Wings

*SPECIAL EDINBURGH EDITION*

It is amazing what I will endure to eat a few paper plates of hot wings. 

The basement of Wings, on Fishmarket Close, is a damp, unpleasant space. Its creators have filled the basement with vintage games consoles, posters, and memorabilia from Star Wars, and other Nerdom intellectual property. 

The whole place feels like an unwashed children's play area, where distressingly mucky kids have been drooling on the Fisher Price. Playing Street Fighter II on a Sega waiting for our wings, the state of the controllers was almost enough to rob me of my appetite. 

As you would probably expect for an Edinburgh Old Town basement built on plague pits and burnt witches, it is very very damp. Breathing in the ancient fungal spores in that basement that must take years off your live. 

All this, and I like it. It's good fun negotiating the vast menu. Some tips:

  • Stay away from the dry rubs -  these are often unceremoniously dumped on the top of the plate, leaving some wings caked in so much that it's like eating iron filings. 
  • The heat measures are wildly inconsistent - but this is part of the fun. One day the excellent Dance in the Blue Flame will offer a pleasing piquant sensation, and on another it they will melt your face.
  • Order extra blue cheese dip - wings are not served with blue cheese as a default. 
  • It's cheap as chips - order lots and experiment. 

After several trips I've narrowed my selection down to a couple of favourites. The aforementioned Dance in the Blue Flame (pictured above) is Wings' take on the award-winning Bleu Bayou wings at Abigail's in Waterloo, NY. Chef Marshal Grady was singled out as creating the world's best buffalo wing in feel-good wing-food documentary The Great Chicken Wing Hunt, by folding blue cheese dip into the Louisiana hot sauce.

Another favourite is the Shakakahhh named after the great white bat with great white guano in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (re-watched the other night - holds up well). It's a secret recipe, but seems to a tomato-based hot sauce, with a slight tang - irn-bru perhaps? 

Wings makes a compelling offering of lots of wings, cheap beer, and Mariokart at your table. You can see why I can't keep away.

 

Ting Thai Caravan

*SPECIAL EDINBURGH EDITION*

There is often a queue outside Ting Thai Caravan in the evenings. On this particular occasion comedian Mark Watson nervously explained to me that his companion was innocently enquiring about the expected wait time, rather than skipping the queue when she darted into the restaurant ahead of me.

After grunting in acknowledgement and allowing Mark Watson to calm down, I met my friend and we sat down for dinner.

I'm planning to start a new blog.

"But Nick? This blog has literally 4 posts on it? Why would you start another?"

"Well, sometimes a man has such a good idea that he simply has to fork out the extra USD$10 a month to set up another Squarespace page."

Ladies and gentleman, that idea is to establish a definitive guide to the UK's Chicken Wing scene. It will be called GiveMeChickenWingsorGiveMeDeath.com (or the closest available URL), and it is going to be huge. 

In that spirit I ordered Ting Thai's wing offering, the Bangkok spicy Peek Gai. 

The wings were soaked in lemongrass and Nam Pla, giving them that intensely savoury and quintessential South-East Asian flavour that says "I love the smell of Napalm in the morning".  The psychedelic effect of Lemongrass on the palate is not too dissimilar to reverb - tastes like a Saigon acid trip. 

The Pad Thai was a bad try, and by no means the best item on the menu. If you're going, have the pork and rice dishes.  

 

Pitt Cue

Pitt Cue moved from Soho to a large industrial space in the City earlier this year. They've upscaled the restaurant, so gone are the ribs and pulled pork, replaced by Mangalitza pork steaks.

To start we had the irresistible-sounding mangalitza and eel sausage. The two components had been blitzed to form a surf and turf paste, sadly obliterating all trace of the eel save for a smoky aftertaste. 

Lamb tongues tasted exactly how I would expect a  grilled human tongue to taste - delicious and divisible into think flakes of flesh. 

What are we after when we order steaks? The vast open expanses of pink flesh, dominated by a dark centre of rare meat. 

When it comes to pork, these are the dull parts. Give me the blackened nubs of unknown providence. Give me the burnt skin that rests on your tongue like a creme brûlée. Give me the the bitty edges, speckled with coarse salt and rub. I gnawed my way around the steaks with glee, and left the middle of the steak on my plate. 

The short rib was cooked to a beautiful fuchsia, served with beef dripping-soaked sourdough, and served with a béarnaise so rich it would have choked Louis XIV. 

Our sides were a bone marrow and mushroom mash that was very satisfying (like a microwaved Fergus Henderson entree), and fermented carrots with ricotta (sublime texture, superlime taste). 

Pitt Cue is largely hit and miss. I wonder if something was lost on the journey from Soho to City. 

Dinings

Dinings is Monocle Magazine's unstructured-blazer-wearer-in-chief, Tyler Brule's favourite London restaurant. So like any self-respecting member of the world's globe-trotting, minimal-aesthetic-appreciating tribe, I had to check it out.

The staff greet you with a halfhearted cry of "IRRASHAEMASE!", the traditional welcome at a Japanese restaurant. But in a Marlyebone townhouse staffed by pan-european croydon facelifts, it's more than a little bit embarrassing. 

The atmosphere is subdued, and the crowd very international. The monochrome Korean couple at the next table were only two drinks away from a nut rage incident.

The waiting staff presented us with a series of beautifully-executed nigiri: seared yellowtail with yuzu pickle; salmon with a savoury salsa; and a molten slab of seared otoro. 

The house special of sea bass carpaccio with truffle oil and salsa sounds unconvincing, but it's a smash hit. Delightfully kleptocratic and rich, like dinner in Moscow with your new father-in-law - Vladimir Putin. 

 

Koya

An article in the September issue of GQ written by Jennifer Bradley lamented the disappearance of the restaurant reservation in London. She states that new restaurants are “no-res” to get as many bums on seats as possible. It seems to me that in some cases this development has distorted the attitude of restaurateurs. When people are queuing for over an hour to eat your udon, many in the industry have forgotten that restaurants are part of the service industry. Instead the attitude has moved to doing a favour for the grateful grazing multitudes

This practice is especially galling when the queue has to constantly shift to allow sweaty bank managers to access the staircase next to the restaurant, where an A4 piece of paper with the word “models” crudely scrawled on it advertises a knocking shop. (Yalla Yalla, Green’s Court)

 I had previously visited Koya 5 or 6 years ago and was unimpressed. Seeing the team at Pitt Cue rave about the place in an episode of Vice’s “Chef’s Night Out”, I thought I should try again in case my undeveloped palate was to blame for my initial disappointmen

After queuing for around 30 minutes, and then waiting another 40 minutes for the food to arrive from across the counter, I was inconsolable.

I ordered a promising but poorly executed special of grilled grouse with pickled blackberry. The undercooked, and cold meat stank of dead animal, and the associated slumgullion that comes with gutting a small creature. The breast was served alongside a leg, with its gnarled and scaly foot still attached, with swamp juice still dried on to the grey toenails. It couldn't have been less appetizing unless the grouse had been served in the front grill of a land rover.                                                               

My mushroom udon with miso walnut butter was desperately bland..  If you’ve ever needed 1 tbsp of miso for a salad dressing, and like me have bought a 2 kilo bag of the stuff, then have it sit in the door of your fridge for the REST OF YOUR FUCKING LIFE, you will know that miso is a bold flavour. Alas in my miso walnut butter, the miso was undetectable.

The other 3 in my party ordered an array of tempura, udon, and katsu curry. Tempura can be good, like Koya’s, or so-so, but it is never life-changing. Fresh Squid tempura with lovage salt was at least interesting, and the Katsu curry, the thinking man’s Nando’s, was very good. Sadly Koya’s raison d’etre, its udon is nothing to write home about.