Sunday, 2 October 2011

Noodles in the Old Town: Red Box Noodles, Yocoko and Wasa Noodle Bars

Noodles are something I crave every so often and there's something very satisfying about slurping down noodles in a spicy sauce or well-flavoured broth.  Noodle bars are tasty cheap eat places, and their appeal is that they're a quick way to get something healthy freshly cooked that hits the spot and a million miles away from a Greggs. They should have speedy service and are generally no-frills in both setting and approach, usually offering a range of well-known  Asian dishes.  There's a few noodle bars opened over the past year or so in the Old Town, unsurprisingly located near Festival venues. 

Red Box Noodle Bar in Southside have taken this no-frills approach to extremes. Instead of a conventional menu, they have a sort of sandwich shop approach, where you choose your selection of noodle type, the flavour of sauce, meat and vegetables you want included and any additional seasonings from a fresh range behind a counter. It's quite a fun way to order and all the usual stir fry suspects are available. There's a nice range of sauces available too - alongside more traditional black bean or satay they also have Singapore powder and Thai red curry. The noodles are then cooked in a wok straight away and brought to you in their signature noodle boxes where you have the option to eat in or take out. Because of this serving option, soup noodles are sadly not available. It also means that the noodles are kept warm - perfect for takeaway. 

Noodle boxes are £5.30 (a bit extra if you want prawns, duck or mixed meat) which is a great price for something you know is going to be freshly cooked and made up of exactly what you want. They also have a range of snack boxes, little side dishes of the Chinese takeaway variety (except for the slight strange inclusion of chicken and cheese spring rolls) all priced at £2.50. I did notice they didn't have much range for vegetarians as tofu wasn't an available alternative to meat, but extra vegetables are always an option (albeit not a particularly exciting one). I enjoyed the noodles, the stir fry's are well cooked and the spicy szechuan sauce was a great flavour as was my lunch companion's black bean ramen noodles. The service was friendly and speedy and it's a great place to go for lunch. 

Yocoko Noodle Bar is located in the middle of the South Bridge. It's biggest selling point is it's location, slap bang in the middle of festival venues and so super convenient for running into for a quick bite to eat before a show. They have a pan-Asian menu with noodle soups and stir fries, along with fried rice, meat grills and standard favourites such as sweet and sour, satay and dim sum; relatively extensive for a noodle bar. The average price for noodles was £5-6 and smaller dishes were £3-4. We ordered the barbeque ribs, Yocoko udon house noodles and chicken ramen noodles. The service was not exactly top notch but the food came very quickly. The ribs arrived first, covered in a smoky sweet sauce. They smelt amazing and were tasty too - the meat was moist and tender and you know that ribs are good when you're sucking at all the meat left on the bone. The sauce was very sticky though and a lemon wipe or a change of napkin would have been appreciated. I did request another napkin but it did take its sweet time getting to me.

The Yocoko special is udon noodles with char sui pork, chicken, king prawns, tofu and vegetables. The king prawns were juicy and plentiful and the dish was tasty but the noodles had a somewhat slimy feel to them. The tofu chunks lacked any firmness and had a wet sponge texture after absorbing the oil (and sadly none of the flavour) from the rest of the dish. The chicken ramen fared better and the soup had a deep flavour, highlighted by fresh herbs. Again, the service was lacking somewhat - there were no condiments on the table and we were given knives and forks and had to wait five minutes for chopsticks to arrive. Decent service isn't purely about the food arriving in good time and it's these little things that customers notice. Yocoko is okay but it's a pretty average noodle bar. On the positive side the portions are of a good size, the prices are low, the food comes out speedily. The noodles are decent but not outstanding. It's got nothing to especially recommend itself unless you happen to be in the area and are in a hurry and hungry for noodles. 

Rainbow Arch Chinese restaurant on Morrison Street have also opened a late night noodle bar next door, Wasa Noodles.  It's open between 5pm - 2am (closed Wednesday's) and is licenced until closing.  Most noodle bars are basic spaces but after walking up a bare white staircase, Wasa has a cute modern interior.    Its menu specialises in Chinese, Malay and Thai dishes and has the most interesting choices of the bunch.  Standard noodle soups have appealing combinations like fish dumplings and char siu pork & roast duck and there's also a good selection of rice dishes and specials, like pork in to ban (hot bean) sauce and wat dan (soft egg) fried ho fun.  There are some excellent vegetarian options too such as roti canai with curry sauce and salt & chilli beancurd, Malay style.  We had the roti canai to start, which was different to the Indian style, flaky and crispy and just a little bit chewy.  The curry sauce was spot on and it was great start to the meal.  We ordered the fish dumpling soup and it was very good indeed, the dumplings delicate and the soup well flavoured.  Our other main of morning glory (Chinese spinach) with preserved tofu and chilli was simply prepared and all the better for it, the texture of the morning glory is perfect for stir frying and the flavours worked perfectly together.  Most main dishes are priced at around £7.50 and starters are £3.50. 

Please note that I know it's hard to find good authentic Asian food in this city and you won't find this at any of these places - I'm more than aware that noodle bars cater for Western tastes but that doesn't mean they're not good either. Sometimes you just wanna eat some tasty noodles, quickly and cheaply.

Red Box Noodle Bar
51 West Nicolson Street
Tel: 0131 662 0828
Open Daily 12pm-10pm

Yocoko Noodle Bar
44-46 South Bridge
Tel: 0131 5583889

Wasa Noodle Bar
8-16a Morrison Street
Eh3 8BJ
Tel: 0131 221 1288
Opening hours 5pm-2am, closed Wednesday's


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