Ka Pao


IT’S official: normal service has now been resumed, I can tell you this after slipping down to Ka-Pao’s basement coolness early on a quiet Monday evening and finding the walls awash with the long lost tinkle and timbre of many, many diners chatting.

And what diners. Young people, beautiful people, tanned people, white teeth a-dazzle, summery clothes a-dangle, I even see bare ankles above those velvet loafer things on some guys. Eek. It’s as if all those holiday clothes put aside for Marbella have been hauled from the Rimowa suitcases and repurposed for summer in this city.

Of course the metaphorical piano stops playing as I lower my dusty and dog-eared carcase into one of those post-lockdown booths. Somewhat spoiling the glittering moment. But my money’s as good as anyone's buster.

Interesting snippets? They’ll maybe do 200 diners today, a waiter will mention later and I’ll think: bloody hell: 200. On a Monday? During the Fair? While the pandemic still lurks in corners and shadows?

Don’t ask me which waiter because the only thing nudging this whole scenario off into another dimension is the fact the staff have to wear those masks. And we the people don’t. I can’t stop thinking of Area 51, Mulder and Scully. In fact, Lindsay will lean over later and say: you’ve got to feel for those poor people working in that open kitchen. Masked up in this heat. I’ll turn and agree but will still be trying to shake Alien autopsies from my mind. Surgical waiting staff: the new now.

Of course, there’s lot like the old days. We still get the Ka-Pao soft-shoe shuffle. All that: have you been here before, can I tell you how this works? Cut to the chase, buddy, and tell us how many of these small plates we should be ordering up. When he says six, I think: each? Noooo. Between you, he corrects. Then comes the sting: and after you have decided what you like you should order some more.

We will order nine dishes, between us two blokes and it's more than enough. They’re clever the guys behind this Scottish-Asian, mish-mash, mash-up as I’ve said before. It’s linked to Ox and Finch, but unlike Ox and Finch I can actually book a table within my attention span limits. Albeit only at high tea time.

To the corn ribs, then, quartered cobs, seared on the grill, drenched in so much salted coconut chilli and lime we’re still dipping the husks long after the corn is gone.

A lively cucumber salad follows, all invigorated with fish sauce and crunchy peanuts, then some stir fried greens tossed in a pan and splashed with soy and white pepper.

I have ordered us two portions of the fried chicken in caramel. These salty, sweet crispy things towering from a dish, heaped with marinated onion and coriander, are really just good chicken nuggets for grown ups. All eaten.

Stir fried duck livers with basil and peppercorn next. A dish that’s both wetter and containing way more vegetable than I expected with livers consequently damper and paler than I had hoped and therefore a bit: meh.

A stickily, sweetly soft pork belly with that great stir-fry green choy sum and a crunchy peanutty textured topping goes down next. Leaving us only a braised beef, potato and peanut massaman curry to ascend. Unlike just about everything else this does not make a good first impression. A bowl of gloopy sauce punctuated by a smear of coconut, but…the meat is tender, the spicing has punch and we use the side dish of rice to soak up every remnant.

They do a cutesy soft serve ice cream as the sole dessert. Mango and calamansi. It’s okay.

The whole meal is much better than okay. Ka Pao’s not haute cuisine, it’s not really authentic anything either. It’s a little bit Jamie Oliver flavour geezerism meets South East Asian exotica. For a fast thrill: that’s a good thing.

Ka Pao

26 Vinicombe Street



Menu: Post-lockdown and it may be limited menus but not that I could tell; the caramel chicken, that massaman curry, even the corn ribs all there and still interesting. 4/5

Service: We’re living in the time of masks, though only for restaurant staff, so it’s a little bit different but, hey, what isn’t? 4/5

Price: We pretty much ate the house down with nine plates and a couple of those kitschy desserts and it was less than £66.50. Bargain. 4/5

Atmosphere: Weirdly, lockdown has improved the feel of this basement restaurant because they have turned the previously dead-zone bar area into more sit down dining. 4/5

Food: It’s a little bit kiss-me-quick, but who doesn’t like that now and then? The corn ribs, the caramel chicken, the massaman curry all packed with punch. Curries probably not the strongest point. 8/10