TWO girls in faux fur coats visited The Scotsman office recently, in order to deliver free sushi to the troops.
104 Hanover Street, Edinburgh (0131-225 6220, www.barsoba.co.uk)
Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £46.30
It was almost as morale-boosting a day as when our vending machine birthed a couple of free Snickers bars, or when a work experience person donated a giant tin of Celebrations.
These good Samaritans were visiting to promote the newly opened Bar Soba on Hanover Street. It’s sort of a homecoming for this business, as they launched a pop-up in the capital’s Assembly Rooms back in 1998, before decamping and doing very well indeed in Glasgow, with two permanent branches on Mitchell Lane and Byres Road.
Their rather Nineties formula of pan-Asian fare and cocktails hasn’t changed much over the years. But, if it ain’t rusty, don’t WD40 it.
The Edinburgh venue is in the premises of recently deceased eatery Amore Dogs and its sister basement bar, Underdogs. Indeed, poignantly, there are still some doggy ornaments to be found here.
We were seated in a downstairs eating area (the main bar is upstairs) on the end of a long communal table beside a stone labradoodle, who was courageously guarding his inglenook.
Aside from the canine touches, this place now looks a bit like a set from Miss Saigon. The walls, some of which are covered in corrugated iron, are graffitied, and it’s nightclubbily lit, with matching house music, so we immediately felt like fossils. I was an ammonite, and my dining partner was one of those ones that looks like an oversized woodlouse.
The menu features Indian, Thai, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean themed snackage.
We went for Thai steak salad (£5.75) and coconut and Szechuan pepper crusted prawn skewer (£5.25), with some Crazy Boy maki sushi on the side (£5.50).
“I thought it would be crazier than this,” said Grandad, in reference to the latter. Perhaps its moniker had something to do with the sweet chilli dip on the side, which would make it about as wild as an early night after watching Downton Abbey.
It was pleasant though, and each of the four tempura-shelled sushi rolls housed plenty of crab meat, cucumber and avocado. The rice was a bit bland, but they tasted fresh and hearty.
Our skewer option was okay too, with a quartet of chunky prawns threaded onto wooden sticks and coated in a furry-looking coconut crumb, like fishy macaroons.
Unfortunately, the salad was a bit meh, simply because the strips of rare beef were as chewy as a piece of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit after it’s been stuck to one’s bedpost overnight.
However, this option’s crunchy veg additions, which included beansprouts, carrots and baby corn, were nicely dressed, in lime and sesame oil.
Next up and a simple roti (£8.95) filled with shredded pork, lettuce and spring onion, all in a jammy hoisin sauce, was pretty prosaic. It was also pricey for what was essentially a small sarnie, but it did come with skinny fries and a blob of carrot and red cabbage ’slaw.
The other main – nasi goreng (£10.95) – is, traditionally, a dish of leftovers.
Their version of this hotchpotch featured peach-coloured tongue-fizzing shrimp crackers, two minced chicken lollipops that were propped in a pool of satay sauce and a “shredded omelette salad”, with a large contingent of raw spring onion.
Monopolising the space was a molehill of rather boring fried rice, dotted with bits of veg.
I would’ve liked some pickles, nuts, a fried egg, or some heat to add interest and texture.
“See your server for today’s selection of specially made sweets,” it said on the menu. So we did. There was chocolate brownie (£4.95) and passionfruit cheesecake (£4.95).
The former featured two small gooey triangles, studded with hazelnuts, as well as a large bollard of coconut ice-cream that was suitably like a taste of paradise.
Meanwhile, the other dessert, presented in a Martini glass, consisted of a pile of crushed digestive biscuits (do not inhale while noshing this) topped by a fruit-imbued flurry of mascarpone.
This place isn’t bad, but if I was craving Japanese, Korean or Thai food, I’d rather have an authentic experience in a restaurant that specialises.
Still, the devil’s advocate in me says; “Yes, but if you fancied a party vibe, good cocktails and pub grub that’s not a pie, wouldn’t you rather be at Bar Soba?”
He’s probably right, damn it.
“And don’t forget to thank them for the free sushi.”
Don’t worry Beelzebub, I just did.
Three to try
33 Castle Street, Edinburgh (0131-226 7614, www.chaophraya.co.uk)
This glitzy Thai chain now has two Scottish branches, with one on Glasgow’s Buchanan Street and the other in the capital’s city centre.
191 Hope Street, Glasgow (0141-332 6668, www.opiumrestaurant.co.uk)
A smart eatery specialising in cuisine from China, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. We’ll have the monkfish claypot with mushrooms and tofu.
Fusion Bar & Bistro
10 North Silver Street, Aberdeen (01224 652959, www.fusionbarbistro.com)
As its name suggests, the menu features dishes like pumpkin gnocchi alongside tempura king prawns with cucumber, spring onion and ponzu dipping sauce.