I felt that our recent visit to Khublai Khan was made in the evening for two reasons. One: why not celebrate returning from Florence? And two: they offer a dinner meal that is something like all you can eat for a twenty. But regardless, we had to go…they served camel!
I have to say that I knew this place was down in Leith, as it is on one of my regular running routes, but I’ve never had the chance to go in. When we arrived, we were greeted by a friendly staff and were shown to our seat in a restaurant that was not entirely empty, as I thought it would have been on a Thursday night.
We passed by the rows of fresh food, spices, sauces and mystery meats and were pleased to note the availability of unusual game such as zebra. Now, some of you may know of my love for horses and my background in showing, and I admit, I have always wanted to try something like horse or zebra meat, but the last time I had the chance I was skiing in the Alps and I was still showing back home and had this slight fear that I would fly home to show at the most important event of the year, the American Quarter Horse Congress, and that Dudley would look at me…and just know…
Nonetheless, our cheery waitress told us the soup choices and for a starter, I chose the mini game burger with chips. It came out with a cute wee bun and a nice red onion relish that complimented the burger patty that I was a bit uncertain of. I ended up taking it off the bun and not even touching that so as to keep from filling up on it entirely. The burger was a bit well done, and had the hint of boar or sausage that doesn’t quite do it for me.
Then I had a go at the cumin filled (and I mean FILLED) Mongolian bread, which had the consistency of a very dense pitta bread and the kick of enough cumin to make it slightly bitter…yet I kept trying bits.
The things that work about Mongolian style barbecues is the novelty factor of choosing and designing your own dinner, (many times) and the fact that if your food tastes crap…it’s not the restaurant’s fault, it’s your own fault for being a bad judge of seasonings and flavours.
For our first trip to the ‘cold bar’ I followed B’s lead and grabbed a wee metal bowl and popped in veggies. I then went in the wrong order by skipping sauces and spices and going for the meat. I also made the mistake of mixing random game (venison, rabbit), springbok, and zebra…all of which are red meats and tend to be indistinguishable on sight once cooked with the tomato and herb sauce I opted to cover it with. Nonethless, we stood and watched our dishes being cooked for a moment and then went back to our table to wait. Just a couple of minutes later, our piping hot dishes arrived. Mine tasted ok. I couldn’t tell which meat was which, and I might have gone a little heavy on the tumeric, but it was good and interesting and I like to think that the bits of soft meat I had were zebra, and the tougher bits were the rabbit…why? I’ve no idea. B’s seafood mix looked impressive and I was intrigued to see him follow a recipe offered by the restaurant, while I just chucked spices in all willy-nilly.
Our next round consisted of me going for the camel and the wild boar, simply so I could tell the meats apart as they cooked. I opted for another round of tomato and herb sauce with a touch of white wine and what turned out to be too much rosemary…perhaps I should have followed B’s example of using a suggested recipe, but where’s the fun in that? This dish was good, and the camel tasted…much like the other nondescript game meats I’d just had. But now I can cross it off of my list of unusual food items I’ve eaten as of late.
B admirably soldiered on for one more round, but I was defeated and when the waitress offered us desserts (that came with the cost of the meal), neither of us could face it so we had a quick cup of espresso, which was ok, and toddled off home.
I think that Khublai Khan’s is fun and different, and for a large group for, say, a birthday (where the birthday boy/girl gets to sit in a throne and wear a crown), it would be loads of fun, but I found it to be much like the ones I went to in the States, lovely, but not on my general list of places I will pop into on a regular night.
While the entire foodie world was glued to their television sets watching the final of Masterchef, MJ and I went in search of mysterious meats at Khublai Khan’s, in Leith.
For the uninitiated, Khublai Khan’s is a Mongolian barbecue place, specialising in a range of outlandish meat and seafood items, which you cobble together in your bowl, cover in your choice of spices, seasonings and sauces, then pass to an obliging chap who cooks them up for you on a hotplate.
So, you play an important role in how much you enjoy the place. Get in to the spirit, embrace the creative silliness and you’ll have a gay old time.
Surroundings are “kitsch Mongolian” (does that even exist?!), with lots of bearded Khans bedecking the walls, and odd bunting that looks like ties brightening up the place.
On this occasion, the “star” of their meaty show was camel. Their sign proclaiming that their produce was either sustainably farmed or “culled from a South African safari park” tickled rather than horrified me. I’m sure that quite a number of folks are repulsed by the very notion of this place, but I think it adds its own little piece of variety to Edinburgh’s rich culinary tapestry.
The simple drill with the menu is that it’s about £20 to get a starter, all you can eat from the hotplate, and dessert. To start, MJ tried the game burger (which proved pretty unspectacular) while I gambled with the soup (risk taker, me).
I can safely report that it was a very good bowl of mushroom soup. It was reminiscent of the excellent mushroom and brown bread soup I had in the King’s Wark a few years ago, which in my vernacular is high praise indeed.
Then it was the turn of the hotplate mixology part of the evening. Consecutively, I had a seafood mix, a pure bred camel, then a game mix, each accompanied by a variant sauce mix as suggested by the board of helpful recipes.
By the third go, I had the game licked, which meant that I had a couple of bowls that were heavy on the rosemary (attempt one), then cumin (second one). The cumin-tastic camel was not aided by the addition of Mongolian flatbread, which is a cumin-rich seam to mine. By the end of the meal, both of us had whole cumin seeds pouring out from under our fingernails, such was the concentration of the earthy spice coursing through our systems.
The quality of the produce on offer was pretty variable. For every tender mouthful, there was an overly-chewy chunk. But I’m not sure the point of this place is what the food actually tastes like. It’s more about the experience of trying some items you probably won’t find on other menus.
So in many ways, the place is impossible to review. If you have a major ethical gripe with what they’re up to, you’re never going to set foot in the place. If you come here and don’t get with the spirit of the place, you’re probably not going to enjoy it. But if you check your brain in at the door, and embrace this as a “dumb action movie” of a restaurant, you’ll get out what you put in. That’s part of what makes it a good place for large groups, as egging each other on to sillier and sillier feats of eating is the cornerstone of this place’s charm.
Once we were done with the hotplate dishes, we finished off with coffees, rather than dessert, which is pretty much our regular practice. Rarely have I seen a waitress so disappointed with us. She looked on the point of bursting in to tears at the prospect of us not finishing the meal with some sweet treat. Her service was helpful and attentive throughout, so hopefully the well-deserved 4/5 score for service will do something to put the smile back on her face.
Blythe scores Khublai Khan:
3.5/5 for food
3/5 for presentation
4/5 for service
3/5 for setting
giving an overall 13.5/20
MJ scores Khublai Khan:
3.5/5 for food
3/5 for presentation
4/5 for service
3.5/5 for setting
giving an overall 14/20
Today’s questers were: Miriam, Blythe
We ate: mushroom soup, game burger, various meat and seafood items
We drank: sparkly water, lager, espresso
We wore: pony pendant, black and red patterned www.tieclub.co.uk tie
Total bill: c.£60