Carolina’s TexMex tell us about their vegan, gluten free dishes and their new home at the King Billy

Words: Sophie Gargett
Photos: Oliver Dürner and Angie Shepherd
Tuesday 21 May 2024
reading time: min, words

Bringing a burst of colour and fiery flavour to the King Billy’s rooftop beer garden, Mark Walsh and Angela Shepherd cook up a delicious blend of vegan, gluten free Tex-Mex dishes at Carolina’s Chilli. We caught up to talk hot sauce, having a bricks and mortar kitchen, and what the summer holds…

Hey guys! Since we last caught up you have moved from being a pop-up to taking residence at the much loved Sneinton pub The King Billy. How have you found the new venue?

Angie: What’s not to love about The King Billy! It’s such a beautifully unique place with everything you love about a traditional British pub, music, warmth, a good pint - and now TexMex food! Its staff and regulars are so much fun, kind and encouraging. And Jon, the landlord, gave us such an amazing opportunity to be a part of the family. It’s a wonderful corner of the world.

Jon welcomed us to put our own stamp on the venue, so we got local graffiti artist @fryface to bring our vision to life. Anyone visiting will be able to see her masterpieces in the beer garden while surrounded by cosy lights, a great drink, and tucking into one of our tacos. Being able to plant some roots here has also given us the opportunity to expand our menu and we have weekly specials such as Beer battered Oyster Mushroom Tacos, which flew out the door. It’s now home from home.

Can you tell us about some of the dishes you're currently serving?

Mark: We have to talk about our Jackfruit BIRRIA! This is a labour of love. I follow a traditional Mexican recipe. Ours is topped with an apple, jalapeno and coriander salsa with birria consomme for dipping, pouring, drinking! It’s a must try. The Esquites Quesadilla, with tajin, cashew sour cream and mango habanero salsa is the pub staff’s go to. Queso Fries topped with homemade hot queso, tajin and jalapenos packs a punch and we would definitely be recommended as a side. We have perfected the Breakfast Quesadilla and now have people come far and wide to have it!

You describe your food as TexMex - why did you choose this as opposed to other traditional Mexican food?

Mark: We love the blend of Texan and Mexican dishes on our menu. Texas claims home to the ‘Chilli Sin Carne’ which was part of our signature dish, ‘Chilli Loaded Nachos’ that kicked off our menu when we first started out. We also take a lot of our inspiration from Mexico. We use mainly Mexican chillies and fresh herbs such as coriander in our dishes, and of course the wonderful Mexican taco. It’s great to be able to create, and be inspired by, an exciting world of variations. Therefore the fusion that TexMex offered worked amazingly for what we wanted to achieve.

All of your dishes are vegan and gluten free, what led to this choice of direction?

Mark: With one of us a coeliac and both of us choosing a plant-based diet we were once very limited on where to eat with ease. This was more so in the street food market scene, where space and equipment is limited for vendors, so we set ourselves a goal to create a menu that prioritises great food first and just happened to also be vegan and gluten free. We find people are always pleasantly surprised that our food is vegan, and when we’re asked, ‘What do you have that is gluten free?’, to be able to say ‘everything’ you can see their faces light up - it’s a nice moment.

BBQ Strips For Leftlion Web
Angie And Mark Outside King Billy For LL Web

People are always pleasantly surprised that our food is vegan, and when we’re asked, ‘What do you have that is gluten free?’, to be able to say ‘everything’ is a nice moment

You've even got your own brand of fiery dressing 'Scarlett's Hot Sauce' - is that a secret recipe, or can you reveal what goes into making that?

Mark: I love hot sauce and Scarlett’s was my original venture, hitting the shelves back home in Dublin in 2017. It's made using a blend of chipotle and Carolina Reaper Chillies (business name light bulb moment!) and other secret flavours, then slow cooked to perfection. You can try and buy this at the pub - but stock sells out quickly! We’ve also got a popular mango and habanero hot sauce that’s hopefully going to hit the shelves soon - watch this space!

Are you both professionally trained or did Carolina's come from a natural love of food and cooking?

Mark: It started with the love of food and also importantly flavour. I turned my limitations into a creative opportunity. I am forever researching and testing exciting ingredients. Also Between us we have over thirty years experience in the catering industry. Angie has worked managing restaurants in Dublin. So her strengths lie in service and behind the scenes.

What are the benefits of starting small as a pop-up before eventually finding your own bricks and mortar place? Would you have any advice to people who'd like to start their own kitchen?

Angie: Our street food venture, which launched in 2021, gave us the time and freedom to go at our own pace. Testing different menu ideas, markets and locations to see what worked best for us. But I have to warn you, it's early morning, late nights and physically hard work. But it's definitely been worth it for us. We have met the most incredible people who also offer support and advice. It is a great community to be part of. Being given the opportunity with bricks and mortar has given us the chance to expand our menu, so with weekly specials we can test the waters and see what's working. We see our weekly specials as a creative outlet to keep evolving and make more exciting dishes that don't necessarily work at street food events.

We would just say that running your own business is like a roller coaster so if you are ready, no fear, buckle in and enjoy the ride. Believing in your product is everything. Follow the muse. Take your time. We started our business in our late thirties. We realised we weren’t going to change the world so we decided to change ours and have never looked back.

We're looking forward to chilling with some chilli in the Billy rooftop garden over the summer! What's next for Carolina's?

Angie: We can't wait for the summer on the roof terrace and it’ll be our first ‘Billy Fest’ at the pub in June! We’re also back on the road with some big events with NSFC at Trent bridge Cricket Ground, Dot to Dot Festival at Rock City and we will be bringing our popular Breakfast Quesadillas to Sherwood, Ruddington and Chilwell Markets.

To try Carolina’s Chilli for yourself, head down to The King Billy pub on Eyre Street between 5-10 pm every Wednesday to Saturday.


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