Ka Pao, meaning ‘Holy Basil’ in Thai, is in my humble opinion, one of the better eateries in St James Quarter.
The Glasgow based restaurant group Scoop, also responsible for the renowned Ox & Finch, have a branch of Ka Pao in the 'tinderbox city'. This second branch, featuring food inspired by South-East Asian Cuisine, is located next to the Bonnie & Wild food market.
Unlike some (not all) of the concessions, once you are in Ka Pao you forget you’re in a shopping centre. The space is upbeat and modern, with leather seats, ironwork, and an open kitchen. Flavours are bold but prices are gentler.
Me and Mr Bite visit one Sunday in the early evening and our waitress explains the menu which comprises starters, small plates, mains, and desserts. I order a Burnt Orange Margarita which is in keeping with the exciting flavour profiles of the food and drink offering at Ka Pao.
Then we have Gigha oysters with green nam jim, a dipping sauce made with garlic, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chili. This is a traditional Asian accompaniment for seafood and steamed fish. I still prefer my oyster’s naked but for those that like spice with their shellfish, this works.
The other two ‘nibbles’ are chosen by Mr Bite and both are excellent. Pork and Bone Marrow Chipolatas are made with lean meat and have savoury flavour from the marrow. Pork Skins are gigantic puffy scratchings that dissolve on the tongue. Mr Bite’s Thornbridge Green Mountain IPA is the perfect hoppy libation.
Out of the ten main courses, three are vegan, but there is no ultra-processed vegan food. Hispi Cabbage is served with cashew nut butter and sriracha, but you can also choose dishes, where celeriac or broccoli take centre stage. Side dishes of healthy cucumber salad pimped with toasted peanuts and cabbage with white pepper and soy see even Mr Bite eating his greens.
For the main course he has stir-fried Ox Tongue, pak choi, oyster sauce and green peppercorns. Slices of beef are lean and slim and, like the bone marrow, have that unique rich flavour characteristic of nose-to-tail cooking. I have a whole Sea Bream roasted with the bone in which is always a treat. Skin is crispy and its flesh is as snowy as that of an Arbroath Smokie. It reminds me of the fish I ate by the sea in Crete last year. Dill, coriander, and basil are liberally piled on for a powerful herby hit.
Desserts do not let the side down. Neither my Gingerbread, pear, long pepper and white chocolate yoghurt and Mr B’s Banana Crème Diplomate, peanut caramel and black sesame filo rely on sugary sweetness. My cake is fiery and moist, and the rum banana cream is pungent. We are delighted by these adult desserts.
Ka Pao is one of those new breeds of eateries that are unstuffy, fast-paced and designed for sharing plates of tasty, imaginative food. This one also retains an eye on price. It’s a good ‘un. (S. Wilson)
Ka Pao - Unit 420 St James Quarter, Edinburgh - 0131 385 1040.