Restaurant review: Port of Siam, Newhaven

Pictures: Jane Barlow
Pictures: Jane Barlow
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WHEN I was at primary school, a tomboy in my class had tree-hugging, self-consciously alternative parents who wouldn’t let her watch the telly.

Ever. While we were kicking a ball around the playground or gathered around the water fountain in what we had yet to appreciate were formative water cooler moments, her continual ignorance of the nuances of The Six Million Dollar Man or Wonder Woman was a source of constant amusement to us and embarrassment to her.

Had her parents understood the human psyche as well as they thought they did, they might have realised that they were invoking the law of unintended (or, in this case, entirely predictable) consequences. The last time I heard of her, my former classmate had given up climbing trees and beating the boys at football, and had instead developed an almost obsessional interest in rubbish television and spent her evenings in epic gogglebox sessions. Your mum and dad, they mess you up, and all that…

Make something verboten and you instantly make it desirable. I know because that’s how I am with restaurants. Tell me about a great place and suggest we go in the autumn and I’m itching to go now. When I recently visited Mull, only to find the trio of restaurants I wanted to visit all shut, it was all I could do to stop myself rattling the door handles manically, as if somehow the place might miraculously spring into life just because I want it to.

So the combination of living near the Port of Siam and having nonexistent organisational skills has been torture for me. Countless people have recommended it, yet on the numerous occasions when I’d tried reserve a table at this 25-seat Thai restaurant near Newhaven harbour, it has been fully booked.

And then, just as I’d almost given up hope of having the foresight to book far enough ahead, finally – and presumably because the recent opening of a second restaurant in the New Town has alleviated the pressure on space – I managed to get a Friday night booking.

In such circumstances, I suppose it’s inevitable that the wait imbued the visit with an almost unreal weight of expectation. Yet as soon as the Family Bath walked through the door into a space no bigger than the average front room, things began to fall into place. The room, built around an elevated central table surrounded with bar stools, was functional and comfortable, while the menu was stacked with the sort of mouth-watering dishes I’d been told to look out for, plus oddities such as Carlingford oysters and scallops with black pudding.

While we waited for our starters to arrive, Bea had a Thai Tart cocktail, made with gin, lychee liqueur and grapefruit juice, an acid concoction which didn’t so much cleanse her palate as scrub it with a wire brush.

As soon as that had been dispatched, our starters arrived: marinated flash-fried prawns, fish cakes, spring rolls, satay chicken and venison spears. These dishes ranged from unremarkable (the spring rolls) to outstanding (everything else). The soft flesh of the marinated venison skewers were perfectly complemented by a layer of rich dark tamarind sauce, while the equally succulent chicken came with a gorgeously peanutty satay sauce. The prawns were good, but the star of the show was the loosely packed marriage of Thai and Scottish-style fishcakes which produced small but perfectly formed discs stuffed full of crab and served with chilli sauce.

Our main courses were more of a mixed bag, with Lochie’s pad Thai the big disappointment. I invariably order this dish at Thai restaurants and this was the poorest that I’ve come across for a long while. That, however, seemed to be an aberration: Ailsa’s green chicken curry was green, creamy and mild, a decent version of a Thai classic; Ollie’s sizzling duck breast in a tangy sauce was even better; while Bea’s steamed seafood curry, a house speciality bound together with red curry paste, was another step up altogether.

By far the best was my goong kratiem prik Thai, which is the Port of Siam’s signature dish. The base of the dish is a mélange of diced peppers and spring onions cooked in garlic and black pepper and studded with half a dozen prawns, to which I added a side order of noodles. Deeply flavoured with a hint of sweet and sour, it was magnificent.

We finished with cinnamon ice cream (good but underflavoured), mango sorbet (just right) and pandanus ice cream (like a cross between mint and pistachio), plus a hot Thai black rice pudding with coconut fondue and cinnamon ice cream (excellent).

Our meal was a good Thai feast though not quite at the very top level in the Edinburgh pecking order, but that wasn’t reflected in the price. Despite just having one cocktail, a couple of bottles of beer, and three soft drinks, by the time the prawn crackers, rice and service were included, our bill for five people had swollen to the thick end of £200. That’s top dollar, and then some. Suddenly all that waiting didn’t seem such a hardship any more.

Port of Siam

3 Pier Place, Newhaven, Edinburgh EH6 4LP (0131-467 8628;

Bill please

Starters £4.95-£17.85

Main courses £11.75-£17.95

Puddings £4.25-£5.75