Bindi describes itself as a Gujerati/East African fusion restaurant and cook school.
This might initially seem to be a random pairing - not the restaurant/cook school bit, but the Indian/African one - yet the links run deep. In the 1870s, under the British Empire, thousands of indentured Gujerati labourers were transported to East Africa to build the Kenya-Uganda railway. They settled and prospered in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, built businesses, and established communities there - only to be unceremoniously expelled a century later. Nowadays, some of those with Asian descent born in Africa have returned there, and they count it as home, while others have swelled the ranks of the world's Asian diaspora.
The proprietrix of Bindi, the eponymous Bindiya Kanani, has filled the menu with her favourite dishes, drawing on the food of Gujarat, Uganda, and the UK - all the places her family call home. These are recipes she learnt from her mother and aunts, the kind of homespun dishes that are passed down the maternal line, generation after generation.
True to its Gujerati roots - and the lingering spirit of the Ann Purna restaurant that until recently occupied these premises - Bindi serves only vegetarian food. Kalpna, Edinburgh's longstanding vegetarian restaurant, famed for its fabulously inventive, yet most reliable Indian food, is just across the road, so if you fancy a pukka, meat-free Indian feast, this is definitely the postcode for it.
Bindi looks clean, bright and welcoming. It smells wonderful, of aromatic cooking laced with top notes of rose water and incense. You are greeted by the owner in person, dressed in a vibrant sari, trailing a chorus of jingling anklets in her wake. Other sari-clad ladies emerge from the kitchen from time to time with plates of freshly cooked things.
The menu is a mix of street food snacks, one list more African, the other more Gujerati, alongside one main course thali platter at an exceptionally affordable £5 a pop. You'll struggle to spend too much here.
Dazzled by the possibilities we took the easy option, two different snack taster platters, and how interesting they were to eat. Mogo, fingers of floury fried cassava seasoned with a chili, lemon and garlic paste, gave hand-cut potato chips a serious run for their money. Miniature puri came brimming with cubed potato, onions and chickpeas, and a peppery water (pani) to pour on. The chat was full of a tongue caressing assortment of textures - puffed rice, crunchy deep fried chickpea noodles (sev), and crispy wafers (papri) - all tossed with fresh pomegranate seeds, tomato, onion, lime juice, and coriander. Batata vada, spiced balls of potato in a crisp batter, and lentil kachori with spicy green pea innards, proved devilishly moreish, especially when dipped in Bindi's pickles.
Perhaps the most novel of the snacks were the two cake-like savouries: dhokra - made with steamed semolina and chickpea flour - handmade with various dhals, rice and seeds. With these on offer, you'd never crave another crisp or peanut. And if this little lot still wasn't enough, there were also pinwheels of fried patra (the leaves of the taro plant), stuffed with a fudgy paste of spiced chickpea flour, and date-like sharp-sweet tamarind.
By comparison, the thali seemed plain, albeit nice and homely. One of the curries was mealy with pulses and comforting, the other more tomato-based, with a smoky quality. A clear cinnamon-scented broth, with shreds of ginger and a scattering of lentil through it, a bowl of rice, and two small chapatis (obviously made to order) completed the bargain line-up.
A salad with coriander, mint, basil, pomegranate seeds, tomatoes, fresh mango, and lime juice provided a cool freshness that suited the no-nonsense thali line-up. Its only weakness was that the red onion and spring onion throughout were much too strong and so dominated everything in sight.
Don't be one of those "I don't eat puddings" types when you visit Bindi, or you'll miss out on the shrikand (sweet, strained yoghurt seasoned with crushed almonds, pistachios and cardamom), and the sirow (a toothsome, buttery semolina confection, flavoured with cardamom, saffron and nutmeg. Believe me, that would be a crying shame.