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49a Thistle Street,

0131 220 6846

Price Rating: 2

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Full of eastern promise

Review published on 24/03/2005 © Sunday Herald

I don’t feel the need for Thai food when I’m eating out these days as I now have a private supply. My mother recently returned from Thailand where she went on two one-day cookery courses at £25 a day. This being post-Tsunami Thailand, she not only learned the basics – making stock, cooking fish, stir-frying meat, cutting up vegetables prettily for salads – but she had the teacher all to herself.

I am frequently irritated when reading puffs for wonderful sounding cookery courses. Grateful hacks, delighted with their freebie trip, drool over the delights of learning to cook at some celebrity chef’s ever-so-select school in the Tuscan foothills, Loire chateau or similar and all for the bargain price of £1800 or upwards for three days! To soften the blow, lunch and accommodation is included. Oh, but by the way, the celebrity won’t even show up... he’s too busy with his London restaurant.

Judging by my mother’s immersion in Thai cooking, £50 spent with a Thai cook can teach you a lot of what you need to know. Since her return, Sunday dinner at Grandma’s resembles eating out in downtown Bangkok. Winter roasts and comforting puddings have been ditched for sinus-clearing broths, refreshing citrus and chilli-dressed salads, sticky rice and choice morsels floating in heady coconut liquors.

The house smells of the hauntingly addictive presence of fish sauce, kaffir lime leaf and freshly sliced lemongrass. The people who run the nearest Chinese supermarket now recognise her since she has become a regular customer, seeking out pink shallots, yard beans, fresh galangal, shrimp paste and healthy coriander with its roots on.

And so it was with some trepidation that I visited Dusit, a popular little Thai restaurant on Edinburgh’s bustling Thistle Street. Nothing can match a mother’s cooking, so Dusit had tough competition, and scanning the menu, I had my doubts about the westernisation of some dishes, in particular, the use of alcohol – wine, brandy, whisky. You can eat a dish called Gai Haw Bai-Toey (translated as ‘dressed-up hen’) where chicken is marinated in whisky, sesame and coriander before being wrapped in pandanus leaf and grilled. The whisky sounded to me like a forced attempt at Scottish-Thai fusion.

In the event, my meal proved to be quite a pleasure. The weakest point were the soups – a somewhat timid hot and sour one and a rather better coconut milk variant. Both suffered from the same faults: too many whole bits of lemongrass and galangal which should be there to flavour the broth, not as a bulk vegetable, and the use of chewy and tasteless pleurotte mushrooms. A field or chestnut mushroom would be preferable.

But then we came to a really splendid dish – Pad Ped Prig Tai Ong – an aromatic stir fry of venison fillet with little clusters of green peppercorns, marrowfat pea-sized aubergines and ample quantities of aniseedy holy basil. A confident dose of fresh chilli made the whole thing alive and vital. The venison’s gamey character was big enough to stand up to the aromatics, its texture firm to the bite but admirably tender. Our other dishes kept up a sound standard too, namely a rich and mellow red Panang curry with good beef and a reasonable Pad Thai. Both would have been improved if less sugar had been used.

At Dusit, dessert boils down to banana fritter or ice cream, so you may want to pass. The lack of tempting desserts, along with moderate wine mark-ups, makes for a manageable bill. But perhaps Dusit’s biggest asset is its Thai staff who are tremendously welcoming and charming, not in that forced American “I love you guys … as long as you leave a big tip” way, just genuinely nice.

© Sunday Herald