One of the greatest experiences you can have as travelling food lover in this world, is to stumble upon the unexpected gem that overturns your expectations. While working in the New York and Boston, I had the pleasure of working with several excellent cooks who taught me a thing or two about Mexican cooking. My wife and I traveled to Mexico last Spring, but since moving to London we’ve been missing out on the flavor, the culture and the vibrancy of our neighbors to the south.
I’ve said this before, and maybe it’s not completely fair, but at times it seemed that in Great Britain, Mexican food was defined by Doritos and Taco Bell. Granted, we’re a long way from Mexico in the UK, and I had come to accept the fact that I would have to wait to have another great Mexican meal; and then came Miro’s Cantina Mexicana of Edinburgh located on the iconic Rose Street.
The last thing I expected to find in Edinburgh was good Mexican food, but when I stumbled across Miro’s and took a look at the menu I had a burst of confidence. When I called for a reservation, I was greeted with a friendly Spanish accent on the other end with the sound of a bustling restaurant in the background. The only time available at 9 PM was a little late for us after a long day, but we decided to wait it out and were not disappointed.
The restaurant’s outdoor seating and windows were closed, due to the rain, but we walked into a small but cozy dining room that was brimming with life, laughter and the unmistakable scent and sounds prevalent to Mexican culture. The staff running the front of the house were two knowledgeable and friendly guys who were working the room, making drinks and chatting away with several guests in conversational Spanish. It was a nice touch that Miro’s didn’t feel at all like some Scottish version of Chipotle and wasn’t filled with stereotypical Mexican window dressing to make it feel “authentic”.
I was glad to see that they carried several Mexican beers including Sol, Pacifico, Negra Modelo and Bohemia with the option for a Chelada (with lime juice and salt) or Michelada (with Lime Juice, Salt and Chili). My wife opted for a margarita on the rocks (£4.75), which was excellent; frozen margaritas were spinning away in a machine, with flavored syrups waiting, but we let those spin and stuck with the good stuff. I went with a Bandera (Mexican Flag), which was served as a shot of lime juice, a shot of tequila, and a shot of Sangrita (think Mexican style Bloody Mary); meant to be sipped in that order.
At one point, our table noticed the server pouring a tequila liqueur, we were curious and asked about it. Rather than just trying to explain and sell another drink, the server poured us each a taste of the sweet tequila (Agavero Tequila Liqueur) which was excellent, and a real show of genuine hospitality on the server’s part. It’s delicious, even if you don’t love tequila, and is somewhat similar to a Moscato.
As for the food, which is what really matters most, we were extremely satisfied with the simple menu featuring many recognizable dishes. There was the ubiquitous fajita section that most Mexican restaurants outside of Mexico feel the need to adopt, but there were also some great specials and authentic dishes like ‘Borrego con Miel’ (7-hour cooked lamb with Mexican honey and smokey chipotles), Albondigas (pork and beef meatballs) and Chiles Relleños (roasted peppers stuffed with cheese and fried).
We started with a big plate of nachos, which can often be treated as an afterthought, but Miro’s did it right with homemade ingredients and not a single dry, cheese-less chip. They started with a base of re-fried beans and home-cooked corn tortilla chips topped with melted cheese, pickled jalapeños, salsa, sour cream and guacamole. In another show of good hospitality, we asked for the guacamole on the side (because my father hates avocados for some strange reason) and received a good size bowl of guac that we would have been charged $9 for in a Manhattan restaurant.
For our entrees, I had the Chicken Molé (£12.95), my father had the ‘Pollo Tinga Poblano’ ( free-range chicken, peppers, onions, coriander £12.95), and my wife had a special of giant prawns cooked with chili, garlic and lime.
I love a good molé, and often use the sauce as a judge of a Mexican restaurant’s quality. If you can make a good molé sauce, than you generally have my trust. It can be difficult for many cooks unfamiliar with the cuisine, as the combination of nuts, chillies and chocolate is not typical to many other cuisines. Miro’s molé was velvety smooth and rich in flavor without being overwhelming. The trick with a good molé is too not let any one ingredient dominate and Miro’s handled it deftly. The chicken molé was served with perfectly cooked rice, a small salad and a couple of warm, homemade flour tortillas. In a third stroke of excellent hospitality, when I clumsily dropped one of my tortillas, I was quickly brought out another two warm tortillas without question.
My dad’s enchilada’s were excellent as well, with a smoky salsa roja, while my wife’s prawns were delicious, plump and perfectly cooked both were served with rice and salad, and the prawns came with warm flour tortillas.
I’ll certainly have to go back at some point and assess the rest of the menu, but the small sample we tried gave me great faith in the ability of a committed and passionate chef to translate a favored cuisine to a far off culture. Unfortunately, the owner wasn’t there himself for me to meet, I was told that he was a Scotsman who spent years cooking in Mexico and brought his love of that cuisine back to Edinburgh with him. Miro’s Cantina clearly represents a small but vibrant segment of modern cuisine, where authenticity and passion trump the latest passing trends. The next time I’m in Edinburgh, I’ll be ready to drink tequila instead of whiskey.
184 Rose Street – West End – Edinburgh 0131 225 4376