Ka Pao – it’s a name that sounds like something from a 1960s Batman episode. It is, in fact, Glasgow’s newest eaterie.
The restaurant’s title actually derives from the Thai word for Holy Basil, but offers a menu influenced by the cooking of South East Asia. That’s where the Ka Pao of Batman comes in handy, because the flavours will instantly hit your palate.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Ka Pao is located within the historic, Category A-listed Botanic Gardens Garage on Vinicombe Street, in the heart of Glasgow’s West End, in the basement of the distinctive white and green tiled landmark.
Although my visit was on Ka Pao’s fourth day in operation, the team behind it, the owners of Ox & Finch, have already introduced Glasgow diners to a preview of Ka Pao’s style, with a residency in the Acid Bar at SWG3 during 2018 and several pop-up dinners. I was fortunate enough to sample this, so I had a good idea of what was ahead.
Ka Pao offers plates to share, and we started with the chilli and lime leaf cashews and peanuts (£3.50). I’m a bit of a nut fiend at the best of times, and my companion noticed that I was making my way through them far too quickly. They were hot, but the coating was lovely, and just as we finished them, our opening pair of dishes arrived.
Our server Emma – who was top notch throughout our visit – recommended that we try the crab, coconut, calamansi and crispy rice (£8.50), and my companion, a huge fan of crab, was delighted with this choice. Served in what appeared to be a prawn cracker, the texture was wonderful and cooling after the warmth of the nuts.
We also had the crispy pork skins (£3.00), which came with a roasted green chilli dip. I’m not a fan of pork crackling or scratchings, but these were lovely. The dip was deceptive. At first, it seemed cool, but within seconds, the heat hit. Thankfully, we went between the crab and the skins, so we were able to cool our mouths off a little.
Next to arrive was the charcoal-grilled pork sausage, with pickled salad (£7.00). This was a pleasant surprise, being served up in a wheel-form, but when I bit into it, there was far more heat in it than I expected. It was tasty, full of flavour, and the delicious tastes of the salad brought the temperature down. The pickled flavour was top notch.
We also took the option of the fried chicken with spicy caramel (£6.00). This was presented in the form of a battered piece of meat, with an accompanying chilli dressing. This was my companion’s favourite, with the crunchy batter and soft meat inside making it a pleasing contrast in the mouth.
The slow-cooked pork cheeks, with shiitake mushrooms, star anise and ginger (£9.50)is hugely recommended. I placed one of the cheeks on my plate, and gentle ran my fork down it. It crumbled delicately at the touch, which showed how well it was cooked. The flavour of the pork married perfectly with the delicious sauce in which it was presented. This went perfectly with rice, almost becoming a meal in its own right – a bonus course!
My companion chose the road duck leg and long pepper red curry, with herb salad (£9.00). As someone who’s not a curry fan, I did try a little piece of the duck (one of my favourite meats), and this was beautifully cooked. It was rich in gamey flavour, too, which wasn’t overpowered by the curry.
The thing that I remembered from the pop up were the corn ribs (£4.50). These are pieces of grilled corn on the cob, cut into ribs, and I had mine with salted coconut, shrimp and lime. These are to die for – a brilliant idea, that are so simple. They are cooked until the cob is almost soft, and the flavour combination had me salivating in anticipation. The wait was more than worth it.
The ice cream for dessert was just what was needed to take away the heat from the previous courses. It arrived, covered in toasted coconut, and shavings of lime. I wouldn’t have thought that citrus flavours would work in an ice cream, and would be more apt for a sorbet, but there was no doubt at all that this flavour combination was perfect. A hint of lime, with the crisp of the coconut, made it a real success.
Ka Pao is, undoubtedly, a new favourite of mine. The menu is packed with variety, with between 8-10 plates recommended per visit. The service is top notch, the ambience is good, with music from throughout the decades being played in the background.
Ka Pao, 26 Vinicombe St, Glasgow, G12 8BE.
0141 483 6990