Restaurant review: Port Of Siam, Leith.

There are tea towels hanging across the entrance to the kitchen. Behind them, two chefs are just visible, flashing and searing and sauteeing. I see them when I exit the toilet and pause, momentarily making eye contact with the guy bent over the cooker, and think: actually, that looks a bit odd.

For the first time since coming in I look properly at the decor, stopping at that monstrous high table they've built out from the bar. It thrusts into the restaurant like a liner that forgot to apply the anchors when it entered the harbour across the road at full steam ahead. Ugly? Yes.

There are tables so small they could have come from a nursery and chairs that to my jaundiced eye are surely from the Ikea summer of 1976 catalogue. Funny thing is, none of the above really registered when I came in the door. Instead of seeing pine, pine everywhere and not a drop of relief – and the walls, floor and lots more are utterly swathed in it – I noticed only the aromas of ginger and garlic, and the subtle, sensational undertone of nam pla (fish sauce), which combine to set every savoury sense, bang, bang, banging at once.

Even after squeezing into one of the tiny tables, the conversation isn't about the young couple sitting slap, bang side-on just a few feet away, or the Edinburgh folk out for dinner, as usual, wearing half the contents of their local hillwalking shop. It's about the Thai baa baa lamb, marinated chops grilled until caramelised (sweet, tender, plentiful) and an outstandingly sweet, sour and salty Thai take on mint sauce on the side.

Clever, different and risky. Who mucks about with Thai cooking and gets away with it? Port Of Siam, apparently.

They do dipping sauces well in here. Those pork and coriander dumplings – lovely in their own right – came with something deep, dark and compellingly delicious. "What's in this?" I ask the waiter as I start prodding my beef spears in sesame seed into what's left of it. "Chilli," he says. No kidding, I think, I could have worked that out when my face started to melt. Not that I can stop eating it. There's more than chilli, much more. Ginger? Soy? Nam pla? It doesn't really matter. Like the beef spears – skewers to you and me, but well-marinated, moist and succulent – every single dish has flavour. Loads of it. The som tum, or papaya and carrot salad, arrives in a great grated heap of slender slivers which in themselves wouldn't amount to a hill of beans but the light yet strong, fresh flavours in the dressing bring it all sparkling to life.

Across the room – well, about five feet away – the young couple are having a whole sea bass cooked till the skin is golden and crisp, and stuffed with yet another finely chopped salad that comes spilling out appetisingly. This is one of those rare occasions where I suddenly realise I have ordered wrong. Totally wrong.

There's that fabulous-looking mixed seafood dish, all crisp clams and prawns and fish, travelling slowly across the room to another table, or razor clams in coconut soup. Why didn't I get them? We are apparently across the road from a fish market here. The panang chicken, ordered without thinking, looks ordinary but isn't. The coconutty overtones, the kaffir lime leaves and that fish sauce elevate it to the level of something almost special, and certainly satisfying.

An ice-cream to finish. Cinnamon, made on the premises; another, of some rare Thai plant I have forgotten the name of, arrives in batter. They're both good.

To be frank, it's all been good. Better than your average Thai restaurant? Yes. It's different, clever and merits time taken to properly explore the menu. Which I'll definitely do on my next visit.

Port Of Siam

3 Pier Place, Leith (www.portof, 0131 467 8628)

MENU Thai with a twist. Lamb chops with Thai mint sauce. Thai takes on French desserts. Different and clever. 5/5

ATMOSPHERE They have a strange take on what constitutes nice decor, but it's a shoe box that's crisp and comfortable, and there is a buzz. 4/5

SERVICE Not hugely clued up on what's being served but pleasant enough and efficient. 3/5

PRICE Far from the cheap and cheerful end of Thai food but not outrageously expensive, with main courses settling in at the low teens. 4/5

FOOD Sensational flavours. Full-on, assault-the-senses tastes; one of the best Thais in the country. 8/10

TOTAL 24/30