IF GLASGOW’S major growth industry over the past couple of years has been Italian restaurants, the capital has witnessed a similar explosion in the number of Indian restaurants opening their doors.
9-10 Commercial Street, Leith, Edinburgh
Main course £8.95-£24
Where once the culinary landscape was dominated by Khushi’s, Lancers, Voujon and a few other stalwarts, now there is a veritable smorgasbord of curry houses in Auld Reekie.
Nor has the expansion been just about numbers. An estimated 95 per cent of Indian restaurants in Britain are run by west Bengali or Bangladeshi male chefs serving the usual gamut of Anglo-Indian favourites, from biryani to chicken tikka marsala.
In Edinburgh, however, the offerings are now substantially more varied. There are restaurants run by Sikh women from the Punjab, by Nepalese, by south Indians, by the capital’s main mosque, by chefs from the western seaboard province of Goa and all points in between. There are posh Michelin-star-chasing restaurants like Mithas, vegetarian restaurants like Kalpna and those that serve Indian tapas-style dishes, like Mother India.
Guchhi sits in a class of its own, however. As well as the usual range of Indian staples, it also has a substantial menu dedicated to smaller taster dishes, but it is the house speciality that sets it apart. Guchhi’s focus is seafood, thanks in large part to the fact that chef-patron Vishant Das did his ten years of training in Goa, which is famed for its use of fish in cooking.
On moving to Scotland, Das completed his training at the Loch Fyne restaurant chain, so it was perhaps no surprise that he opened a restaurant whose full name is Guchhi Indian Seafood and Bar.
There are other Indian restaurants in Edinburgh that do great fish dishes – I’m particularly partial to the Goan monkfish curry served at the Nine Cellars, on Queen Street – but no-one else has set out their stall as emphatically as Das. Indeed, it was this distinction that tipped the balance when we came to choose between Guchhi and Rivage, the highly regarded newcomer on nearby Easter Road.
On arriving at Guchhi, which is right opposite Mithas, in the heart of the port’s restaurant district, we immediately warmed to the place. Sure, there was only a smattering of diners on that cold midweek evening, but it’s easy to see how the place would be a hubbub of activity at weekends.
Although the door opens on to a relatively small area with a big bar and half a dozen tables, once you get past that tastefully decorated space and enter the back room then the perspective alters significantly. To call it a back room doesn’t really do it justice: this is a whitewashed mini-aircraft hangar of a space that comfortably takes the restaurant’s capacity into three figures, although it’s neither as sterile or unwelcoming as this description suggests.
With its wooden floors, light cascading down through the flat roof and lime green walls, this is an airy room that is reminiscent of the new Café Marlayne and the old Café Fish.
We decided to mix up the order with a couple of fish dishes, a vegetarian option and a trio of house specials. The fish dishes were clearly our priority, and after looking at options like the shellfish stew, chilli butter scallops and fish bhaji (not to mention the intriguing concept of Govan mussels), we plumped for the coley cooked in ginger and fresh spinach, and the oysters grilled with chilli and coriander.
Both turned out to be pretty decent, but then you would expect as much from a place specialising in seafood. The three oysters weren’t particularly big and had been cooked in a lot of chilli, but they hadn’t suffered from the experience, weren’t unbearably hot and had just the right amount of kick.
It had taken me a lot of coaxing to get Bea to order the coley – which, known on the west coast as saithe, is still seen as a bony fish not eaten by many people – but she was pleasantly surprised. The strips of fish were perfectly cooked, but came in an extremely dark, rich and creamy spinach sauce that almost, but not quite, overpowered the subtle taste of the fish.
If there was one complaint about the coley dish, it was the amount of fish in it, and that grumble was echoed in our three main dishes from the Guchhi specials – the lamb karahi, butter chicken and chilli garlic chicken. If the meat was just about succulent enough (on occasions it was touch and go), the main issue was the paucity of the main ingredient in each dish because there’s no excuse for scrimping on relatively inexpensive ingredients like coley or chicken. This shortcoming, however, was almost atoned for by three beautifully nuanced and extraordinarily rich sauces, plus some of the lightest naan bread I’ve had for years.
If there was a dish about which both Bea and I shared an opinion, it was our vegetarian option, the garlic chilli mushrooms. This appeared to consist of barely cooked flaccid mushrooms, chopped and served in a warm cream sauce that was supposed to contain chilli and garlic, but which didn’t seem to have a trace of either. It was truly vile and should be avoided.
The same doesn’t go for our puddings, which were both excellent. The pistachio kulfi was clearly recently made and among the best either of us have had recently, while my two dollops of gulab jamun were cloyingly sweet and spongey, just as they should be.
So, what to make of Guchhi? There are certainly some upsides: the food may not be giving up-market Mithas nightmares just yet, but it is better than serviceable, while the exemplary service is as warm as it is efficient. It’s OK for cost too, though by no means the cheapest in town. If all else fails, the bar stays open until 2am.
• Guchhi, 9-10 Commercial Street, Leith, Edinburgh, 0131 5555604; guchhi.co.uk