of Mexican specialities. We’re confident the food will gain acceptance as Malaysian and Mexican food have many similarities.”

She elaborates, “Both cuisines are known for their strong, robust flavours with the prevalent use of chillies, garlic, onion and coriander. Frequent travel overseas and the popularity of food programmes on television also mean Malaysians are now more open to new culinary experiences. Some are already well-versed with Mexican dishes such as burritos and fajitas from Tex-Mex eateries. We’re out to build on that awareness and acquaint them with authentic Mexican fare.”

Instead of the usual kitschy cacti and sombrero decor, Fresca’s ambience is a cohesive blend of sleek modernity and old-world rusticity: dark timber panelling matched with distressed red bricks and vintage floor tiles.

The elongated bar dispenses Mexico’s most famous cocktail – the margarita on the rocks or frozen by the glass (RM23), Grande (RM35) or Pitcher (RM80). Besides the classic version, flavoured variants of Jalapeno, Watermelon, Kiwi, Raspberry and Mango margaritas are available.

Teetotalers can find solace in non-alcoholic tipples such as the refreshingly sour, sweet and briny Tamarindo (RM8.50), the milky Horchata (made from ground rice scented with cinnamon, RM8.50) or cranberry-flavoured Hibiscus (a vitamin C rich drink concocted from a type of hibiscus flower, RM8.50).

Famished? Then order botanas, small plates of bite-size Mexican appetisers that can be shared, allowing you to eat as much or as little as your heart desires. Our favourite was Jalapeno Poppers, breadcrumb-coated Mexican green chilli stuffed with Monterey Jack cheese, minced beef and sweet mango chipotle (smoked jalapeno) salsa (RM16).

Go easy on the Tortilla Chips with Guacamole (RM20) and leave some stomach space for Camarones al Ajillo, tiger prawns sautéed with guajillo chiles and garlic (RM24). We love how well the aromatics’ blend of fruity and caramelised sweetness enhanced the springy crustaceans’ inherent taste.

Another distinct offering is Tacos Ensenada (RM19), a dish from the coastal city of Baja California Peninsula. These were pillowy soft tacos (Mexican unleavened flat bread) filled with battered fish slices and crunchy white and purple cabbage slaw.

One of the notable platos principales (main dishes) is Costilla Asada (RM43) – juicy short ribs that had been braised in homemade barbecue sauce for three hours before they are grilled to juicy perfection. Our meaty portion was a tad gristly but scrumptious nonetheless with a nice peppery, smoky tinge.

The Pollo con Mole (RM26) – Puebla-style grilled chicken with chocolate sauce – takes some getting used to especially the thick sauce. I also found it surprisingly bland despite it being concocted from a mixture of chocolate, chillies, fruits and nuts.

Mildly zesty with the barest hint of sweetness to them, the Chile Rellenos (RM30) – huge, dark green poblano chile peppers stuffed with mushroom risotto and melted mozzarella should leave you a little hot under the collar and stuffed to the brim.

Fresca will give the uninitiated an apt introduction to Mexican food, seasoned palates may yearn for the robust piquancy that is synonymous with this vibrant cuisine.

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