Ninja Kitchen, Bourbon Bar and Grill

24 Frederick Street, Edinburgh

0131 322 3190

Lunch/Dinner: £6-£20

Food rating: 9/10

I’M delighted to have discovered Ninja Kitchen. It’s so hard to find anywhere to eat in Edinburgh city centre these days that isn’t a chain, or doesn’t cost a bomb. The capital is going the way of Barcelona and Venice – that is, spoilt by tourism. In the Herald, Rosemary Goring recently described it as “a great city ruined by tat and an absence of care”. She wrote of gardens reduced to muddy swamps to accommodate fairground-tacky erections reeking of greasy onions and burnt meat. She could equally have cited the DIY boardwalks with artificial grass and booming sound systems that regularly blight George Street; the rumble of trolley cases over cobbles; the brazen parody of Scottish identity that traduces the High Street.

Edinburgh Council seems hell-bent on skewing development to tourists and students, marketing Auld Reekie as an all-year “festival city” and “party capital”. Who needs libraries or other such last-century social services when they can be sold off for boutique hotels, with kilt and toffee shops squeezed into the lobby?

So Ninja Kitchen in the Bourbon Bar and Lounge, which is just a few paces from Princes Street, is almost too good to be true. Its basement location only adds to the thrill. Well curated, invigoratingly metropolitan, it oozes unforced sophistication just like a seasoned world traveller. In fact, eating at Ninja Kitchen is a bit like having a rigorous 90-minute session with a top-notch Asian masseur. Its flavours are uncompromisingly vivid. They give your taste buds a vigorous workout that stops just short of the point when you’d be gasping: “Stop! No more!” Groans of pleasure more like as the feel-good chemicals released by this edible assault flow through your system.

This is a small menu, and blindingly good value. And for once those siren words that reel you in actually materialise in the mouth. So when our beef rice bowl lists “lime” in the description, it well and truly delivers. Sharp, zingy lime juice with a pronounced Kaffir lime leaf twang greets us from the voluptuous peanuty folds of a thick coconut sauce with a complexity that must surely be predicated on pungent shrimp paste and a fistful of fresh aromatics. This dreamy substance coats pearly, polished Jasmine rice. The star anise-scented beef that crowns the dish is cooked to the succulent dryness that’s customary in a Malaysian Rendang stew. An extravagant dusting of crumbled, toasted peanuts, and obstreperously fresh coriander, seals the deal. Just £6? I’m ecstatic.

A one-off? No way. The only bum note here is the branded Sriracha sauce on the table, a sin bin of additives, including monosodium glutamate. So we ignore it studiously and concentrate on Tom Yum noodle soup, tart with lime, daintily glutinous with rice vermicelli noodles. There’s delicacy too in the plump, bouncy skewered prawns in their dapper crisp coconut and black sesame seed jackets. Their emollient garlic lime mayo fits them like a suede glove.

Thai corn fritters, in reality, more like mini-bridies burnished with sticky sauce, exude the intoxicating fragrance and flavour of kaffir lime leaf. The chewy corn niblets gain from being encased in the elastic pastry with its ultra-crisp crimped edges. Kitchen time and effort is invested in these little beauties, yet four of them cost only £4.

A Taipei-style gua bao bun – we opt for the “classic pork” variant – has similar attributes to the beef in the rice bowl. Soft strands of meat, nuanced with soya, rice wine and red vinegar perhaps, and almost certainly star anise, spill out from the snowy maw of the dumpling-like bun, sandwiched with bracingly vinegary pickled cucumber, and a lick of Hoisin sauce. The peanut slaw that flanks the bun is a blinder in its own right, its dressing redolent of groundnut stew. Wasabi-dusted chips bring weirdly agreeable bitterness to the proceedings. We manage to find room for a plateful of Korean fried cauliflower. I put that down to its crisply sticky red pepper batter, which reminds me of salty, fermented red bean paste.

We blink at the bill. This feast for two has clocked up just £40. Sssh! Don’t tell the tourists.