The Ting Thai Caravan is going at full pelt when we walk in.
Joe, who only ordered 10 minutes ago, is already halfway through his green curry; the Thai guys at the other end of our table are sharing a crisp-skinned sea bass; and at long trestle tables all around, chopsticks are clacking, drinks are being upended, talk is buzzing and food is zipping by.
We're salivating at the thought of what's on its way. Then, quietly and without any warning, the caravan hits the buffers. The guys in the open kitchen are still working away crazily, but the food is now going into takeaway containers, lots of them, then into brown paper bags, then eventually out the door. Into a car. What's going on? We look around. Nobody seems to be getting served. The waiting staff are leaning over the counter chatting. Have we really been sitting here for 30 minutes, I say to Joe in exasperation.
The waitress, who has yet to ask us if we want a drink, sees my eyebrows being raised at the delay and shrugs as if to say: cool the jets, it'll come. We order drinks. We wait some more. Then, from behind us, food starts to trickle out of the open kitchen. It's going to the trestle tables at the bottom of the restaurant.
Frustrating or what? More is going over there. It's coming out faster. Now the food is roaring out at full pelt again and whammo. At last. Here comes ours. Goong frong beer bubble prawns in coconut batter atop lollipop sticks, crisp shallow fried chicken with something called Two Brothers sauce and a cardboard box full of nam tok nua, or spicy beef salad.
And Holy Moses, that's just the start. More incoming: garlic noodles, pork scratchings, pan-grilled Thai mackerel, caramelised pork chops. An egg deep-fried in a breadcrumby coating slathered with a tangy sauce called Brother In Law. A forest of food covers the table and we're falling on to those bubble prawns, crisp coconut batter, and my goodness how juicy are they? Inside a cardboard box lie thin, pink beef slices, polka-dotted with fiery chilli seeds, doped in sweet and sour, hot and tangy Thai tastes. Tender. Superbly flavoured.
Incidentally, this is not the kind of Thai kitchen where the staff whittle carrots into swans or turn turnips into topiary. This is bish, bosh, fast, flash street food. Roaring fires lick wickedly from the cookers through the back there. The skin of the sea bass has been brutally crackled crisp with boiling oil, yet the white flesh is still sweet and moist. Ginger, garlic, coconut and mango blooter their way on to the palate and … was that tamarind in the Two Brothers sauce? The chicken is dark and crisp-fried, yet tender and served on light and airy jasmine rice.
Throughout it all, and so faint they're almost not there, are maddeningly, deliciously sour and fishy undertones. Pork chops are dark and sugary; soft and tender roast rice packed with the flavours of the richest stock. All of this while we sit at a long wooden table eating cheek to jostling cheek with strangers, food being looked at, admired and then commented on. The delay is almost forgotten.
The queue outside stretches far down the street now. Customers are mainly but not all young, studenty, cosmopolitan, and there's not a free seat in the place. This on a Monday night, too. Amazing. When one Glasgow restaurant filled up at the start of the week they got so excited about it they issued a press release. Or was it because they changed their menu? Whatever. I don't think Ting Thai Caravan bothers much with press releases. I hope not anyway.
There are probably other things they should be bothering with first. Like the niceties of service. Or making the place a bit more comfortable. But why would they? They're clearly packing the customers in every night. And for very good reason. The food is stunning.
Ting Thai Caravan
8-9 Teviot Place, Edinburgh (0131 225 9801)
Thai street food including bubble prawns on a stick and fried chicken with coconut. Mainly served in boxes, but don't let that deter you. 5/5
Cheek to cheek with strangers at long tables in a dim, bustling bare brick cavern with an open kitchen and queues at the door. 4/5
Pleasant waitresses work hard when the kitchen is serving, but long delays signify Ting Thai may become a victim of its own success. 2/5
Reasonable with mains at around £8 for dinner and many dishes, including the bubble prawns, under £4. 5/5
Goong frong bubble prawns, nam tok marinated beef, crackled skin sea bass and the sticky fried chicken with jasmine rice? Great tastes. 8/10