Scotsman Review
Our criteria 
  • Ambience - It's important that a restaurant is inviting. We rate the decor, comfort and atmosphere.
  • Drink - Is the wine or cocktail list as exciting as the food, or does it fall short? Same goes for soft drinks. 
  • Food - We judge dishes on flavour, but also use of produce, cooking skill and presentation
  • Service - The staff and pace of a meal can make or break a meal out.
  • Value - From the food on the plate to service and surroundings, we check that you get what you're paying for.
March 4, 2020

Ka Pao, Glasgow, restaurant review

The food at Glasgow's fabulous new Ka Pao packs a punch, says Gaby Soutar

My driving instructor chain-smoked menthol cigarettes and barely spoke. I blame her for the teenage me failing my driving test three times, then giving up permanently.

Still, I may not have wheels, but I’m wearing my high-waisted jeans and brown slip-ons à la Jeremy Clarkson, after taking a train and the clockwork orange to Southeast Asian restaurant Ka Pao.

Owned by the team behind Glasgow’s popular Finnieston destination, Ox and Finch, this 120 cover place is named after the Thai word for holy basil (though, every time you say it, you must punctuate the Lichtenstein-esque sound with a superhero flying punch).

Part of a visit’s appeal is the beautiful building. The A-listed Art Deco Botanic Gardens Garage was designed by Scottish architect David Wyllie and built in 1911. After being nearly demolished, it’s intact, partially thanks to a local campaign.

Ka Pao is in the basement, and along the same lines as Ox & Finch, expect sharing plates, which come as they’re ready. The first to arrive were two of their smallest snackier dishes, including crab (£8.50), which featured four frilly edged prawn crackers topped with shredded meat, coconut, a squish of the citrus fruit calamansi, and a dusting of cayenne pepper.

Another finger food option of corn ribs (£4.50) was a clever idea – four charred sections of cob, as fragrant as Magic Trees, all topped with crumbled dried shrimpy-ness, lime and salted coconut. You will need the hand wipes, provided.

Although a larger option of fried chicken with spicy caramel (£6) wasn’t the most exciting choice, the primitive and pleasure-seeking sections of our brains hot wired the decision making parts. Ordered.

We received five hunks of thigh meat in batter shells, all slopped in a sappy red sauce, as syrupy as travel sweets that have melted in the glove compartment, as well as chopped kohlrabi and coriander.

Our hispi cabbage (£7) was similarly invigorating. I’m not sure if this dish is a thing, or if its conception was a Ready Steady Cook nothing-else-in-the-fridge style challenge gone right.

There was a charred and crispy shallot sprinkled cabbage, accompanied by a huge spoonful of cashew nut butter and doused in chevrons of sriracha sauce. They’re not shy here. This dish was just on the right side of revolting.

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Although it’s a bit pricier than the jasmine rice (£2) that we’d also ordered, we didn’t realise that the bone marrow and shiitake mushroom fried rice (£6) would be a proper course, rather than a pimped up side.

This macho and salty bank of carb was pinemartin-coloured, musky and feral, with a scattering of toasted rice, dill and shallot. It’s lucky that you can take stuff away here. Half came home with me and was topped with a fried egg the next day.

There’s also a small selection of curries, and we went for the corn-fed chicken version (£10.50), which featured a dark moss green and nuttily hot cumin and cardamom sauce, as well as pickled greens and crispy shallots.

You could round that off with a cocktail. I would have been happy with another of their lime leaf negroni (Tanqueray gin, rosé vermouth, Campari and lime leaf, £8), but there was only one pudding, so we allowed fate to take our hands and lead us along the road signposted to Diabetesland.

It consisted of cocoon-like banana fritters (£6), rolled in a light palm sugar caramel, as well as their balmy soft serve coconut and pandan ice-cream, twisted with the zingy and bright orange mango and calamansi sorbet.

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Lots of sugar and impactful eats, to power our fleshy little combustion engines home (though I was tempted to stay at Ka Pao all night and wait for somebody to tow me).

Ka Pao, Glasgow

26 Vinicombe Street, Glasgow

(0141-483 6990,

Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.
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