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

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