Does Tony Singh ever sleep?
Since Noughties capital favourites Roti and his fine dining place, Oloroso, closed years ago, he’s presided over The Old Bakehouse in East Linton (now under new ownership), there’s been Tony’s Table (kaput), a couple of cookbooks, Tasty and The Incredible Spice Men (written with his friend, Cyrus Todiwala) with a matching BBC television series and, oddly, most recently, his own restaurant in the Alea Casino in Glasgow.
This may hint at a lack of attention span, or just a desire to keep moving, sometimes only sideways.
Anyway, he is a Duracell Bunny of a man, with his lack of rest probably best reflected by the design of this place’s bright yellow menus, on which an abstract graphic image of Tony looks a bit “He-ee-re’s Johnny” manic.
This latest venture is based on the success of last year’s Edinburgh Festival time pop-up Apex restaurant, Road Trip.
We visited en famille, with three small people of five and under, since there’s a Kids’ Menu. The staff here were super accommodating, considering the little ‘uns tend to act as if they’re chimpanzees high on tartrazine and PG Tips. Each got a gratis goodie bag and loads of attention from the lovely waiters. There was even a bit of impromptu dancing.
I am easily wooed by that kind of niceness.
The menu of world food is mainly of the small dishes/sharing variety, with prices from £4.95 for bhelpuri up to £19 for a wagyu burger. We chose five bits for the three adults, and the kids opted for fish‘n’chips en masse (£4.95 each).
"There were six or so stumpy wings, all deep-fried badness"
The best of our grown-up courses was the dakgangjeong (£7) – Korean crispy chicken. There were around six or so stumpy wings, all deep-fried badness – crusty and nibbly, with a pot-holed texture that resembled the surface of the moon and sweet and hot black syrupy sauce drizzled over the top.
Although their parent deemed these “too spicy” for the rugrats – “they’ll burn your mouths, stay away” – they wouldn’t keep their filthy paws off them. Gah. I’m coming round to the idea of corporal punishment.
We also enjoyed the set of five steamed jiozi (£6.50) vegetable dumplings, though they were kind of flabby and loosely packed. Good flavour though, and we liked the acidic rice wine dip. The concept of a rowie with duck confit, honey and mustard (£10) was probably better than the reality. The salty sweet combo didn’t quite pay off, and the crumbly crusty chew of an Aberdonian rowie isn’t as appealing when it’s saturated in sauce.
It was tricky to share the pair of fish tacos (£9), presented on a red plastic truck serving device, among three, but we did our best. These were good – clean tasting, with loads of creamy guacamole and sour cream, plus an onion, coriander and fennel seed-flecked salsa and chunks of haddock.
My other half is a connoisseur of Scottish stodge, from white pudding to well-fired rolls, and he loved the Scotch broth pie (£7.50), which featured a traditional cardboard coloured chewy crust and a pimped-up interior of lamb, barley, carrots and tatties. I do wonder, however, as a postmodern and upmarket take on what’s usually a cheap eat, who wouldn’t just satisfy their nostalgic craving with the budget original?
Tony has gone totally irreverent, retro and kiddy with the puddings here. We bailed on the tuck shop float (£5) – vanilla ice-cream, your choice of schoosh (whatever that is) and a bag of penny sweets. My teeth collectively said no.
The mellow mallow sundae (£5) made our gang of chiddles swoon, mainly because the sundae glass had been pimped up with pastel-coloured glucose syrup flowers and leaves, and long chocolate shards. Clever. The rest of it was just a mush of Mr Whippy style ice-cream, mini tea-cakes, biscuity bits, nuts, chocolate and raspberry squelch. Unsophisticated sugar binge.
The slider (£6) was “an updated version of Tony’s all-time favourite thing from the ice-cream van”. It consisted of two squares of good gooey brownie, a splodge of plain ice-cream and more dragon’s blood, which stained our lips and hands a vampiric bright red.
As befits the pop-up street food theme that was this restaurant’s earliest incarnation, this is the sort of fast and low-fi unpretentious food that would be best served in a casual setting, so I’m not sure if it’s the natural fit to the glass and slate of the Apex dining room.
Still, we had fun, and after all that sugar, it’s not just Chef who is an indefatigable Duracell Bunny. Wrangling three pocket-sized ones into the car was a bit like herding drunken cats. Thanks Tony.
Tony Singh at Apex Grassmarket
31-35 Grassmarket, Edinburgh
(0131-300 3456, www.apexhotels.co.uk)
Lunch for three, excluding drinks and children’s food £51