Great Places to Eat in Scotland
- Mya Restaurant, Leith, Edinburgh
Leith lies on the south shore of the Firth of Forth and was originally a major port serving Edinburgh. For much of its history it was separate from Scotland's capital, but eventually the two municipalities merged in 1920, despite the residents of Leith voting massively against it. After the 1939-45 war, the port of Leith declined, but in recent years it has undergone significant regeneration and is now a busy commercial port that also gets visits from luxury cruise liners. The former Royal Yacht "Britannia" is now moored at the docks beside "Ocean Terminal" - a large retail shopping mall. There is also the Scottish Executive building in Leith - built on reclaimed ground where docks have been filled-in.
During regeneration of old towns and cities, former docks are often demolished to make way for more modern buildings but in Leith many have been preserved and the large, stone built, former bonded warehouse between Commercial Street and the cobbled stones of Commercial Quay has been upgraded. A surprising number of the units have been converted to fashionable restaurants as well as retail shops.
Tom Kitchin and Martin Wishart’s highly praised establishments are situated there, for example, and they are among the leading restaurants in Edinburgh. So there is plenty of competition in the area. The fact that Mya has flourished for over ten years is testimony to its success.
By creating an entrance that links the front and the back of the building (see graphic at the top of the page) Mya has two addresses - 92 Commercial Street and Unit 9 Commercial Quay. For those using satellite navigation systems, however, the post code is EH6 6LX.
The decor is in subtle tones of beige and copper with polished wood tables, timber floors and the walls have two large, fabric-covered wall decorations that hint at Thailand. Table settings are spotless and immaculate. Lighting is subdued although there are windows at both ends of the restaurant, one of them looking out over to the Scottish Executive (government) building. There is seating for around 50 diners; some of the tables are quite close together but there are also a number of separate round tables. The chairs have curved wooden backs to blend with the rest of the decor and these proved to be very comfortable - just what you need for a leisurely lunch or dinner.
At the entrance there are plaques recording that Mya was a finalist in the Best in Scotland category in both the 2010 and 2011 British Curry Awards. In addition to these accolades, Mya was given a silver award in 2009/2010 by "EatScotland" the food grading scheme run by the tourism agency VisitScotland, which assesses the presentation, quality and service of food in every kind of eating establishment across Scotland.
"Mya" is the name of the official language of Burma (known these days as Myanmar) which lies between Thailand and Northern India so it is an appropriate name for a restaurant that combines the cuisine of those two countries. Of course, Mya also just happens to sound like the name of the restaurant's owner, Miah.
The first question to ask perhaps is - "why a mixture of Thai and Indian cuisine?" Apparently the decision was made shortly before the restaurant opened and came about in part because the original chefs were particularly skilled in the two styles of cooking (but could of course cover for each other and learnt more as time passed). Of course there are plenty of overlaps between the two traditions since Thai in particular blends elements of several Southeast Asian countries, partly because of its geographic location. Thai cuisine places emphasis on lightly prepared dishes with strong aromatic components. Indian dishes, on the other hand, use various Indian spices, herbs, vegetables and fruit extensively. It could also be argued that as Thai cuisine is not as well known in Scotland, having Indian dishes gives customers a choice of more familiar items if they wish. And of course, if they prefer, customers can choose items from each menu. as a recent review in the local Edinburgh Evening News declared:"Excellent food and very friendly, refreshingly unobtrusive service would be sure to please even the most awkward of customers and if the civil servants / politicians at the nearby Scottish Executive find it as difficult to agree on where to dine, as they do on other matters, then Mya is the ideal place."
Like many restaurants these days, Mya aims to deliver quality, fresh food, (including lamb, chicken and beef) sourced locally. The menu also includes a wide selection of vegetarian and seafood dishes.
Of course, having two menus to peruse instead of one also means that it takes longer to make a selection and my lunch companion and I had to inform the understanding and friendly waiter more than once that we hadn't quite made up our minds yet! Very soon after he was given our selection, the waiter brought us a surprise complimentary plate of thin, crispy pancakes accompanied by a small dish of vegetables in a tangy sauce. I initially wondered if this was to fill a long gap before our starters had arrived - but not a bit of it. With great efficiency, they arrived before we had even made a good impression on the pancakes but they served their purpose by getting our taste buds tingling!
Having decided to be adventurous and try the Thai dishes, I had opted for Tod Mun, which the menu helpfully described as Thai style fish cakes made with fresh cod, served with sweet chilli dipped sauce (see graphic). The three fish cakes had been made by pressing cod slices together and covering them in batter before frying them in oil. The cod was indeed fresh and flaky and the batter was extremely light, with no trace of oil. The fishcakes were set on a bed of lettuce with a slice of lemon and a choice of two dishes of sauce, which proved to be sweet and tangy. Definitely not Birds Eye fish cakes!
My lunch companion is fond of Indian food generally (his wife produces an excellent curry and other Indian dishes at home) so he headed for the Indian menu (a choice which also had the benefit of widening the items covered in this revue!) He selected Tandoori Chicken (barbequed chicken served with green salad and sauce) as a starter. In this, the chicken is marinated in yogurt and seasoned with Tandoori masala. Red chilli powder is used to give it a red hue but although it can be very hot and spicy, the heat is often reduced to suit local UK tastes.
Of course, there were many other starters we could have chosen, including Peek Gai (spicy chicken wings served with honey sauce) or Mya Special Roast duck (served with honey sauce) from the Thai menu or Prawn Puri (tiger prawns topped with a combination of mild spices and wrapped in a puffed fired bread).
And so to the main course. I was sorely tempted by Pla Gaeng Keow Warn (sea bass cooked in traditional Thai green curry with aubergines, sweet basil, Thai herbs and rich in coconut cream) and Pad Gai Med Mammung (chicken stir-fried with mixed vegetables and cashew nuts). Eventually, I opted for Pla Med Mammung (king prawn stir fried with mixed vegetables and cashew nuts), one of the many seafood items on the menu. In traditional fashion the prawns and vegetables arrived in a bowl and the egg fried rice I had ordered as a side dish came separately. Getting the rice onto the plate was made easier by using the ceramic Chinese-style soup spoon provided. The vegetables accompanying the large, plump and juicy king prawns were mainly button mushrooms, slices of red, green and yellow peppers and onions; the small cashew nuts provided yet another texture to the dish and I found the rice delightfully light and fluffy. Once it was spooned onto my plate, I soon resorted to using just the fork to eat it up. I understand that Thai food was traditionally eaten using the right hand but it is now generally eaten with a fork and a spoon.
Before coming to Mya I had anticipated that the food might be very hot and spicy but my prawn dish was instead full of delicate, subtle flavours producing an enjoyable effect rather than attacking my taste buds!
My lunch companion, continuing with the Indian menu, selected Chicken Tikka Massalam (boneless chicken grilled on skewers, cooked in a creamy sauce) as his main course. A survey in the United Kingdom has claimed that Tikka Massala is the country's most popular restaurant dish. It is claimed that it was invented in the UK to provide Europeans with a sauce that had less hot chilli than some traditional Indian dishes. Indeed it has been described as "a true British national dish." Mya's version had chicken that was tender and a sauce full of flavour and a good blend of spices - though not as hot as when my lunch companion's wife makes it at home!
The Bill - in February 2012
Starters range from £5.95 to £6.95 with soup £4.95 to £5.90. Main courses are £9.60 to £14.90. Side dishes (rice and salads) range from £2.75 to £4.50.
Mya Thai and Indian restaurant is located between 92 Commercial Street, Edinburgh EH6 6LX and Unit 9 Commercial Quay. It is open for lunch Monday to Sunday from 12:00pm - 2:00pm and for dinner from Monday to Sunday from 6:00pm to 11:00pm. The restaurant has a Web site at www.myarestaurant.co.uk. Email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. To make a reservation call (0131) 554 4000.
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