It’s not long now until Dia de los Muertos (the Mexican Day of the Dead).
So, apart from the fact that I love tequila, what better reason to visit this new branch of Topolabamba? It has sprung up in the former premises of strip club Bottoms Up on Lothian Road, and is a pretty accurate facsimile of their Glasgow St Vincent Street branch, with a colourful fiesta of an interior.
There’s orange skull wallpaper, and, outside, a white strip-lit sign, with three letters set to flicker on and off: bam bam bam-bam.
Despite the fact we’re in the midst of Edinburgh Festival mania, it was surprisingly quiet, though it’s across the road from the Filmhouse and round the corner from the Usher Hall, the Lyceum and The Traverse.
Perhaps Mexican isn’t considered the most civilised of pre-theatre food, what with the re-fried beans and wotnot.
I primed my mandibles with one of their 1800 margaritas in lemony caramelised pineapple (£4.95), which was as good as it sounds, despite the lack of salty rim.
The menu here mainly features sharing options of Street Food and Classics, though there’s a section of larger plates dubbed The Big Boys (and, strangely, illustrated with a gun). They recommend three to four of the smaller offerings per person, but two to three is more realistic, unless you are hungrier than a stray chihuahua.
There was plenty of flavour when it came to a trio of chicken tinga tacos (£4.25) – heat mainly, and salty shredded meat, which was offset by lettuce and mayo on soft corn tortillas. OK, though this offering rather blended in with the tostadas (£4.20), which featured puffed-up toasted tortillas topped with shredded beef, spring onion, pink chilli mayo, crumbly queso fresco cheese and more lettuce. More sodium heavy, meaty-ness.
The trio of smoked chicken and Oaxacan onion quesadilla triangles (£5.50) were, as my dining partner said “like really good cheese toasties”, but with red onions, chook nibs and rings of chilli in the mix.
Our favourite dish was the calamares con morongo (£5.95), which consisted of three barrel shaped squid bodies packed tightly with a sweet, dark and rich mixture of spicy black pudding and ground chorizo, all doused in a smoky guajillo chilli sauce.
However, neither of us were that sold on The Big Boy of stuffed chimichanga with shrimp, crab and scallops in a cream chipotle sauce (£9.95). The crab flavour just overpowered all other fishy-ness from the miscellaneous bits, including kidney beans and cheese, that were swaddled in this soggy rice-packed log.
Another Big Boy option – chipotle honey ribs (£5.95) – was a little dry and gristly, but the chilli and honey flavour was there, though a scattering of pumpkin seeds on top didn’t really work, texturally. We played a game of gristle or seed.
At this point – post mains – the service in this joint sagged.
We felt invisible as staff members sailed past our table, glancing glaikit-ly at our folded arms and empty plates, meeting our gaze for a second, then moving on.
There’s a couple of hugely enthusiastic young staff members here (Dunfermline youth, and flesh-tunnel-eared bearded man, you’re both great), but some of the others didn’t seem to know what they were supposed to be doing. Anyway, our orders for puddings were eventually taken.
I’d gone for the Mexican take on trifle that is tequila toffee pineapple (£4.95), with clear booze-infused jelly, squirty cream, fruity chunks and a layer of dulce de leche, while my dining partner had a hugely generous portion – four pompoms of chocolate chilli ice-cream (£2.95). Both fine.
Still, for a chain, this place serves pretty decent fast (ish) food and the menu is more interesting than your average burrito joint. Should Edinburgh’s peerless El Cartel be booked up on Dia de los Muertos, I wouldn’t mind bagging myself a table.
93 Lothian Road, Edinburgh
(0131-228 6863, www.topolabamba.com)
Lunch for two, excluding drinks, £43.70