Posted by a Contributor in March's Magazine
A new restaurant opened in Leith a few months back, indeed it is part of the building I live in, so, new neighbours then. It was a particular delight to see the space being spruced up as it has lain empty, looking slightly forlorn, since Suruchi Too closed it’s doors a couple of years back.
Unfortunately first impressions were not great. The owner’s choice of exterior decoration – a garish ‘Opening Soon/Just Opened’ banner – obscured two impressive picture windows, so one didn’t get a full view either in to the interior, allowing potential passing trade to actually have a wee shufti inside, or out to the (not unimpressive) street. It remained up for months, giving the confusing impression that work was still ‘in progress’.
That is the downside, the upside (or maybe another downside!) is that the aromas emanating from this place have been maddeningly enticing, maddening because, until now, I had not found a good reason or indeed the occasion to step through the rather grand pillared entrance. Anecdotal evidence from friends and various individuals had been good, suggesting this place was well worth a visit.
Luckily, a perfect opportunity presented itself a few weeks ago when we had a friend from Germany staying for a few days and my Bollywood dancing sister was also in town. The ideal time to try this place out, with the added bonus that we could all drink without the worry of driving home!
And here it is, or rather here am I, keeping my promise to visit a scant few months late, hoping for another (potentially) exciting Leith eaterie, a weak stone’s throw from my doorstep. Welcome to Shri Bheemah’s.
On arriving in the restaurant we were greeted by the waitress, who welcomed our party warmly and asked if we had a preference regarding seating. We chose one of the tables that had been obscured by that banner and the menu arrived promptly, a few minutes later our drink choices arrived in timely fashion too and we made a happy quintet.
The menu proved fairly wide-ranging, not surprising, considering that they major on dishes from North and South India (a pretty large constituency). Our waitress proved a dab hand at explaining everything for those of us who needed some assistance and suggested a couple of house favourites.
We all felt that the decor of the restaurant lacked finesse, warmth and the personal touch, it felt like an airport franchise or a canteen. Muted lighting and some kind of table décor would have made a difference, and a few photographs, pictures or wall hangings with some connection to India or Indian culture would have been a nice addition. These are small, inexpensive embellishments that can make a big impact on any business.
Nevertheless, and it’s a big NEVERTHELESS, do not let any of the above put you off visiting this restaurant as the food is excellent. So too the atmosphere, my sister in law suggested a Bollywood beer and food night would be fantastic, accompanied of course by a Bollywood Movie, as usual she chose to illustrate how it might work by performing an impromptu dance around the table across from us, eliciting a cautious ‘Yes’ vote from the lovely if bemused Asian family.
My daughter and I shared batter fried chilli marinated chicken pieces tossed with mild spices, capsicum and more chilli sauce, served in ‘elegant shape of lollipop’. It was hardly mild but it was fantastic, both of us agreed we would happily have had it as a main course. The usual side dishes were also in situ: poppadums, Peshwari naan and some innovative dips. Starters, then, more than passed muster with our contended group.
The crucial waiting time between the starter and the main course was timed perfectly, allowing just enough space to relax a bit and loosen the belt. However I would advise anyone not having a starter to ask if they could have their main course earlier as everything is prepared to order and they may find themselves salivating over everyone else’s starters, and we two coursers don’t want that!
The main course that our ever-present server suggested for me was Madurai Lamb Sukka. I detected classic Keralan spicing and some nice flavourings; cassia bark, nutmeg, mace, black cardamom and tamarind in the lamb which was perfectly cooked and garnished with a hint of coconut and fresh curry leaves, a superb improvement on the usual Rogan Josh. My wife ordered the Chicken Tikka Biryani; cooked here on a slow fire as an aromatic dish, lemony coriander seed, ginger kick (a request for less chilli did not ruffle any feathers). We all had a taste of each other’s dishes and every dish was enjoyable leaning toward exceptional.
My German friend was impressed by both the food and the aforementioned excellent service; they even parceled up a bag of leftovers for my son who was unable to join us at the time – while wolfing them down later, he suggested he would definitely eat here when next in Edinburgh.
Finally I would say the overall experience of our visit to Shri Bheema’s was positive and I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting or living in Edinburgh, the food was well priced and the portions just right. Sometimes it is the small things that make a night out special, like the know-how and friendliness of the staff on the night, which elevated a simple night out to a special evening.
As a footnote, the restaurant’s name: Shri is a title of respect used before the name of a man, a god or a sacred book. As to Bheemah, The Mahabharata – the longest epic in world literature and one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India – revolves around two groups of cousins, the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Bheeman is the second of the Pandava brothers, a central character in the saga. He symbolised great strength; seemingly equal to that of ten thousand elephants. And was renowned for his cooking skills and great appetite; apparently he ate half of the total food consumed by the Pandavas – all six of them!
121 Constitution St, Edinburgh
0131 555 5777
All week: 12–3 & 5–11pm
Score: 7/10 Damage: £25ish including drinks