Wonderfully irreverent to authenticity, Ka Pao presents a menu packed with plates influenced by the cooking of South East Asia in foliage filled, slightly industrial surrounds. The beauty of slighting traditional recipes is that there’s a freeing sense of invention. Here you’ll find Arbroath Smokies (smoked haddock) tumbled around with the hum of galangal, plam sugar and green chilli, all to be wrapped up in fat spinach leaves like Scottish Asian tacos. They’re great. Joining the ranks of unconventional but delicious morsels are padron peppers seasoned with tamarind, soy and a sprinkle of spice mix.
By now we’re well on our way to enjoying a meal of joyful abundance. Whether that’s the liberal use of herbs, the tangle of colours on every plate or the see-saw of sharp, salty and sweet notes that play out across the menu. Caramel fried chicken is a fan favourite, doused in fish sauce caramel, and while undoubtedly unnuanced, it’s delicious. A proper crunch to the coating, with sticky, sweet sauce flying everywhere. Curries are mild and warming, while a whole grilled sea bream makes a handsome centrepiece, stuffed with a herb salad, a spiky green nam jim on the side. It’s the mild temper we need to the big, shouty flavours elsewhere.
Doing their best to keep up with the food are the cocktails, which are delivered by efficient, sweet staff. Properly made and fresh, they present complimenting profiles that work alongside the big flavours nicely. Think rum, lychee liqueur, pineapple and lime shaken together until frothy. It’s a little slice of holiday heaven in the heart of Edinburgh.
Speaking of the city, the restaurant is found in the slightly soulless St James’s quarter, with one side looking out in the shopping centre itself. Skip to the back instead for views of the open kitchen and Edinburgh townhouses.