I behave a bit like a macaque and look a bit like a bonobo, so the upcoming Chinese year of the monkey could be a good 12 months for me. This new dawn kicks off on Monday, so to celebrate the ever diminishing tail end (a little fleecy pom-pom) of the current year of the sheep, I checked out this 19-year old restaurant, opposite Edinburgh’s Usher Hall. If you want to go, book a table tonight as, in common with many Chinese restaurants in the capital, the owners will soon be out celebrating and Jasmine will be closed from 7-9 February.
"The sauce dumped over the chook tasted of Bisto"
I’ve wanted to visit this place for years. For some reason, it appeals to me, with its stone koi carp in the window, maroon awning like Chinese dragons’ eyelids and warm mustard walls. The menu has a retro feel, but that’s OK, as I have a weakness for the weekend treat food of my teens – aka meat in addictively jammy sauces.
Excited, bamboozled by choice and unable to settle on two options, Bubbles and I went for the mixed starter (£8.50 per head), which featured six of Jasmine’s specialities.
Here they are in order of preference, from best to worst.
1. A dozen salty and spicy breadcrumbed nodules of spongily soft chicken, as well as chilli, chopped peppers and spring onions, served in a white cabbage shell. Hot and nibbly.
2. Pork and prawn whirls that had sheets of seaweed rolled into their centres and were coated by a kind of compressed prawn toast. Bit dry but satisfyingly umami.
3. Hoisin sweet and old school barbecue spare ribs. Yum, I’m back in 1983 (the year of the pig, ironically).
4. Two king prawns in a light tempura, doused in an opaque wasabi sauce that tasted mainly of cornflour.
5. A pair of crisp chicken spring rolls, each the length of a macaque’s leg and the colour of a manila envelope, stuffed with a squidgy, though rather bland, assortment of chopped mushroom and other bits.
6. Crunchy wonton “money bags” filled with sweet-corn. Yawn. Nothing blew my socks off, but all were fine. The mains were the disappointing bit.
Traditionally, beggar’s chicken (£13.50) consists of stuffed and roasted chook. This was Jasmine’s take – a signature dish according to the little chef’s hat printed on the menu. It was pretty joyless. There was a layer of fried chicken gobbets, then broccoli, bean sprouts, carrot shavings and slivers of oyster mushroom, plus strips of more poultry. Lots of meat and vegetation, but the sauce dumped over the top tasted of bog-standard Bisto. No tang, no spice, not a lot of anything much.
The stir-fried monkfish (£14.95) was equally lacking in oo-ooh-aah-ahh (the monkey word for pizzazz). Its sauce – chilli and honey – had sounded like a surefire winner, but this transparent syrup didn’t have any punch. It tasted a bit like the juice that tinned fruit comes in. Still, there were plenty of large dollops of soft white fish. The rice (£2.70 for boiled, £2.90 for egg fried) wasn’t great, either. It was a bit like every tired grain had checked itself into Dignitas. Where’s the fluff and steam?
As we weren’t feeling inspired by banana (£4.80), pineapple (£4.80), or toffee banana (£5.80) varieties of fritter, we decided to go dessert-less.
It wasn’t that conducive to hanging around anyway as, for maximum awkwardness, they’d put a single diner on the table pushed up next to ours (even though the rest of the space was almost entirely empty). We didn’t want to inflict our inane gibbering on her, so I finished my flat gin and tonic (£4.05) and we left her to her paperback and mango chicken.
Sad, but I think this restaurant CAN afford to rest on its laurels, as it’s slap bang in the centre of theatreland close to the Usher Hall, Lyceum and Traverse. That’s a whole load of dead cert pre-theatres right there.
However, even if I’d bought a ticket to see Planet of the Apes at the nearby Filmhouse, I probably won’t be celebrating the year of the monkey at Jasmine.
Dinner for two, excluding drinks - £51.05