After opening its doors last November, El Cartel on Thistle Street didn’t have the greatest starts to show their Mexican flare in Edinburgh. Due to a fire they unfortunately had to close for a short period but since reopening this has been the place to go for fresh Mexican flavours and is proving to be a very popular eatery. The restaurant only accepts walk-in’s so you cannot book. However, if there are no tables available you are encouraged to have a drink in Bon Vivant, a stylish bar opposite El Cartel, where you can wait for a phone call from the restaurant to let you know when your table is ready. Considering Bon Vivant is owned by the same people I have to admire how smart a business move the no booking rule is.
On this occasion I didn’t have to wait for a table. The restaurant is buzzing with people coming and going. Décor is a mixed bag with traditional Mexican tiles alongside skeletons and cactuses. It has a very modern funky vibe. The menu consists of a selection of Tacos and other side dishes which are ideal for sharing. Unfortunately, two of the types of tacos and chicken wings had been sold out when we ordered, which was disappointing but the waitress was very helpful in helping us choose one of the many specialty beers on offer. There is also a wide drinks selection focusing on tequila.
It was hard to know what to begin with as the food all arrived together. We started with Sweet potato tacos. Two soft light tacos packed with sweet potato, red onion, and sheep’s milk cheese. I have to admit I don’t normally order the veggie option but this was so tasty. The flavours were so fresh. The tacos had a drizzle of chipotle crema which acted as a delicate sauce. Pomegranate and pumpkin seeds were sprinkled on top which added a zing and texture.
Sweet Potato Tacos
Our other taco, ‘Carne Asada’ was also tasty but lacked a tangy element. The flat iron steak was tender and juicy and was topped with avocado, spring onion, dried cherry tomato and arbol salsa which had a good heat from the chilli. A small piece of lime was served between the 2 two tacos but I felt that this wasn’t enough. This dish really needed a great deal more acidity to make it sing.
The Quesadillas of Chorizo, sweet potato and cows milk soft cheese were delicious. The quesadillas themselves were crispy and light. For me chorizo works well with everything, my only complaint was the ratio of chorizo to potato could have been slightly higher. The salsa on top added freshness to the dish.
By far our favourite dish of the night was the Pork Ribs. These were amazing. These melt in the mouth baby back pork ribs fell off the bone and were served with a rosemary chilli and tamarind glaze. The glaze was perfectly balanced and not too overpowering.
As tempting as chilli chocolate ice cream sounded we opted to have another savory course, the special Quesadilla, instead! Again, the quesadillas were crispy and cooked well. These were filled with earthy mushrooms, blue cheese, and sweet leeks. You could taste all the ingredients but I felt that it needed another few spoonfuls of the tasty filling. Topped with white onion, peanuts and a creamy sauce this did add more flavour and overall this was a pretty enjoyable way to end the meal.
El cartel is certainly delivering a bold statement of fresh Mexican flavours in a chilled environment. The informal environment might not be for everyone or for every occasion but for a chilled dining experience or a quick bite to eat it is perfect. Despite not finding all the elements of the food perfect there were many highlights and I hope to return very soon.
Price: £40 for two plus two beers
- Atmosphere - 7/107/10
- Food - 6/106/10
- Service - 7/107/10
- Value for Money - 7/107/10