Whenever I think of Castle Street, I remember a picture I saw on social media.
It featured tourists, presumably, who were photographed on this thoroughfare taking a family portrait in front of an Edinburgh Castle poster in the window of a mobile phone shop. If they’d walked a few metres down the road, they could have had the real thing.
Still, it’s all about getting the right visuals these days. This new “progressive Indian restaurant” is no exception, with its Instagram-friendly interior.
They opened a couple of months ago, but until now they’ve had the ultimate restaurant reviewer’s force field around them - an official soft launch with half-price food.
It was pretty dead when we eventually visited, just as Omicron was just starting to run riot. There were only four other tables of diners, and we were kettled together in the window.
The menu is a unique concept, and so are the cocktails. In fact, my Tlen Se (£14) was the most doolally drink I’ve ever had.
It contained El Jimador Tequila Blanco, Blue Curacao, agave, lime, lemongrass and peach bitters, along with a story on the menu about Aztec Gods. There was a bowl of blue glass pebbles in a vase, with dry ice pumping out. On top was a stemless martini glass full of an iridescent red liquid, with a flower pegged to the lip of the glass, and three Domestos-coloured cherries. I wonder why they didn’t include live guppies, so I could have completed this experience with an A Fish Called Wanda moment.
We also tried the opaque and soapy-tasting Bethel (£12), which contained Bombay Sapphire, lime, sugar, gomphrena globosa, ginger beer, cherry and a scrunched up bethel leaf, which is a mild analgesic, and had left some of its rusty red residue at the bottom of the glass.
Our food came next.
The Emperor’s Daal Shorba (£7.50) is one of their signature dishes and consists of a small puddle of sweet chickpea and lentil soup. My dining partner didn’t get a spoon with this, but it was thick enough to be eaten with a fork. It came with a topping of onion seeds, chopped red onions, crispy onions and a pansy, with a biscuit-y strut of dill strewn bakarkhani bread on the side.
My starter was the Tibetan mog (£7.50), which I ordered in tribute to the tabby in the Judith Kerr books. I love dumplings, and these tricorn-hat-shaped chicken filled ones, usually served as a street food, were a bit fancier than the usual, in bright colours that popped against a black plate.
They came with sauces - mog chutney and jhol de mog, according to the menu, though I couldn’t quite work out which was which. There was a thin ring of something vaguely creamy and spicy on my plate, then a dense puree of something sweeter.
Pleasant enough so far, and I so wanted to bring you good tidings for 2022, but things swiftly went downhill. I’d gone for the black gold gosht (£26) - pricey, as the third most expensive main on the menu, but a signature dish, so expenses will have to suck it up (as I also have to). However, a sweet and nutty black sauce, a single cherry tomato and the flourish of gold leaf, plastered on in Gustav Klimt-like squares, couldn’t save this dish. I ate six small bites of the lamb shank, as it was as rigid as my shoulders after a day at work. My napkin went over the top, like a funeral shroud.
The side dish of jasmine rice (£4.50) that we’d ordered was also messing with my Zen. It was topped with flowers, and the smell was so indolic that we had to slide the bowl away. I love jasmine rice, and as a scent, but this was eye-watering.
We also tried the pousso e Tantra (£19.95) - a “signature chicken delicacy”, which was topped with petals and featured chicken with a nutty sweet sauce and a chilli kick, as well as school-dinner-style peas and carrots and three struts of unseasonal asparagus. Both of our main courses were served with a folded piece of manda bread.
Fine, but we didn’t hang about for dessert. I feel bad for these guys. There was a sense of despondency in the air. Presumably they’d had cancellations. While we were there, they did have a few walk-ins, most of whom ordered a cocktail, but no food.
Still, I can’t sugar coat the fact that this was one of the most expensive bills I’ve had for months and I left hungry.
No mystical experience. I don’t think we’ll be needing a selfie.
15 Castle Street
(0131 385 0000, www.thetantra.co.uk)
Places to try Nearby
Edinburgh’s Christmas markets, which run until January 4, might not be your bag, but you can track down good food at Melted, where they’re doing a rather tasty raclette.
East Finch, 73 Hanover Street, Edinburgh (0131 357 3730, www.eastfinch.co.uk)
This brand new place describes itself as offering New Orleans food and New York drinks. Expect braised pork ribs, gumbo loaded fries, chicken waffles and po boys.
Fazenda, 102 George Street, Edinburgh (0131 215 1234, www.fazenda.co.uk)
Head here if you’ve got a big appetite, as they’re offering their usual bottomless round of meat, from lamb rump to their twist on pigs in blankets.