The next destination on our vegetarian culinary expedition across the Scottish capital, was Kalpna's - a family-run Indian restaurant in Edinburgh's University quarter.
We were immediately ushered to our table on arrival. As I looked around, I was amazed at the Indian-ness of the place. It looked like it had been transported whole from Gujarat (India). Later, when we chatted with the owner we found out that most of the mirrored decorations and the clay on the walls had indeed been brought over from India, with Indian artisans coming over to do up the place. The immediate impression was one of a kind-of Gujarati rustic homeliness, combining traditional art with middle-class tastes; not hugely upmarket, but almost as comfortable as a friend's home, if that description makes any sense.
I ordered the Raj Bhog Thali (the restaurant's speciality "royal" mixed platter) and R (the boyfriend) ordered a chaat (Bombay street food snack). The food arrived not long after, and R felt compelled to sample the wonderful selection on my plate. Each of the curries presented was delicious. The paneer was fresh and the gravy was a perfect blend of spices, the mushroom curry was unsusual and coconutty, the daal (lentil gravy) tasted like my mum's cooking and the methi aloo (potatoes cooked in fenugreek) was phenomenally satisfying. R's starter was equally well-made and I was struggling to find a single thing to criticise about this place (not that I was hugely inclined to try), except for the absent-minded (and slightly haughty) waiters.
When I was little, I used to look forward to our family being invited to dinner at the Mathur's (our family friends). Unlike at restaurants, where as a child I found most of the food too spicy, I knew that dinner at the Mathur's would be homely and special and I could wander around their house looking at the exotic furnishings and be transported to their home-state of Rajasthan, where I'd never been. Kalpna gave me the same feeling of home-away-from-home comfort food coupled with an exotic but down-to-earth exploration of a culture which was so Indian and yet so different from my own South Indian roots.
The meal ended with a simple rice pudding that accompanied the thali (this was so-so, but not sweet enough for my hard-core sugar cravings). My thali cost a reasonable £16.50 for an enormous amount of food while R's snack set him £4.50. As we were leaving we noticed a sign that advertised a £7 eat-as-much-as-you-like lunchtime buffet and decided to head back the next day.
The following day when we arrived , the restaurant was understandably quite full. We were directed promptly to the buffet, which was limited in the number of dishes but not in their diversity. We sampled an array of dishes ranging from Western-Indian specialities like poha to the more traditional bhajiyas (fritter-like things) to normal potato curries , the usual chana masala (chick peas in gravy) and simple rice dishes. Each dish was well-cooked, moderately spiced and perfectly seasoned. This confirmed my assessment that this was a simple homely place, that did simple homely well-cooked food. Nothing flashy or crass or nouvelle; just decent properly-executed cookery that one could come to every other day without feeling too overwhelmed.
The verdict - a decent, family-run joint; definitely worth a visit if you fancy a reasonably-priced and good vegetarian / vegan curry when you are in Edinburgh.
2-3, St Patrick Square, Edinburgh