Edinburgh

Passorn

13/12/17

Brougham Street, Edinburgh

It’s always exciting when you discover a great place to eat – and an extra bonus when it turns out to be within walking distance of where you live. Brougham Street, the unassuming thoroughfare that leads up from Tollcross to Edinburgh’s Meadows, has already yielded us two superb eateries. First of all, we sampled the quirky delights of Ong Gie, a fabulous Korean restaurant that specialises in barbecuing food at your table. https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2016/12/18/ong-gie/

Next up, we decided to try Taxidi Greek Bistro, a brand new diner that now occupies the premises where My Big Fat Greek Restaurant used to reside. That too, proved to be an absolute corker. https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2017/11/13/taxidi/

It has long been on our minds to try the restaurant right next door to Ong Gie so finally, on this chilly winter night, fuelled by a couple of drinks at the Cameo Cinema Bar, we decide that we really shouldn’t leave it any longer.

Passorn boasts that it offers ‘angelic Thai dining’ and it must be said there’s a lovely relaxed feel about this scrupulously clean restaurant. We haven’t booked, but it’s early in the week and they soon find a place for us. When we arrive, the restaurant is nearly empty but it quickly begins to fill up, so clearly it already has an established fan base. We order drinks and settle ourselves down to peruse the menu. What’s interesting here is that – with the curry dishes – the customer can choose the level of heat they prefer – I know of many people who have been permanently scared off Thai food simply because they’ve been on the receiving end of something way too fiery for them.

For my starter I select Bangkok Cakestwo perfectly formed Thai-style cakes, one of prawn and one of cod, served with kaffir lime leaves and red chilli paste. They are both exquisite, expertly spiced and yummy to the last mouthful. Susan opts for Nam Tok Moo, a dish from the North East of Thailand, featuring char-grilled pork with coriander, fresh mint, lemongrass, red onion, roasted rice and Passorn’s own chilli dressing, the whole thing attractively served in  a hollowed-out red cabbage. Again, it’s a knockout, absolutely scrumptious.

For the main course, I choose Pia Samun Prie, crispy monkfish pieces in a turmeric and coconut sauce, topped with crispy onion. The chunks of fish almost melt in the mouth and the dish makes a perfect contrast with Susan’s choice of main course, Angel Curry. This comprises a marinated 8oz sirloin steak in a spicy red curry sauce, served on a bed of crispy potatoes. (My mouth is watering just describing it!) The meat is so tender it can be cut with a standard knife and the tangy, palette-tingling sauce is just perfection on a plate. Furthermore, the combination of the two dishes is inspired, though I’ll admit that’s more down to luck than expertise on our part.

We also order side dishes of Pad Mee (stir fried noodles with beansprouts) and Sticky Rice. Regarding the latter, I’ve had various permutations of this dish all over the UK, but this can only be described as super-sticky, a satisfying gelatinous lump that actually has to be divided up with a knife – and possibly the main reason I end up too full to consider investigating the puddings. That’s not a criticism, by the way. But if you like to finish your meals with something sweet then maybe pace yourselves a bit more than we do.

No doubt about it, this is superb quality Thai food, as good as anything you’ll find in the New Town and, it has to be said, excellent value for money. Which prompts me to ask the question – is Brougham Street the city’s new ‘must-visit’ culinary location?

On the basis of the three restaurants we’ve sampled thus far, that would have to be a resounding ‘yes!’

5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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The Tin Soldier

 

The Studio, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

09/12/17

Bird of Paradise Theatre’s production of The Tin Soldier is an object lesson in the art of storytelling. It’s thoughtful and vibrant and beautifully done.

Jack (Robert Softley Gale) and his friends live in The Place. Based on the Internats, where non-ambulant disabled children were ‘dumped’ in Soviet Russia, The Place is cold, inhospitable and under-staffed. Left to their own devices, the children forge strong ties, creating their own family units. And, central to this bonding process, is the sharing and telling of stories.

The appeal of The Tin Soldier is obvious: the loyal, steadfast toy is one of very few positive depictions of a disabled character in children’s fiction. He might not have a happy ending, but he’s undoubtedly the hero of the tale: dogged, determined, loving and loveable.

But the real beauty of this piece is all in the telling. The multi-media, multi-format approach is beguiling: the story is told simultaneously through spoken word, sign language, subtitles, music and animation. If that sounds chaotic, it’s not. It’s all perfectly choreographed, each form complementing the next, adding subtle layers of meaning and complexity. Caroline Parker, as the aptly-named Dancer, is especially mesmerising, signing the songs centre-stage; it’s visually stunning, even though I don’t know sign language.

Bird of Paradise’s artistic vision is of “a culture where disabled artists are recognised for the excellence of their work” – and Softley Gale, Parker and Joseph Brown (Kipper) certainly merit accolades for these performances.

The music is provided by Novasound, aka Audrey Tait and Lauren Gilmour. It’s lovely: Gilmour’s voice has a plaintive quality that really suits the tale.

The Tin Soldier is playing until the 23rd December, so if you’re looking for a festive family show that goes beyond the obvious, then why not take a look at this? You won’t be disappointed.

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield

The Arabian Nights

07/12/17

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

The Arabian Nights is unusual: a children’s Christmas show that never mentions Christmas. Of course it doesn’t – this is a collection of mainly Middle Eastern and Indian stories – but they’re wonderfully apt for the festive season, as marvellous and magical as can be. Suhayla El-Bushra’s script is sprightly and engaging, and nicely complemented by Joe Douglas’s lively direction. This is a delightful production.

At its centre is Scheherazade  (Rehanna MacDonald), a young girl who has fallen foul of the tyrannical Sultan (Nicholas Karimi). Desperate to stay her impending execution, she regales the taciturn leader with tales she has learned from her storyteller mother (Neshla Caplan). Despite professing to hate stories, the Sultan is beguiled, demanding more and more. And, as time goes by, the two develop an unlikely friendship.

The staging is lovely: simple but evocative, brightly coloured and celebratory. And the stories are beautifully told: there’s puppetry and music, shadow-play and song. It’s zesty and energetic, the stories tumbling across the stage as quickly and impressively as the acrobats. It could be chaotic, but it’s not, even when we are faced with a sequence of four (or is it five?) tales within tales, each left open as the next begins, a masterful piece of writing if ever there was one. The actors are fantastic too: a true ensemble, most performing many roles with humour and precision.

Accessible yet profound; moving yet funny; sophisticated yet full of fart jokes: this is perfectly pitched for a family audience.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield

The Real Thing

 

 

25/10/17

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing is an arch examination of what we mean by ‘truth’ – in love, in life and, of course, in theatre. Despite the linguistic flourishes, however, the central premise – that reality is a shape-shifter, subject to narrative perspective – is pretty bluntly hammered home.

It starts well, with the initial confrontation between husband and wife slowly exposed as fiction: a scene from playwright Henry (Laurence Fox)’s House of Cards. The blurred lines between reality and fantasy are underscored by the revelation that Charlotte (Rebecca Johnson), the cheating wife in the first scene, is – in fact – married to Henry. Her on-stage husband, Max (Adam Jackson-Smith), visits with his real-life wife, Annie (Flora Spencer-Longhurst), and things are further complicated when we discover that Henry and Annie are having an affair. It’s the stuff that farce is made of, and it’s rather nicely done – even if it does at times seem a little too wordy and pleased with itself.

But I’m not sure we need the constant reinforcement of what is, at heart, a straightforward idea. Henry’s Desert Island Discs choices don’t reflect his real musical taste; Charlotte has never been a faithful wife. Brodie (Santino Smith), Annie’s ‘good-cause’, is not the wronged war hero she pretends he is. Most of Billy (Kit Young)’s dialogue is taken from ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore: he’s rehearsing with Annie; they’re acting the part. It’s all very meta, and interesting to watch, but it does seem to over-complicate an essentially simple premise.

Henry and Charlotte’s daughter, Debbie, is nicely played by Venice Van Someren, but I really don’t understand the character’s function. The role doesn’t add anything to the piece.

The performances are good: the play is dialogue-heavy, but the actors make the most of the sprightly humour, and the verbal jousting is entertaining throughout. Fox’s voice seems a little strained at times, but he plays the part with relish and, particularly in the second act, imbues Henry with real depth.

Stephen Unwin’s direction is clear and unfussy, each scene separated by a choreography of moving furniture, which serves to underline the theatricality. But I think perhaps more layers might have been unearthed had the actors multi-rolled, further calling into question the whole notion of reality. As it is, it’s all a bit one-note, and something of a missed opportunity.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield

 

 

The Kite Runner

09/10/17

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel, set against the changing face of Afghanistan through the nineteen-seventies and beyond, gets an assured if slightly pedestrian adaptation by Matthew Spengler, who opts to use the same first person narration as the book. It’s a powerful and deeply affecting story about friendship and rivalry and how the events of childhood serve to shape the adult psyche.

David Ahmad takes the central role of Amir – and it must be a punishing performance, as he is involved in every single scene. This is the story of young Amir who lives with his father Baba (Emilio Doorgasingh) in a fine house in Afghanistan. It is also the story of the two servants who live and work in the household, Ali (Ezra Foroque Khan) and his son, Hassan (Jo Ben Ayed). Amir and Hassan are friends who play together every day, unmindful of the fact that they are on opposite sides of the Sunni/Shia divide. When the Taliban take control of the country, that divide causes incredible tensions – and when Amir witnesses an act of barbaric cruelty enacted on Hassan by some Sunni boys, he chooses to look the other way… something that in the fullness of time, he comes to bitterly regret.

The play is simply and effectively staged. I love the device of the giant kite-shaped screen that descends from time to time with images projected onto it and shadows swarming behind it. The scene where it is used to mask the story’s most heinous moment is a brilliant piece of theatre – making the event infinitely more horrible, simply because we do not see it. The imagination always paints the most terrible pictures.

I also love the presence of tabla player Hanif Khan on stage, his urgent rhythms serving to propel the story along at key moments. If some scenes occasionally feel a little exposition-heavy, this is perhaps an inevitable consequence of the narrative – but those who love the novel (and they are many) will surely appreciate how much care and attention has gone into adapting this for the stage.

The rapturous applause at the play’s conclusion is ample evidence of how much the audience in the packed auditorium enjoy this performance.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

The Sunshine Ghost

07/10/17

The Studio, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

The Sunshine Ghost, a co-production between Scottish Theatre Producers and the Festival and King’s Theatres in Edinburgh, is a brand-spanking new musical, performed with wit and vigour by its small cast.

Directed by Ken Alexander, it’s a convoluted, melodramatic tale, featuring love and loss, castles and ghosts – with lots of laughs along the way. We meet the cursed ghost Ranald MacKinnon (John Kielty), two hundred years dead, and doomed to haunt his family’s castle until an old wrong is avenged. And we meet the woman he falls in love with, the very-much-alive American archaeologist, Jacqueline Duval (Neshla Caplan), daughter of billionaire property tycoon, Glen Duval (Barrie Hunter). Before Jacqueline can stop him, her boorish father is buying MacKinnon Castle and shipping it stone-by-stone to the USA, all to curry favour with his latest amour, the repulsive media-astrologer, Astrobeth (played with real relish by Helen Logan). Can Ranald save his ancestral home and break the curse that binds him to it? Can the hapless caretaker, Lachlan (Andy Cannon, who co-wrote the play), do anything to help? Here, nothing is as it seems, and the resolution, when it comes, is sure to take you by surprise.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of musical theatre, hindered only by a peponderance of exposition in the first act, and the inevitable limitations of a single piano (masterfully played by Richard Ferguson, who also wrote the score, but without the depth of a full band or orchestra). It’s a silly spoof, a daft extravagance, and the cast play up these elements with obvious glee. There are lots of cheeky little techniques employed with a knowing wink: a sheet cunningly moved to allow a shock reveal; a homage to Beetlejuice in the possession scene. Helen Logan’s Astrobeth is the standout performance (it’s a gift of a role, perfect for comic exaggeration), but the whole cast works well, and it’s a whole lot of fun.

A most enjoyable evening at the theatre.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

 

Maki & Ramen – Omakase Sushi Bar

06/10/17

Fountainbridge, Edinburgh

I was rather disappointed when Kampung Ali announced its imminent closure a while ago. This unassuming Malaysian cafe, though very basic in decor, offered great value rice and noodle dishes and was only a short walk from my home. Amongst other things, it did a fantastic coconut rice, one of the best I’ve ever tasted. Here’s what we said about the place back in 2015.*

https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2015/04/09/kampung-ali-fountainbridge-edinburgh/

The premises didn’t stand empty for long. Pretty soon it was transformed into the Maki & Ramen – Omakase Sushi Bar. (A bit of a long-winded title, I’ll grant you, but the place seems to answer to both names and has an online listing under each of them. Go figure.) I kept promising myself that we would drop by and check it out but, for one reason or another, the time was never right. But now, for reasons too complicated to mention, I find myself alone on a Saturday evening and decide that here is my ideal opportunity to give the place a whirl.

The first thing to say is that the management have effected an astonishing transformation here. What was once a hokey, ramshackle diner with cheesy photographic dioramas on its walls, is now a sleek, dramatically-lit dining space with a selection of different-sized tables to cater for large groups, smaller ones and, luckily for me, individuals. It’s already pretty busy when I arrive and the place is buzzing, but they soon find me a spot and I’m left to peruse the menu and admire the extensive collection of Post It notes left by the appreciative (and often rather talented) diners who have preceded me. I go in there planning to eat ramen, but then I spot chicken katsu curry on the menu and decide that this is exactly what I am in the mood for. I also order a portion of  pork gyoza and a bottle of Sapporo lager.

The service is friendly and efficient and the food, which arrives in double-quick time, is piping hot. Those of you who are familiar with the katsu curry at Wagamama’s should note that this is a chunkier, earthier version of the meal, the piquant sauce thick and studded with vegetables. There’s a mound of sticky rice and (nice touch this) a chunk of al dente broccoli. The generously-sized portion looks so inviting, I quite forget to photograph it before I start tucking in. Doh! The same goes for the gyoza – these are moist and succulent, with soft, paper-thin cases that virtually melt in the mouth. There are five dumplings in the portion and I eat the lot. Oh yes, every meal comes with a little bowl of savoury miso soup, which is another nice touch.

Tonight is just a try out – I will go back, hopefully with friends, and sample some of the more adventurous items on the menu, but I have to say that this is a very promising first visit. Go and check it out. If you’re at all artistically inclined, leave an illustrated Post It note. You’ll be in good company.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

*I should also add that there is another Kampung Ali (or Ah Lee, as it’s spelled on the website) on Clerk Street, Edinburgh, still apparently going strong.