I ONLY noticed that Ann Purna was gone when I passed by and saw someone painting a henna-style design – a coil of chalky white stems and petals – on to this new restaurant’s windows. But don’t start sobbing into your lentil soup, meat-free devotees.
44-45 St Patrick Square, Edinburgh
Dinner for two, excluding drinks - £39.80
Edinburgh’s original Indian vegetarian restaurant, established in 1983, has been replaced by something that you might like just as much – Bindi.
Owned by Bindiya Kanani, it serves a veggie selection of Gujarati street food, and a soupçon of East African food, influenced by her Indian background and an upbringing in Uganda.
This place is certainly not as restaurant-y as it used to be. Don’t be deceived by the usual set-up of tables, chairs and menus. This is Bindi’s living room. There is no fourth wall. With a cook-school out back, the educative aspect flows into the restaurant area.
“Have you ever eaten anywhere like this before?” said Bindi.
“Um, no,” we replied, as she talked us through the dishes, which fall into the categories Bombay and East African Street Food, Nashto (snacks), a main course of Thali, and Sides.
When our pani puri (£4.95) arrived, Bindi was keen to demonstrate. “See, you pour the gravy in the top,” she said, before filling the savoury hollow pastry with liquid and popping it directly into my partner’s mouth, as if he were a baby bird in an animal sanctuary. “Oh yum, mmmmmm!!”, he said, hammily.
We manage to insert the other options into our own beaks. The dabeli (£4.95) – “the Gujarati answer to the veggie burger” – was fantastic, with two patties of spicy, deep-fried potato, scattered with sweetly popping pomegranate seeds, both sandwiched into a soft bap.
Almost everything is priced at £4.95, which makes some options seem bargainous, others less so.
You get two burgers with the dabeli, yet the chilli cheese toast (£4.95) is a singular slice of bread. Still, it’s OK, with a thick layer of chopped tomato, melted orange cheese, red onion and chilli.
The garlic mogo (£4.95) were fat and garlicky cassava chips, each the size of a matchbox, and with a rooty texture.
We were both a bit bamboozled by the Nashto Sampler (£10), which was supposed to come with handwo, dhokra, kachori and patra. Instead, a couple of things had been replaced by other bits. I’d love to tell you what they were, but we asked twice and still can’t remember.
There was definitely patra – fried taro leaves, sprinkled with coconut. They resembled burnt bin bags, but tasted as addictive as Frazzles spiked with MSG. The kachori – two pastry-coated, deep fried pea-filled boluses – was also present and correct.
The handwo had been replaced by ondhwa – a hearty and savoury cake, made of semolina flour and sprinkled with sesame seeds. I don’t know what the final-thing-that-wasn’t-dhokra was, but it was my favourite, with two fluffy potato pucks stuffed with a warmly spiced and squishy centre of peas.
We didn’t need our Thali (£5) main course. It seemed less exciting and more homely than the other snacky stuff, with a helping of buttery daal, a kidney bean curry, and a moreish mulch of peas and carrots. It came with two crispy rotis and a helping of rice.
Next time I visit, it’s the snacky stuff and street food all the way.
Oh, and puddings, which are wonderous. We went for the mithai taster (£5), as it allowed us to try three of the six sweet options. The sirow – a mixture of semolina, ghee, milk, almond powder, pistachio, cardamom, saffron and nutmeg – was like eating warm cake mixture.
For a fruity hit, you probably couldn’t get more intense than the rus – a mango pulp pimped up with ginger powder and pomegranate seeds – while gulab jamun were a pair of comforting and syrupy gobstoppers.
“Write in the comments book please,” said Bindi, as we put on our coats, and, under pressure, I scrawled something like, “Exciting vegetarian food in a welcoming space”. Sounds about right.
• 44-45 St Patrick Square, Edinburgh, 0131-662 1807, www.bindiedinburgh.co.uk