Scotsman Review
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  • 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
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October 17, 2015

Ninja Buns, Edinburgh, restaurant review

It's hard not to have a happy old time in Ninja Buns, finds Gaby Soutar

It’s fairly unlikely, but if anyone needs to shoot a Nineties and US style film in Edinburgh, Paradise Palms could be the perfect location.

This corner venue, which was modelled on the look of LA dive bars, resembles a set for a scene from The Big Lebowski or Pulp Fiction – there’s even a bit of an Eighties Blade Runner vibe in there, but maybe that’s just the Paradise Palms pink neon sign that’s on the wall behind the bar.
It’s the opposite of an anodyne wine bar, which is good. Anyway, cocktails are more their thing.
We experimented with a Zombie (£9.50) – “our strongest cocktail” , said the waitress. It came in the equivalent of a vase and contained three types of rum, passion fruit syrup, pineapple and lime juice. It tasted like bad voodoo medicine, but I liked it. They also do an excellent margarita (£6.50).
Food-wise and, at the front of this space, you’ll find booths and wooden tables, as part of their resident pop-up restaurant, Ninja Buns.
Although the name is reminiscent of some offshoot of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad in Kill Bill, they’re much friendlier than that. They offer Taiwanese street food – mainly steamed buns (or gua bao), which are made from steamed bread. Apparently, these are known in some parts of Taiwan as “tiger bites pig” because, I suppose, the bun looks like a bloated, bald and albino carnivore eating with its mouth full.

"It’s topped with coriander, spring onions, red chilli and sriracha sauce. Fab"

The menu is as simple as anything – have one of these filled with pork, beef or tofu (£4.95; or £7.50 for bun and fries, or £8.50 for the bun, fries and slaw combo that we went for).
When I visited, I think I was hoping to have a vague recreation of a recent meal I had at the amazing Bo Kantina in Glasgow, which also involved bao. However, it turns out the versions at Ninja Buns are less refined, more casual, which has its place too.
I went for the tofu option, with a wad of soy protein that had been marinated in homemade teriyaki sauce and was topped with sheaths of pickled cucumber and carrot, chopped “lime infused spring onion”, coriander and a drift of crumbled peanuts. Great, but the pork choice was probably better, as it featured plenty of dry but robust tasting brisket meat, as well as all the previous trimmings.
If you do one of the meal deals, these come with a choice of slaws – we went for the Asian version (with peanut, ginger and garlic) and a Teriyaki (sesame, soy and honey), but the ones that arrived were exactly the same.
Whichever we’d ended up with, it was a crunchy pile of sugary tinged shredded cabbage and carrot.
You also choose from a selection of chips – naked, salted or chilli garlic. The latter – skinny style – are more addictive than coffee, smoking or hard drugs, though they will leave you with halitosis for hours afterwards.
As an extra, we also ordered a Ninja rice bowl (£7.50) with tofu (or you can choose from beef or pork), which was a milky sweet helping of soupy jasmine rice in a comfortingly hot tom yum coconut sauce. This was topped with more coriander, spring onions, rings of red chilli and stripes of sriracha sauce. Fab.
If you thought visiting this place was way healthier than, say, booking a table at a burger joint, pudding will put paid to those silly notions.
We went for a homemade cookie sandwich (£4.95) with two soft biscuit discs and a blob of buttery salted caramel ice-cream. The deep-fried ninja bun (£4.95) was naughtiness incarnate, and tasted like an extra crispy doughnut, with more ice-cream melting in the tiger’s deep-fried mouth.
Yep, I had a happy old time in Ninja Buns, it’d be hard not to.
If Quentin Tarantino does decide to use this place as a location for some kind of bloody brawl, I would very much like to be an extra. They can pay me in food.


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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