Last week a New Mexican restaurant opened in Glasgow City centre and myself & Nicola were invited along to a pre-launch night to try it out.
Topolabamba is housed inside the old 'El Banco De Mexico' building on St Vincent Street, next door to The Drum & Monkey, and owned by the same group behind the popular Di Maggios and Cafe Andaluz restaurants.
Myself and a few other Glasgow food bloggers had been invited along as way of thanks for helping share publicity for the restaurant prior to its opening , with the pre-launch night aimed at putting the staff through their paces as well as to help iron out any problems that might I rise before the doors one properly for business.
We were the first of our group to arrive and were quickly shown to our table. The restaurant is a cool mix of leather, wood and brickwork, interspersed with various nods to the Mexican obsession with death - there are skulls everywhere, including on the custome made wallpaper in the toilets!
After being welcomed into the restaurant, we were advised that we should do our best to order as wide a selection of food and drink from the menu in order to truely test the kitchen, bar and waiting staff - so that's what we did!
As we waited for the rest of our table to arrive, we were served our first of many drinks with me supping back many a bottle of Mexican craft beer Dia de Los Muertes Pale Ale and my designated driver Nicola relaxing with a can of grapefruit Ting.
The menu is a mix of small tapas dishes, sharing platter and a few larger plates with Topolabamba trying to bring the true taste of Mexico to the Glasgow restaurant scene. In fact many of the ingredients used across the menu are imported straight from Mexico. With no shortage of options on the menu, we struggled to decide on what we were going to order. As we took our time to read over the menu, we were served up some of the finest nachos and guacamole that I've tasted - the guacamole had a fantastic punch of chili and lime - I could have eaten them all night.
We ordered an assortment of dishes from across the menu starting with the Barbacoa Beef tacos. The soft corn tortilla were stacked high with beautifully tender pulled beef and topped with peppers, red onion, coriander and soured cream. This was a great introduction to the Topolabamba menu.
Next up was the Shrimp, Butter, Garlic & Paprika tostadas - crispy corn tortillas topped with loads of juicy prawns. The prawns were great but unfortunately this dish lacked any other real flavour.
Nicola and myself love calamari and we weren't let down by the Salt & Pepper Ancho Chilli Squid. The squid was cooked to perfection - the ancho chilli giving a good punch of heat whilst the accompanying chipotle alioli added a cool smokiness to the dish.
The spiciest dish that we had on the night was the Pescado Empapelado, a firm piece of fish baked in a paper bag with a potent chilli red guacamole. We both loved this dish but felt that at £6.95 it was a little overpriced for the portion size.
Our favourite dish was the Tangy Cactus and Marinated Chicken taquitos. Deep fried corn tortilla tubes filled with chunks of tasty chicken and cactus and topped with crumbly cheese (not sure if it was feta, but it certainly tasted like it) and soured cream. The combination of flavour and texture in the taquito was fantastic, definitely one that we would order again.
The last dish to arrive was the Smoky Stuffed Pepper - We both enjoyed the charred poblano pepper that was stuffed with crumbly cheese, potatoes, spicy cactus shallots and chipotle peppers, however we also agreed that there was too much melted cheese over the top of the dish which resulted in the flavours from the stuffed pepper were overpowered a little.
Overall, the food was pretty good although there were maybe a few issues with some dishes needing a heavier hand on the seasoning. In addition to this, with the exception on the fish dish, there wasn't a great amount of chilli heat on show. If I was expecting anything from a Mexican restaurant, it was spicy chilli heat, unfortunately Topolabamba failed to deliver on this level. That said, I have had some feedback from the restaurant to say that a number of the dishes have been tweaked in order to deliver a bigger flavour/heat punch - I suppose that's the benefit of having these dry runs before the actual opening?
As I continued to enjoy the Dia de Los Muertes Pale Ale, my designated driver decided to try a bottle of Lime Jarritos, especially imported from Mexico. For any of you old enough to remember when the Alpine Lorry used to deliver 'pop' to your grannies, the Jarritos tasted exactly the same but without the massive sugar hit!
We were both stuffed by this point but our waitress encouraged us to order desserts so Nicola opted for the Churros, a traditional Spanish/Mexican dessert of deep fried doughnut batte which is usually sprinkled with sugar and served with melted chocolate on the side. We've had churros in Spain on a number of occasions and always loved the crispy strips of light batter, unfortunately the churros at Topolabamba weren't great - no sugar and far too dense. On a plus, the chocolate sauce on the side was wonderfully rich.
My own dessert of Pueblan Flan wasn't great either. Somewhere between a Creme Catalan and a Creme Brûlée, the Pueblan Flan was far too sweet with a noticable fake vanilla taste running through the custard base. To top it of, the burnt sugar crust was about 4mm thick and so chilled that it was almost impossible to break through the solid surface.
In all fairness, there are only four dessert on the menu which leads me to thinking that the primary focus of the kitchen staff isn't serving pudding!
So to sum up, we had a very enjoyable night with some really tasty dishes and some that aren't that far away from hitting the right notes. The management and waiting staff looked after us all night and the kitchen were more than capable of getting a huge number of tapas dishes served up with little fuss.
The whole evening was complimentary and I would like to thank the team at Topolabamba for their hospitality. I would also like to say that my report above is an honest report of our experience on the night and was not influenced in any way by the fact that the meal and drinks were free.
I'm sure that myself and Nicola will return to dine at Topolabamba to see how the little tweaks to the menu change the overall dining experience, however we will be waiting until after the Commonwealth Games have finished as Glasgow is just too busy right now!