South-east Asian pop-up It’s Ka Pao on the plate and ka-pow on the palate
LET me give you an idea of where we are eating tonight. Booking is available seemingly exclusively via the internet, the menu is a pencil-tick order form while the decor is largely snow-blind white meets bland ash veneer. At least two of the above may be familiar to you if you have been in Ikea. The word pop-up is mentioned in blurbs somewhere and the food is being served in a bar which is itself in one of those on-trend, multipurpose semi-loft-type buildings at the end of a Glasgow cul-de-sac, with cars on the nearby dual carriageway zinging by atmospherically.
So the cutting edge is where we are at then. And the flavours, if not the food itself, being from suddenly-exploding-everywhere south-east Asia, are the cutting edge of the cutting edge.
Staff speak reverentially of messy prawns; crinkle eyes knowingly when monkfish with coconut is mentioned and even conspiratorially reveal that those prawn shells will be slit and that vein removed before it gets anywhere near a table. Although we will not be actually sitting at a table. Ignoring the question of whether the unnecessary prawn vein removal hoo-ha was started by Michelin or MasterChef, you may wonder if Ka Pao is quite as cool as it seems to think it is.
There’s certainly a bit of an awkward reaction when we walk in and it emerges that I have somehow – idiotically, I admit – internet booked for two of us instead of three. Though I did phone and nobody phoned back. A long, uncomfortable
(for us) huddle follows while the issue is whisperingly discussed. Plenty of free table space in here, I reassure everyone. They’ll surely squeeze in an extra one?
Uh-oh, finally we’re told that we’ll have to eat perched up at the bar. Of course there are – and will remain throughout our meal – way more than enough empty seats at the bench tables to cater for a single unbookedby-an-idiot person. Sigh. Modern life.
What about the food then? There are lots of those little taster platey things, which turn out to be a bit awkward to share between three, especially along a bar, and sauces go a-dripping, coconut a-scattering, all over white veneers and shirt fronts – but the flavours? Full-on, face-slappingly attention-grabbing.
We start with plump sweet padron peppers in sticky tamarind, garlic and fish sauce. A cucumber and peanut salad is then so vibrantly and freshly flavoured with that prik nam pla that I order another as soon as it’s finished. Corn ribs gets the prize for the most creative use of a single corn cob, it being sliced into thin wedges, grilled, doused throughout in tangy fish sauce and sprinkled all over with calming coconut. “Eat them from this side,” says the waiter – good advice, because the other side is corn cob heart. They’re excellent, though.
There’s a sea trout curry with coconut