Food Review: Golden Bridge

Posted by in November's Magazine

The Golden Bridge
(Formerly) 16 Henderson Street…Leith

I won’t lie to you all, it had been a bad few days. Beginning jovially enough at a party in The Pond Bar, celebrating its survival over strong German beers. The weekend later tarnished during an early morning casino trip where I lost the contents of my pockets, and in an ill considered side bet my brand new woollen jumper. It should all be about balance you know; Life I mean. And mine was obviously lacking. Just ask any practitioner of Chinese medicine. They’ll pull your tongue out like a roller blind, peer and poke and reveal whether you’re naturally a hot or cold person. If you’re cold you need to warm those cockles, drink a whisky or two. If you’re one of those hot tempered combustible types then cool your body and mind. Balance.



This is where my weekend lost its’ own. Normally I would treat my food like medicine, go see Aunty Su – Su and her husband You Ma had run The Golden Bridge on Henderson Street for over ten years, serving spicy Sichuanese fare to the good people of Leith. Su recently had more reason than most to be hot. Henderson St was closed for roadworks for four and a half months. The Fallujah vista and lack of access hit businesses hard and I hear that some shops claimed a weekly loss of over £1000. Anyway, it was enough to close The Golden Bridge down, its final evening of service Oct 6th. Maybe whoever’s responsible at Edinburgh Council should look inwards at their balance; perhaps they need a little heat, some Sichuan chilli in their eye.

I’m sure Su would disagree; she’s always flashing a smile. Her chi is in far better order than mine. She seemed happy whenever I ate there; and so was I, the food was the greatest. Whole steamed sea bass with garlic, soy and spring onion; pork and mushroom lions head meatballs the size of your fist; shredded pork and tree fungus in a biting tangy sauce of spice and vinegar. Basically all the good things ordinarily left off Chinese menus handed to us Gweilos, we white ghosts. The Golden Bridge listed them all, meaning that you didn’t need intermediate Mandarin to order quality traditional food. And if you yearned for something truly different you could ignore the passionately flavoured boiled lamb and cabbage; the light and delicious prawn and bean curd balls; smoky BBQ aubergine with garlic. You could try Leith’s only Chinese Hot Pot.

I’m told that Hot Pot originated in Mongolia many moons ago, when warriors used their concave shields to boil lamb and veg after a hard day’s pillage. It’s basically a fondue, a flavoured stock left boiling on the table for the instant cooking of meats, vegetables and seafood. I became rudely aware of it around ten years ago in Beijing after wandering unawares and unprepared into a local joint. The DIY ethos of this dining style was knocked on its head when I was hand fed by a lovely matronly waitress; a full meal of lamb and beef dropped into my hungry gaping mouth like a squawking chick. It was an altogether disturbing scene but I took her one-on-one service as standard before realising some time later that she simply mistook me for a true incapable, a very special boy.

Hot Pot, like all Chinese cuisine is a reflection of its region’s weather, culture and indigenous ingredients. Su of course served Sichuanese, an aggressively spicy style. (Its neighbour and culinary twin Hunan was the birthplace of Chairman Mao and I once read in a Hunanese restaurant that its chillis were to blame for his blistering temper – now there was true lack of balance). The Golden Bridge expressed themselves with a fiery red broth, the colour exuding danger, like nature’s warning. “Don’t fuck with me,” it informed. What makes this cuisine unique is the Sichuan peppercorn, a tongue tingling master ingredient inducing a mouth numbingly delicious experience. The bowl of delicious lava would sit on the table, heating through its electric hot plate. Like a campfire you gather around, staring impatiently as it nears boiling point then cooking and devouring the ingredients at your leisure. Here is the ultimate form of social eating.

And earlier in the day, while lunching frugally in an attempt to preserve your hunger for the impending feast you might contemplate the evening’s drinks. The Golden Bridge was BYOB you see. Red wine goes well with Chinese I think, a spicy rioja squares up nicely to its strong flavours. Hot Pot is intense though and balance dictates a cooling beer. You could sit there swigging merrily on a litre bottle of Tsing Tao like a 40 ouncer. With food this tasty ceremony just melts away.

But Saturday 6th saw my last swig. The saddest thing is that most people I spoke to scratched their heads and mouthed, where? When told of its demise. Of course the business has a responsibility to catch your eye while we the customer hold none. But perhaps we should foster a moral conscience in supporting our local establishments, especially when the council tie one hand behind their backs and kick them in the balls. I wish I had droned on to just a few more people in my condescending drawl. “Yes, this is hot pot, but actually Sichuan hot pot, which like all Chinese foods is a reflection of…blah, blah, blah…hot pot originated from Mongolian warriors…blah, blah.” The final week of trade saw the restaurant packed with regulars, in many ways a guard of honour for Su herself. Maybe also just greedy people, like me, desperate for a final fix.

Because, in an unassuming ‘front room’ restaurant on unfashionable Henderson St, hidden by the council’s unending roadworks and its own sweet humility, culinary treasures were to be found. As I stood outside smoking a cigarette (a disgusting and dangerous habit, which like coffee I feel is only acceptable in post-prandial form) I would look up at the Banana flats, strangely beautiful as they glowered down; each light a separate life. While drunken bellows echoed through the night and the rasping wind whipped my smoke around me, I still wouldn’t have swapped this place. Certainly not for the safe mundanity of ever present chain outlets, ensuring we are neither satisfied or not with their middle ground consistency, dulling edges like cultural Prozac. This unique homely gem is what we could have had. Here was true balance. Alan Bett


Damage: £15 a head

Alan’s Top 5 Traditional Chinese Eateries

1. Wing Sing Inn (147 Dundee St): A traditional menu of delicious juicy pork buns, steamed razor clams with garlic and the most impressive ‘morning glory’ I’ve experienced (it’s water spinach – I promise).

2. Saigon Saigon (14 South St Andrew St): Snub the gloopy troughs of buffet fodder for their traditional menu offering delectable family sized northern dishes prepared by expert chefs from across China.

3. Tian Tian (8 Gillespie Place): A Turkish bath of steaming hot pots alongside industrial sized trays heaped with more fresh scallop, crab and king prawn than a decent citizen can eat.

4. Stack (42 Dalmeny St): The real deal on our own doorstep. Squeeze in for weekend lunch amongst the Chinese families munching high quality dim sum served with a smile.

5. Imperial Palace (36 Inglis Green Rd): This mock imperial palace houses a well-stocked supermarket offering exotic ingredients for your own Chinese cooking adventures. Then simply pop upstairs for excellent dim sum and Cantonese dishes. Chilled jellyfish and pork hough anyone?



2 responses to “Food Review: Golden Bridge”

  1. Michael says:

    Hi Alan, loved this place too! Do you know if they plan to open up anywhere else?

  2. Excellent web site you have got here.. It's hard to find quality writing like yours nowadays. I seriously appreciate people like you! Take care!!

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