SOMETIMES the finishing touches take the longest time.
Tuk Tuk Indian Street Food
1 Leven Street, Edinburgh (0131-228 3322)
Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £42.50
I cycle past this place every day on my way to work. It seemed that overnight, the Victorian shopfront turned slate grey, before tangerine letters – T, U, K – were winched into the windows. Furniture arrived – wooden tables and brightly coloured chairs. Cutlery, slotted into tin cans, appeared on tables.
Daily, while the traffic lights were red, I peered into the window from my vantage point of the advanced stop box. When this eatery did eventually open, I held back for three whole weeks before pouncing, on a very bustling Friday evening.
The decor is even groovier from the inside, with retro Bollywood posters (and matching music) and a double-height ceiling that’s webbed with colourful strings.
They’ve transformed what was formerly an unwelcomingly dark space, in its former incarnation as Lulu Beauty Spa (you could say its gone from Brazilian to Indian) into something more vibrant.
According to a waitress, their open-to-the-elements tuk-tuk, parked outside, will eventually be used for take-away deliveries, and they’ll sell their own branded produce.
The Indian street food menu features tapas-sized dishes, most of which are around the fiver mark. You are instructed to order three or four of these per person.
“But three would probably be enough,” added a member of staff.
The first of our septet to land were Bengali fishcakes (£4.50) – aka “rustic railway station patties”. In a way, the UK rail equivalent of these would be an egg mayonnaise sandwich, as bought in WH Smith (for a sum that makes you sob, as you stuff it into your downturned maw).
Very good they were too. I’d imagined mashed-up fishiness, but they consisted of four whole chunks of white fillet, each encased in a crisp, conker-coloured spicy batter.
The railway station lamb curry (£5.20) was also a contender. Although the meat wasn’t “on the bone” as listed, there were enough offcuts of lamb, dunked into a tamarind-flavoured, spinach-laden sauce, to keep us happy.
We also liked the papri chaat (£4.50), which featured Bath Oliver-ish crackers. These were teamed with a mound of chickpeas and potato cubes, which were clad in a yoghurty, clean-tasting jus and topped by a thatch of vermicelli spikes.
Butter chicken (£4.90) was creamy and almondy, if slightly lacking in depth.
The same goes for our other poultry offering – the chicken achari (£4.50) – which boasted two legs, one of which was stringier than the other. It was billed as being “cooked with lime and pickle”, but those ingredients seemed to be the exact items the tomato and onion sauce was missing. Still, not bad.
Similarly, the vegetarian Frankies (£5) – a sort of Mumbai version of the burrito – had fabled contents that included “pickled vegetables and chutney”. In actuality, this rolled-up roti contained a lipstick red but rather bland spread of chickpeas, petit pois and roasted peppers.
I wished I’d smuggled in my own jar of lime pickle.
Another veggy dish – tarka dhal (£3.95) – was sweet with turmeric, but baby-foodish, as it was too watery and needed additional lentils to bulk it up.
As many of our dishes were VERY saucy, we wished we’d ordered more than one smallish portion of basmati rice (£1.85) between two. Thankfully, as we are Jabba the Hutts, we had emergency mopping-up carbs in the form of masala chips (£2) instead. Totes amazeballs, as the kids say.
For pudding, I went for the barfi (£3.20) and a glass of gulab ki chai (£1.90). The latter was a cinnamon and rose-scented milky tea. Dreamy. My cakey bricks were squelchy, sticky and appropriately sweet – the green ones tasted of cardamom, and the snowy versions were white chocolate and ricotta-ish.
My dining partner had an almond kulfi (£2.90), which was like a supersized Mini Milk, and experienced the very acquired taste that is Thums Up (“the cola of Bombay”, according to the menu).
The food at Tuk Tuk is more decent than incredible, and it feels as if they’re muddling through the service somewhat (we gave up on asking for our bill, and paid at the counter instead). Still, it’s affordable, lively, quirky, and they offer free BYOB, so you’d have to be a real misery guts not to love it a little bit.
They were definitely thinking big when they came up with the concept, now they just need to tweak the details.