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Bonsai Bar Bistro

Bonsai Bar Bistro

46 West Richmond Street,

0131 668 3847

Price Rating: 1

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Price Ratings

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££ – mid-price
£££ – expensive
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Wee will rock you

Review published on 06/06/2011 © Sunday Herald

That empty bowl? Deep at the back of my mind I’m thinking: what’s this for then? Did they forget the dip? It’s surrounded by rapidly disappearing slices of beef tetaki – aged, hung, very marbled, deep, dark red and almost completely raw peppered beef. Each slice is sweet, soft and drop-dead delicious.

As the very last slice is squeezed between the chopsticks and ascending rapidly towards my dropped jaw the blond surfer-dude-type waiter with the cool ’tache and the proper Edinburgh accent leans over and says: “Hey, man. You mix the wasabi and the lemon in the bowl and then dip the beef in it.”

OK, he didn’t say “man”, but I wish he had. There’s a kind of skateboardy, Californian-surfer-in-a-phonebox feel to Bonsai Bar Bistro. It’s tight, it may even have been a very small pub in a former life. People have squeezed in and filled it up almost completely in the last 20 or so minutes – couples, tourists, some Italians right beside me, almost in my lap. It’s all a bit bish, bash, bosh but in a good way.

I’m reluctant to do the wasabi and lemon dance. The beef is that good.

My Mr Cool waiter says something about Scottish cattle, Argentinian ranches, the beef marbled for the Japanese market. While I have his attention I slip in a wee supplementary question. Chopsticks? Rice? How’re you supposed to do that? I mean, I know the Chinese do the head-down, scoop-it-up thing, but it never feels right in a restaurant in, say … Edinburgh.

“Er,” he says, bending over, taking my chopsticks and filling them with rice. “That’s why it’s sticky. So you can roll it into a ball and grab it.” For one awful, awkward, clock-stopping millisecond I think he’s actually going to feed me the ball of rice he has poised on those chopsticks. We look at each other. I am frozen. The moment passes, he smiles, puts the chopsticks down and gets back to dealing with the customers at the next table.

The truth? I don’t eat the rice. Well, I do scoop up the dark green AstroTurf on the top, which is a seaweedy, herby mix, but as the rice rapidly begins to splatter across the table like an explosion in a paddy field, I give up. There’s so much more on the table anyway.

Chicken katsu – breaded, sliced, served in a sweet but not-too-cloying sauce. Gyoza, pan-fried pork dumplings with a soy and chilli sauce. All very mainstream Japanese, I know. There’s a pretty and tasty daikon radish salad in sesame dressing with ribbons of crisp seaweed draped alluringly over the top. All of it gets eaten up.

And that scallop sashimi? Raw, or rather meant to be, it’s disappointingly bland and slippery. I’ve had raw scallops before. When I was a salty seadog and worked on a scallop dredging boat we would occasionally take a slice of freshly hauled scallop and eat it raw. More for the shock effect. It was sweet and firm. This is nothing like it. But then at £4.95...

Perhaps the prawns, which are a guaranteed sweet hit and sensationally different when eaten raw, would have been a better choice. Shame I didn’t make it.

The duck yakitori? Skewered, draped in sweet sauce. Not that good either – too fatty, too bland, too small a portion to get anything except texture and sauce.

One final grumble. What’s the story with the soft drinks, by which I mean flat and tepid diet cola. The waitress zooms in, asks if I want it “topped up” and then charges me £1.75 for the privilege. Whit? It does have ice in it this time, but just two tiny, melting slivers.

Despite this, I like Bonsai. It’s got a feeling, a warmth, the waiter is very helpful and some of the dishes are very good. And those that weren’t? Well, the price encourages experimentation. It’s not cutting-edge sushi but it’s certainly worth a visit.