My other half has been keeping me well informed of a new eatery he says I will really like. “It’s got great beers, curry, Williams Bros beers… did I mention the curry?” It sounds like a match made in heaven – for him. The place has been open ten days when he finally wears me down, and we book a table at Leith craft beer and curry emporium VDeep.
Stepping into the revamped bar, which is sited in what was The Vintage in Henderson Street, feels like swapping the familiarity of Leith for the chilled-out vibe of downtown New York.
To the left as you enter is a curved private booth, which has a life-size metallic bull perched atop it. A bar runs down the right-hand side, while long communal tables are packed with groups of diners on the Thursday evening we visit. Bold Indian street art is painted on the walls, while a ‘No Mango Chutney’ slogan emblazoned on one wall has owner Hardeep Singh Kohli’s fingerprints all over it.
Although I’d read that Kohli collaborated closely with head chef Ruairidh Skinner (who was formerly head chef at the The Vintage) on the menu, I assumed the broadcaster and comedian would be behind the scenes, so it’s a surprise to see him cooking in the open kitchen at the far end.
We are seated in front of the kitchen in an area sectioned off by a couple of pews. Long benches face the pews (you have to hope you don’t get a leg-jiggler beside you), while the tables are vintage doors with a clear Perspex tabletop attached. Cutlery sits in Kilner jars and water is served in flagon-type bottles.
We order a couple of schooners as we peruse the menu. With craft beers from Williams Bros and Drygate Brewing Co, as well as rotational craft beers, plus bottles and cans, the beer drinker is well served indeed.
Staff are friendly and enthusiastic, explaining dishes are smaller and designed for sharing, tapas style, and three or four will likely do a couple, depending on how hungry you are.
The menu is split into three sections each with seven options – Deep Dishes, Reincarnations, and East V West – featuring a mix of traditional Indian dishes with a creative twist, plus new contemporary food pairings (haggis and apple pakora, pork cheek vindaloo and venison meatballs in korma sauce, for example), and is the most puntastic I’ve come across – Bangras and Mash anyone?
We’re hungry and finally settle on five dishes plus rice and a plain naan (neither of which we really need) – Dhal Makhani, Kerelan Rainbow Trout, Curried Cauliflower Cheese, the Staff Curry, which is an ever-changing dish of the day, and Bubble & Sikh (how could you not with a name like that?).
The trout is perfectly cooked with the beautifully moist fillet complemented by a lightweight chilli, mustard seed, ginger, saffron and coconut sauce that doesn’t overwhelm.
The cauliflower and cheese is a revelation. While forks have stood upright in my homemade cheese sauce, this is so light, so smooth and so utterly moreish I’m still mopping up long after I should have stepped away from the deliciously doughy naan. Poached in spiced milk with cheddar added to the mix, the fresh cauliflower retains its bite – no soggy bottoms here.
The Nepalese veggie curry is tasty but potato heavy and had we realised, we might have opted for something else as the Bubble & Sikh – soft potato cubes with a crunch coated in a delicious tamarind sauce – was a fine potato offering in itself.
The flavour-packed three lentil dhal, with the surprising addition of red kidney beans, is a tastier, meatier alternative to the pasty dhal I am used to and sends my husband into raptures: “The next time we come, I would try different things, but I’d always have the dhal. Even if I just came in for a drink, I’d have the dhal.”
None of the dishes is hot in the manner of a vindaloo or a madras, but spiced with featherweight sauces allowing fresh ingredients to sing. Far removed from the heavy sauces often associated with westernised Indian food, this comes in at the other end of the scale, a delicate melody as opposed to a booming bass beat.
Despite loosening our belts a notch or three, the pudding list has such intriguing offerings we can’t resist and the Rasmali, a glorious concoction of black cardamom and butterscotch paneer balls with chocolatey grains knocks our socks off. The unctuous curd cheese is the perfect foil for the sweet sauce.
By the time we are tucking in, Kohli has escaped the hot stove, is mingling with customers and seems genuinely interested in what people think of the place (unless he’s just chatting to a load of mates he’s got in). He doesn’t talk to us; possibly because of the way we are shovelling paneer down our throats as if our lives depend on it.
From the puntastic menu to the friendly staff, great beers and cool vibe, there is a lot to like about VDeep (including the bill, which comes to £58, with £38.75 on food and the rest on drinks and service charge). Nothing is taking itself too seriously here, aside from the seriously good food. n
Main courses £4.50-£7.50