|El Cartel, Edinburgh - Luxurious guacamole with plantain chips.|
El Cartel, Edinburgh review - "Akin to how things would probably be served from a market still in Guadalajara, food is prepared to order. So first up was Guacamole National. Now you are probably thinking 'mashed avocado, garlic and lime juice'. Well yes, but this was also wonderfully topped with a rich sheep-milk cheese, the sweet-acid of pomegranate seeds, and peppery scallions. A combination that was deliciously liberated from the serving bowl with the aid of crispy plantain chips."
If you consider yourself as a bit of a ‘foodie’ you almost certainly like to keep up with what’s currently ‘on trend’ in terms of eating and drinking. Yet food fashions can quickly ebb and flow, like waves crashing on the white sands of a Baja Californian beach. A particular dish or cuisine can be all the rage one day, only to disappear up the extractor fan of fickleness the next. Anyone out there still hysterically searching for a cronut? No, thought not...
I do, however, like a food trend that makes an appearance on the scene and exhibits some staying power courtesy of the fact that it has something genuinely interesting and engaging to offer. A case in point is the ascendancy of the street food scene in the UK over recent years. And by street food I'm not talking about a dilapidated burger van in a lay-by off the A1. Instead I refer to the diverse and flavoursome morsels of the sort that can be purchased from street vendors from Bangkok to Berlin, and Delhi to Durban. So enamoured have Brits become with this culturally diverse and convenient dining style that it now even has its own trade association and award scheme.
|Fabulous frozen margarita.|
I'm glad to say that we had decided to dine early, as the interior of El Cartel is relatively compact, meaning you can be on fairly intimate terms with your fellow diners, and the restaurant doesn't take reservations, so if the place is full, front of house will take your mobile number and call when a table becomes available. Having bagged a spot for two with no trouble, we took in the trendy, charcoal-hued interior bedecked in Dia de los Muertos paraphernalia, as our server arrived with a jug of water and the food and drinks menus. And whilst on the subject of drinks, although modest in size El Cartel serves over 80 types of tequilas, mescals and agaves as well as some enticing cocktails. The house frozen Margarita is a thing of both deliciousness and beauty, to the point that my over-enthusiastic supping resulted in a moment of brain freeze...
|Baja fish tacos.|
|Delicious Drunken frijoles.|
|Carne Asada - flat iron steak tacos.|
|Marvellous mushroom quesadillas.|
I hope one day to visit Mexico in person. But until I get the opportunity I would wager that a trip to El Cartel is about as close my taste buds can get to experiencing the authentic flavours of Mexican street food. The menu feels fresh and is certainly packed with flavour. And the vibe of the place is just the right side of laid-back trendiness, as opposed to touristic Mexicana - I didn't spot a single sombrero, and A Tribe Called Quest, as opposed to Mariachi disco classics, drifted from the sound system. So if you fancy a gastronomic snap-shot tour of Central American cuisine, whilst still not setting foot outside central Edinburgh, El Cartel is probably right up your street!
Food – 8/10
Atmosphere – 7.5/10
Service – 8/10
Value – 7.5/10
Ambience - expect a welcoming, relaxed, yet bustling restaurant/bar.