I took a bright orange Post-It note along to my review of this South East Asian restaurant.
I’d scribbled on it with a Sharpie.
“NO: crab and calamansi; fried chicken and spicy caramel; hispi cabbage, cashew butter and Sriracha, corn ribs, chicken curry, lime leaf negroni, bone marrow and shiitake fried rice, or banana fritters”.
I spoiled everything for myself, but I had to put my work hat (a pork pie, naturally) on.
Whenever I review a restaurant for the second time, if it opens a new branch and the menu remains the same, I tend to accidentally order and write about exactly the same things.
I’ve already reviewed Ka Pao in Glasgow, which was recently awarded a Bib Gourmand in the Michelin Guide 2022 and is owned by Scoop Restaurants, who also look after Glasgow’s Ox & Finch.
The aforementioned were a few of my orders back in 2020, and I adored them all.
Now this brand has replicated on the east coast, with a branch at the St James Quarter, though round the side, so you don’t necessarily have to go into the body of the beast and be sucked in by Zara and Stradivarius, which is presumably a violin shop.
As far as the venue goes, it’s hard for them to compete with the original destination, which is in the A-listed Art Deco Botanic Gardens Garage, built in 1911.
They’ve not done bad though. I’d say this is one of my favourite food premises in the building, since it’s tucked into its oxters, and the space has been softened with plants and individual booths.
The menu seems to be the same as their Glasgow iteration.
I really want the fried chicken again, especially as I see lots of them coming out from the pass, but the stupid note forbids it.
Instead, from the selection of various sized plates, we go for padron peppers (£5.50), which are blistered and have their tails dangling into a sweet and salty pool of soy and tamarind. They’re topped with crumbs of salty toasted garlic, which works perfectly to temper their bitter tang. I also go for a boozy counterpart of burnt orange Margarita (£8.50) - Batanga Tequila Reposado, lime, burnt orange syrup and a rim that’s crusted with salt as thick as Tammy Faye’s mascara.
Everything comes out as it’s ready, and next is the grilled sea trout, shredded cabbage, peanut, ginger and charred grapes (£10.50). It’s a textural collage of a few of my favourite ingredients. The crispy-skinned fish is silky, the ginger comes in swathes, peanuts are whole and crumbled, black grapes are fit to pop and the cabbage is juicy with a fragrant lemongrass-y sauce. It’s also threaded with green chillies, which club us like we’re Whac-a-Mole rodents.
The sweet and tangy-ness of this dish works pretty well alongside the stir-fried ox tongue (£9), which is more feral and hearty. The pieces of meat come with pak choy, oyster sauce and green peppercorns, and more of that toasted garlic crumble on top, with carb provided by a large bowl of steamed jasmine rice (£2) on the side.
The tongue option is also pretty hot, for a lightweight like me, though the softness of another dish – the charcoal-grilled celeriac (£8.50) – acts like a balm for my shocked taste buds. At first, anyway, until I got zapped by hidden jolts of red chilli. It’s rather lovely anyway, with a creamy almond and turmeric sauce that’s topped with three ruffs of crispy kale.
The chopped up pieces of grilled pork and bone marrow sausage (£7.50) feature a rustic texture, with a hefty rough middle and chilli, coriander and garlic in the mix. This comes with a medley of Thai basil, peanuts, chilli, shallot and coriander, so you can pimp up your saussie like a Barbie, with a range of accessories.
The banana fritters from my last visit seem to have vanished, in favour of lighter puds, like the mango soft serve.
Instead, we go for the palm sugar panna cotta (£7), which is as sweet as condensed milk out of the tin, and is topped by sticky rice and nibs of pineapple, papaya and mango.
I’m very happy that Edinburgh has its own Ka Pao. It’s going to fit in quite nicely, among the other restaurants and that violin shop.
I’m especially looking forward to returning with no Post-It note.
Next time, it’s fried chicken with spicy caramel all the way.
Unit 420 St James Quarter
(0131 385 1040, www.ka-pao.com)
Places to try Nearby
Itsu, 204 St James Square, Edinburgh, www.itsu.com
Edinburgh has just got its own brand new branch of this Japanese fast food chain. There’s space to sit in, or you can order your sushi, gyoza or noodle pots to takeaway using their high-tech touch screens.
Pho, Fourth Floor, St James Quarter, Edinburgh, www.phocafe.co.uk
If you fancy Vietnamese food, this venue also features a branch of Pho, which is just a few months old. It served a relatively healthy menu of traditional soup-based dish, pho, as well as curry, rice bowls and salads.
Everyman, 502 St James Crescent, Edinburgh, www.everymancinema.com
Those who equate watching a film with eating snacks will like this new cinema. It has two lounges and bars, and the staff can bring burgers, hot-dogs or small plates to your seat while the trailers are running.