Monday, 21 June 2010

Tex Mex 2, Edinburgh

I don't know about you, but in the summer, my mind and tastebuds turn to 'holiday' food. Forget about the richness and stodge of Indian and Chinese, they are so very British and about as exotic as fish and chips! Instead, I like to try food from sunny countries that double up as popular hoilday destinations. Holiday food must be tasty of course, but what is more important is that the dishes and the ambience of the restaurant are so powerful, you feel as if you are abroad on a sunny terrace.

Tucked away in a backstreet behind George Street, the cosy and colourful Tex Mex 2 was like a little ray of sunshine amongst the dusty, stern-looking buildings that characterise Edinburgh. A carnival of green, purple and red with mounthwatering drawings of watermelons set the scene for a midsummer night's meal. My first impressions were mixed- it had a brilliant atmosphere but the restaurant was somewhat cramped and some diners were practically sitting on the laps of their neighbours. However, I was starving and all I could think about was getting fed.

The menu was a delight and veggies will not go hungry here! After much deliberation, I ordered a starter of nachos which came with generous helpings of sour cream, jalapenos, spring onion, cheese and salsa, and for the main course Veggie Enchiladas. The courses were imaginatively presented, the enchiladas served in a bright green baking dish and were accompanied with a fresh salad and pepper-infused rice. Yummy! I spied the cocktails of my neighbours which looked fab but unfortunately, there were no virgin ones for me. (For your info, they were all under £4- not bad for the City Centre!).

I was fit to burst after such a feast but in the name of research, I read through the dessert menu for future reference. Favourites like Keylime Pie and Banoffee leapt out at me. I quite fancied one of their coffees, but to be honest, I did not feel as if I could relax- my neighbours were practically on top of me and I couldn't have a private conversation, plus I heard every word of the loudmouth 'Ned' and his equally uncultured wife next to me. I would go back to Tex Mex if I was guaranteed a window seat (more space and privacy), if they expanded, or if they took a few tables out. The restaurant was not cheap but the layout was as cramped as a greasy spoon. (Actually my local Greasy has space for your shopping bags too!). As I said, the food was fab but don't come here if you intend on a deep and meaningful conversation with your meal, unless you don't mind broadcasting it.

Tex Mex II on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Saigon Saigon, Edinburgh

Right in the heart of Edinburgh, I expected Saigon Saigon to be tourist hell. It was Chinese heaven. This restaurant has a wonderfully old-school atmosphere about it, dark, moody with a hint of red with no pretentions. The welcome is undeniably warm and the best part of this restaurant is that it is two restaurants in one! Upon sitting down, the diners are presented with two menus; one being a 'normal' bog-standard Chinese-in-the-UK menu (not that the quality is bog-standard, mind) and the second one is a sight to behold. You see, the second menu is the Dim Sum menu and comprises of pictures. Even if you are a veggie like me and can't eat 90 percent of the Dim Sums (chicken's feet anyone?), the pictures and descriptions will keep you occupied and be a talking point for the evening. What does a chicken's claw in spicy sauce taste like? I wonder how you eat tripe in curry sauce? Believe me, I was like an excitable toddler with a Mr Men book when I clapped eyes on the menu, I even took it home with me for my box of culinary souvenirs. It is worth noting that the normal menu and the Dim Sums are prepared in two separate kitchens, so if you are with someone who orders off a different menu than you, the courses may not arrive together. However, this adds to the fun, relaxed atmosphere of Saigon Saigon (was going to call it SS for short but just remembered the WW2 connotations). Compare it to Chinese Tapas if you will.

I ordered the bean curd spring rolls, a veritable feast on the tastebuds and eyes. The spring rolls were the best I have ever had, they should win awards for their freshness, quality and texture! These weren't like any other spring roll, but a party in the mouth- glass noodles, fresh veg, sesame and tofu made a great mix.
For the main, I gorged on Szechuan veg with cashew nuts and fluffy EFR. The portion was huge- see first pic, it would have easily fed two! It was a lovely nutty curry with a chilli-hot aftertaste, but not as hot as I would have liked, more like the Rogan Josh of the Chinese world, not a Vindaloo like it should be.

The meal was rounded off with gallons of Jasmine Tea. I was fit to burst, but the dessert menu got the better of me as I saw a mango/coconut ice cream dessert which I had previously devoured at the Tung Fong in Manchester. This exquisite little treasure was just waiting to be scoffed so I made room for it!

They say 'once bitten, twice shy' but this definitely does not apply to Saigon Saigon as I've been 4 times since the original review. More like once bitten, twice totally hooked on the place. Meanwhile, I'm going to leave you with a pic of the bean curd rolls for you to salivate over.

Saigon Siagon on Urbanspoon

Friday, 4 June 2010

No. 1 Chinese, Edinburgh

When I worked shifts, the beauty of my job was working weekends and having the week free to explore the city centre; free of the hustle and bustle of tourists, screaming kids and the like. Now I have a boring, regular job, I have less time to go on midweek food-finding missions but on one of the rare occasions I was free, I found a gem of a Chinese.

As readers know, I am not fooled by fancy decor and believe that so-called 'trendy' restaurants offer microscopic portions. Walking through Leith, I discovered the No.1 Chinese nestled in between old mans pubs and cheap shops. These inconspicuous places are always the best, unassuming and original. The fact that it was boasting being the number one didn't really deter me as I'd never heard of it before! The business lunch seemed excellent value at £5.99 for 3 courses, the beauty of it being you could pick any starter and main off the menu (apart from fish and a few of the more 'special' ones but as a veggie, I didn't care!)

Only two tables were taken on this particular day, yet the welcome was friendly and we weren't rushed. The decor is simple with a few Chinese pictures and ornaments, traditional without any of the garish brashness of lanterns and archways. Veggies, you will be in for a treat with this menu. My starter consisted of veggie spring rolls and I settled on the Chinese equivalent of Vindaloo, Szechuan Veg with fluffy boiled rice. Considering the meal was only £5.99, the portions were generous! A scoop of vanilla rounded the special meal deal off nicely.

My only complaint is the drinks- the drinks are either cans which bear the legend 'multipack not for resale' and are sold at £1.50 or a dubious-tasting flat fake Coke with a bitter aftertaste of chemicals. Order tap water instead.

As the lunch was satisfactory, I decided to try if Number 1 was still top of the pops in the evening. It was a typical summer's day in the Burgh where anything over 15 degrees is considered to be a heatwave and at exactly 6pm it rained down as per usual. The restaurants were packed to the brim with sheltering diners and the only place that we managed to squeeze into was the Number 1. (Of course, we were sorely tempted to go to Old Faithful aka Lee-On but that would have been pure laziness. Variety is the spice of life).

The restaurant was surprisingly quiet and as I looked around, I appeared to be the only woman in there. Single men gazed down into their chicken and sweetcorn, middle aged males looking for a last-ditch attempt to pull an Asian babe. Is the No.1 some sort of pick up joint, a knocking shop? Or is it just a place where lone diners, businessmen and bachelors can eat, inconspicuous? Across from me was a striking couple- she, a girl in her 20s, petite, broken English,Oriental; he, approximately 60, Scottish, paunchy with moobs to rival Jordan. Hmm, where are Border Control when you most need them? Maybe he is the role model of all the misfits in this restaurant, the pimp, the main man.

I almost forgot- I should be concentrating on the food! I was ravenous and ordered Vegetarian Spring Rolls, these were disappointingly of the cash and carry variety, fried, burnt, gone cold and microwaved. Ever the discerning hostess, the waitress wiped down my dirty knife and fork and offered me it for my main. I began to doubt the hygiene of this place.

My main of Szechuan Veg was also a disappointment. This is supposed to be the Vindaloo of Chinese cuisine but this tasted like dishwater mixed with a bag of cheap stir-fry. Beer was watered down too and it cost a bomb. Thank God for all the sad single men as the peoplewatching opportunities made up for the lacklustre meal. One for the no-go list then, unless you are lonely, bored and have no taste buds. No.1 is only good for a cheapo lunch after all.

No 1 Chinese on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

El Barrio, Edinburgh

A Mexican restaurant with the atmosphere of Blackpool!

If there's one thing that I miss most about my home town Liverpool (well, actually there are many but I'll save that for another blog), it is the fabulous Mexican restaurant El Macho. I was hoping to recreate the experience here in Edinburgh and discovered an interesting-looking basement bar advertising 'loud food and spicy music'. That is exactly the kind of mix every discerning vindaloo queen likes.

I got there about 7.30 and the atmosphere was pleasant; good, cheesy music (not Mexican), friendly staff and the kind of decor that tricks you into thinking you are outside in sunnier climes. The menu seemed a bit pricy but I cast my mind back to other Mexicans I had tried and thought 'ooh this means the portions will be huge!'

What a disappointment. The fajitas were done in the style of a can't-be-bothered singleton who lives alone and just has themselves to please. Definitely not the type of food you would impress people with. It was like the Ryanair of restaurants- it looks cheap, you think it is going to be cheap but you end up hideously out of pocket. The portion size wasn't overwhelming and used the cheapest ingredients possible- chips,lettuce,supermarket wraps, a couple of peppers, cheese....Gordon Ramsay would've used his famous expletive!

Things perked up for dessert though, sumptuous Belgian waffles with ice cream, pecan pie, potent coffee... this selection passed my rigorous testing.

I was disgusted at the drinks prices, for a downmarket gaff in a basement I thought it was a cheek that they were a similar price to the chic locations on George Street! That is as far as the George Street similarities go though. The toilets are dire. The drinks are basically a glass of ice and it smells like a Bacardi Breezer splattered council estate nightspot. Actually, I discovered that El B's actually markets itself as a club rather than a restaurant, which is why I gave it another go on a works' night out.

From a clubbers point of view, El B is a lively fun place for boogying the night away as they play a good mix of chart, r and b and classics from the 70s, 80s and 90s. However, the staff had a different attitude than to when I ate there. The male bar staff were aggressive, miserable and downright rude, preferring to serve different nationalities before others. If you wanted a soft drink, they are not interested in you- by the way, the drinks are more like slush puppies as their main ingredient is ice. My work colleagues ordered a round of JD and coke, turned their backs and -whoosh- their half-full glasses disappeared mysteriously! One of my female colleagues asked what had happened to the drinks and she got roared at by a barman in Spanglish! What sort of a man is that who roars at young girls and steals their drinks? It's a half-a-man as I call them, too much of a p***y to fight with other men, so has to pick on the girls! Talking of picking on girls, El B's last advertisement made me think of 1970s time travel. Apparently now, all their female staff have been kitted out in new revealing uniforms and are currently recruiting for staff 'who must look good'. Wow, Germaine Greer would LOVE it here!

I'd suggest anyone wanting to go here for a boogie to take a large bag full of drinks as you shouldn't give these undeserving clowns your money.

I have resigned El Barrio's to my 'never again' collection along with its nearby neighbours Tippoo Sahib and Passage to India. Should I ever want to see scantily-clad girls (lol) I will head to the Pubic Triangle and should I ever have a craving for fake Mexican food, I will head to Asda. However, if Gordon Ramsay and Germaine Greer fancy a night out with me filled with gossip and critique, then I will change my mind!

El Barrio on Urbanspoon