Basement raised a level with quirky cantina
Mexican food is my all-time favourite, no doubt about it; from re-fried beans, to salsa sauce and guacamole, I pretty much love it all.
So being asked to review The Basementâ€™s Mexican eaterie was an easy â€œyesâ€. However, I was surprised to hear that The Basement even had a restaurant, and wondered how it would appeal to the readers of Lothian Life.
For starters, the last time I was there The Basement, it was one of a strip of hip bars on Edinburghâ€™s Broughton Street which formed a regular Saturday nightâ€™s entertainment, pre-clubbing. Now, a wild night out comprises good food, good wine, good company and frankly, home by midnight, latest.
With a niggling fear that Iâ€™d be a fish out of water, I was relieved to find myself among company of a similar age, once Iâ€™d squeezed past the 20-30 somethings in the bar; The Basement is a place of two distinct halves â€“ a lively bar one side, and a quirky cantina the other.
In fact my dining companion (Lothian Lifeâ€™s editor, Anne Hamilton) and I were able to have a good chat above the buzzing atmosphere drifting through from the barflies, and despite being a basement, it felt light and airy with seriously comfy cushions.
I wasnâ€™t the only one revisiting The Basement: I overheard a woman dining nearby saying: â€œIt was donkeys since I was last in hereâ€, an appropriate expression for a Mexican restaurant, and a man in a separate group said: â€œI used to drink here years ago.â€
So it seems to be having a revival and repositioning itself to appeal to a broader range of clientele. The cantina has in fact been open for well over two years, although anyone I mentioned it to was only vaguely or completely unaware of the restaurant.
I previously mentioned guacamole, and everyone has their own favourite way of transforming the average avocado into a delicious dip. At The Basement, a portable table is set up in front of you by a staff member who talks through the possible ingredients (lemon, chilli, oil, onions, herbs) and checks which youâ€™d like included, before pulping the green flesh into a dip served with tortilla chips. It certainly is a talking point and a great way to start a meal.
Anne and I decided to steer away from the usual burittos and fajitas, instead sharing four starters we hadnâ€™t had before: albondigas (pork and beef meatballs with a scrumptious smoked tomato chilli and peanut sauce made with Monterey Jack cheese), empanadias (little pastry parcels filled with sweet potato and black beans with a chilli con queso dip â€“ melted cheese and chilli pepper), the delightfully-named frickles (a mixture of battered yellow peppers, pickled banana peppers and jalapenos with a cooling chipotle mayo â€“ some of those capsicums were hot but there was no telling which ones from the outside!) and crayfish crevice (simple baby gem lettuce filled with crayfish tails in a chilli, orange and red onion marinade â€“ delicate and distinctly different from the other dishes with their heavier flavourings and consistencies).
All four hit the jackpot and only a few tortillas remained at the bottom of the dish at the end of our meal.
Anne chose the chilli and lime panacotta for desert: I think it was a better option over my Mayan chocolate tart, which felt a bit heavy in comparison (although the zesty lime crÃ¨me was amazingly light.) I wonder if always choosing the chocolate option means I donâ€™t necessarily opt for the best sweets on offer, so will change tactic next time.
Also, Iâ€™ll definitely order a tequila when I next visit, as it was almost rude not to with such a vast choice. We stuck to the safety of a carafe of very pleasant rose wine.
The Basementâ€™s goal is simple: tasty food, helpful staff, comfortable surroundings. It easily reaches all three targets, spot-on.
The Basement has definitely gone up in the world.
Prices: starters/small plates Â£4.95-Â£6.95; mains/large plates Â£8.95-Â£15.50 (fillet steak); deserts Â£4-Â£4.95.
The Basement, 10a-12a Broughton Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3RH. Tel. 0131 557 0097