In the Chinese New Year of the Dog, eat like a Labrador at Edinburgh's Ping On, says Gaby Soutar

I like to think that, if I were a dog, I’d be an elegant saluki or Italian greyhound.

Instead, it’s more likely that my canine doppelganger would be a doughy shar pei, an elderly chihuahua in a tartan shopping trolley, or, taking my eating habits into consideration, a chunky labrador.

I know what these hollow-pawed beasts are capable of. I have witnessed one walk past a plateful of contraband chocolate digestives, before tilting its head and inhaling the lot like a basking shark.

Anyway, I am embracing my own greedy labradorian traits, as it’s Chinese New Year on Friday, when we will enter the Year of the Dog.

According to this zodiac, people born in 2018 (or other woofy annums, like 1934, 1946, 1950 and 1978, amongst others) make for loyal friends and partners.

To celebrate, I took two dining buddies (both snakes, while I am a rabbit, gulp) along to Ping On, which opened in Stockbridge way back in 1968.

That makes this restaurant a monkey, which means that as well as being intelligent, they are supposed to reap rewards later in life. (You can have those bananas, Bubbles, but only when your fur is grey).

Makes sense really, considering this place turns 50 this year and doesn’t appear to have had to change its decor since the swinging Sixties.

It’s a museum to the heyday of sweet and sour pork and lemon chicken.

Although it usually looks dead from the outside, there were other diners on our Wednesday weekday lunch, munching their way through piles of prawn crackers, presented on a doily.

There was also a long queue of school kids, presumably spending their lunch money on egg-fried rice and salt and chilli chips.

From the à-la-carte, we ordered the “chef’s special for two persons” (£10.50).

This deep-fried medley featured a couple of triangular prawn toasts coated in sesame seed scales, two wallet-sized spring rolls filled with bean sprouts and chicken and three golden wonton pincushions stuffed with mashed prawn.

One of the snakes insisted that the barbecued ribs had also been deep fried and I think she may have been right.

Still, they weren’t as bad as they looked, with a pleasant enough five spice gravy slopped on top. Overall, the chef’s special was a celebration of oil and salt.

We were already scunnered, but it was too late to downgrade our order of four mains and two dishes of egg fried rice (£2 each).

These were presented on groovy vintage plates, with Sixties and Seventies patterns along their rims, and kept toasty on one of those warmers with tealights underneath.

The best choice we’d made was probably the huge portion of “deep fried squids with spiced salt and chilli” (£9.70).

These four-inch long yellow halfpipes were a little chewy in parts, and eating one was saltier than snogging an anchovy, but they made up for it with loads of chopped green chilli and garlic on top. Squids in.

Our “duck Mandarin style with prawn stuffing” (£10.20) was an unusual creation, as it resembled a cast of a sandy footprint.

This battered escalope consisted of a piece of flattened duck meat topped with a Battenberg pink and sausage-y layer of squished prawn. Like the ribs, it tasted better if you closed your eyes.

The “pork char siu yellow bean” (£8.30) was OK, but maybe the most neglected course, since it wasn’t that exciting, though there was a generous heap of sliced meat, peppers, onions and a glutinous sweet brown sauce.

For old time’s sake, we’d also gone for the sweet and sour chicken Cantonese style (£8.30), with its batter clad nodular nuggets of chook, pineapple chunks and peppers. Decent enough, though a bit soggy, and the sauce didn’t have a lot of zing, but hey ho.

If you want a pudding, there’s an array of fritters, but our appetites had been frittered away by tons of quite average food. Still, this place has survived for half a century, which makes it officially a precious antique.

At least I can say that my labrador appetite has helped support an old monkey into the new year.

Ping On

26-32 Deanhaugh Street, Edinburgh

(0131-332 3621, www.pingoncantonese.co.uk)

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Ping On, Edinburgh, restaurant review
Food60%
Ambience70%
65%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (3 Votes)
72%

About The Author

Gaby Soutar

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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