Go Sober for October is over.
This fundraising campaign for Macmillan Cancer Support passed me by, since I don’t need to be sponsored not to drink the puny unit or two I have per week.
Still, now that we’re well into what I’m dubbing Can’t Remember November (for those who follow a period of abstinence with a blow-out), it’s safe to go back to your favourite licensed premises.
I don’t have a local, though I spend enough time eating in newly sprung gastropubs and bar/kitchens.
When it comes to this genre, it can be hard to predict what the ratio between eatery and drinkery will be.
Sometimes one is just the pilot fish to the venue’s more obvious raison d’etre. I wasn’t totally sure what the deal was with this place, though it should’ve been obvious since their last pop-up incarnation involved catering for the cool kids at Lothian Street dive bar Paradise Palms.
Turns out it’s 90 per cent pub. Basement level, low lighting, loud-ish party music, clubby vibe, mirrors with bulbs round them in the ladies toilets, where the smell of vanilla perfume still lingers, youthful staff who kept their frowns turned upside down even though they had probably been working late the night before (we visited on a Sunday lunchtime).
Plus, we were the only diners, since who, apart from a Lost Boy, wants to starve themselves of natural daylight of an afternoon?
Still, even though I wasn’t visiting at peak time, or on the sauce, it didn’t spoil the foodie experience.
We’ve had their Taiwanese gua bao before, and they were just as good as last time.
There was the classic pork version, with a bird’s nest worth of shredded meat, sweet hoisin sauce, chopped spring onions and crumbly peanut powder on top, all squished into a satisfying doughy steamed bun, which resembled an anaemic and slightly deflated Pac-Man. We also tried the kimchi beef version, with its centre of beef brisket, mildly spiced frills of kimchi, lime infused spring onions and crispy fried shallots.
These are £5 each, or you can add a pile of decent skinny fries (we went for the subtler-than-they-sound wasabi orange, and chilli garlic, versions) for £7 or go for the full kahuna with fries and slaw for £7.50.
We also tried a rice bowl with chicken (£6). Sounds dull, but it was one of my favourite things, like Taiwanese penicillin for a wintery day. Served in a blue speckled bowl, this dish was fragrant and balmy with a combination of coconut sauce, jasmine rice and lime, as well as plenty of meaty bits, coriander and peanut powder to provide interest.
From the Small Plates list, the Korean cauliflower (£4) consisted of gloopy florets coated in a fleshy looking “sticky red pepper batter” that was hot, sweet and tangy. So good. While, the set of three street food style Thai corn fritters (£4) were like little thick skinned Cornish pasties, each stuffed with sweetcorn and chilli, with a sweet chilli dip on the side. In a similar style, we’d also ordered a special of pork and shiitake mushroom (£4) versions, which had a heavier and earthier vibe.
Our miso aubergine (£4) special wasn’t bad either – light on the miso, though the creamy flesh that was spotted with sesame seeds made up for that.
Pudding consists of either a deep fried sweet gua bao (nah, I’ve already had that at this place’s old venue, and once is as much as my muffin top can handle), or you can just have ice-cream or sorbet (£4.50 for two scoops). We liked the chocolate chilli stuff, as it was gritty with crushed seeds, with a heat that built, but dissipated quickly into cocoa-ness. And the lemongrass and ginger; vanilla; and coconut and lime offerings were decent.
Hooray for affordable and flavour-packed fast food right in the centre of town. And, though Ninja Kitchen’s new home is 90 per cent pub/club, you don’t have to be partying or compensating for Go Sober October, to visit.
Not that it would hurt to have a little drinkie, but never at the expense of the eaties.