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Vegetarian institution The Kalpna, restaurant review, Edinburgh

Currying favour at the Kalpna, Catriona Thomson revisits this vegetarian food institution and reminisces about chart hits from 1982, the year when the restaurant first opened.

Published: April 24, 2018

Perhaps like me, you will remember 1982, a year which saw unemployment figures breach the three million mark, and the Falklands War begin.

It also saw ditties such as Don’t You Want Me by The Human League hitting the number one spot in the charts. And 1982 turns out to be classic vintage not only for iconic pop songs, but also for restaurants, as it was the year that Kalpna on St Patrick Square, Edinburgh, opened its doors for the first time, quickly becoming a favourite food institution for vegetarian diners seeking a wholesome plant-based curry.

Over the following three decades I have eaten there a number of times, and fondly recall the mosaic interior and the more functional look of a previous incarnation.

After a recent interior revamp, I’m keen to revisit and have a squiz at the décor. Thankfully they are still channelling an over-the-top, The Land Of Make Believe (Bucks Fizz) 80s style, complete with two statement chandeliers dangling front and centre and some swanky new brickwork. The mirrored aabla work, complete with colourful painted peacock is so eye-catching.

Our dinner companions are having to forgo their usual meat feasts and are sulking at the prospect. Seven Tears (Goombay Dance Band) springs to mind, as they arrive in the House Of Fun (Madness). After a bit of pre-dinner Happy Talk (Captain Sensible) I decide to focus minds on the task at hand, namely deciding what to order.

While we peruse the menu our dining companions, (Renée & Renato, seeing as we’re sticking to an 80s theme) suggest a welcome round of Kingfisher Indian lagers (£4.45 a pint) and the obligatory poppadums (80p each) and pickles (85p each). These include mango and a soothing yogurt balm, ideal for cleansing the palate after dicing with the love-it-or-hate-it lime pickle option.

My royalist fella feels duty bound to opt for the regal platter or Thaali Raj Bhog (£17.15) reminding us that Charles and Di were wed in 1981 and Prince William was born the following year.

It is a smorgasbord of delights consisting of mini dish selections, including starters of pakora and fried spicy potato, moreish lentil daal, palak paneer, butter masala and pea and mushroom curry. Renée & Renato both select the Sev Dahi Poori starter (£4.95), which is a street snack and arrives looking like a line of upturned sea urchins. It is infact delicious fried bread stuffed with tomatoes, chickpeas and onions, topped by honeyed yogurt, tamarind sauce and green coriander chutney.

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This is followed by a warming main course of Bhindi Masala (£7.50) for Renée featuring okra seasoned with mustard seed, onion and tomatoes accompanied by pale yellow garlic rice which has been sautéed with mustard, chilli, garlic and curry leaves (£4.95). Confirmed meat eater Renato reluctantly orders Saam Savera (£9.95), a silky fresh dish with spinach, paneer, saffron, ginger and nuts served in a tomato and herb sauce.

I opt for the Galouti Kebab (£5.75), which means melt in the mouth. It features two kidney bean and vegetable patties stuck with sweet lime gel to the plate, which is also dotted with tamarind sauce spots and scattered with tiny chickpea vermicelli.

My delicious Mughal Kofta (£8.95) for main promised cheese delights but mainly consists of cauliflower, nuts and potatoes covered in a spicy sauce, garnished with cream and coriander. An unleavened Lacha Parath flaky bread (£3.15) is the ideal accompaniment.

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The Musical Youth opts for Kalpna’s signature dish, Dum Aloo Kashmiri (£9.95), which is a sweet honey, tomato and ginger sauce, dotted with a creamy almond and saffron, with hidden chunky potato parcels which are filled with a mix of vegetables, nuts and cheese. Served with snow white rice cooked in coconut milk and laced with hints of cumin (£4.95) there is also a soft, pillowy garlic naan bread (£2.50).

Being a bit of a Goody Two Shoes (Adam And The Ants), I go without dessert but my backing singers pick a winning Mango Kulfi Malai (£3.50), a frozen sweet dessert for the young one, and the more acquired taste of the pistachio Kasar Kulfi (£3.50) for sir. Renée & Renato cleanse their palates with a chai tea (£1.75) and green tea (£1.75).

If you are feeling miserly keep a beady eye out for an already added service charge on the bill, but we aren’t in A Town Called Malice (The Jam) and gladly increase the gratuity as the waitress from Delhi is a delight. Some 36 years have passed since 1982, and my musical trip down memory lane is sadly over. Perhaps that’s just as well as the trousers are definitely a bit of a Tight Fit after scoffing our delicious curries.

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2-3 St Patrick Square, Edinburgh EH8 9EZ
(0131-667 9890

Catriona is based in the Scottish Borders and works as part of the audiovisual team at the Scotsman but she reviews restaurants for Scotland on Sunday and writes for Scotsman Food and Drink in her spare time.

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