Edinburgh's St James Quarter slated as 'soulless' and 'dog turd' by Jay Rayner in Ka Pao review

Edinburgh’s St James Quarter has been slated by food critic and occasional MasterChef judge Jay Rayner as “just a bloody great, soulless shopping centre”.

By Ian Swanson
Sunday, 12th June 2022, 2:49 pm

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In a review for The Observer, he is full of praise for south-east Asian restaurant Ka Pao, which has recently opened a branch in the centre, describing the food as “amazingly appetising, but then adds: “Sadly its location isn’t.”

And he asks: “Can you enjoy a good meal in a bad building? Especially if you know that the building has been nicknamed ‘the dog turd’ by many in the city? That's not exactly an aid to the digestion, is it?”

Rayner explains the “dog turd” reference is to the bronze swirl on top of the new W Hotel, which is part of the £1 billion development. And he comments: “Once you’re told that the bronze coil resembles the poop emoji it’s really very hard to see anything else. A petition to add googly eyes to complete the emoji look received unsurprising amounts of support. They could still do it.”

But he then focuses his criticism on the shopping centre itself: “In reality the serious issues with the development lie not with the bronzed poopy coil, which you can always point and laugh at, but with everything else back at street level. There’s no doubting the effort and expense that has gone in to creating the new limestone-clad buildings: the huge curving shopping gallerias with their vaulting glassed roofs, home to the likes of H&M and Peloton and a new space for John Lewis, the Everyman cinema and the Bonnie & Wild food market.

“It is meant to be a joyous, elegant urban retail ‘experience’, akin to Roppongi Hills in Tokyo. In truth it’s just a bloody great, soulless shopping centre, calculated to make you think long and hard about your life choices.

"When I was 10 years old, Brent Cross shopping centre opened in Neasden, a manageable 182 bus ride from my house. I thought there was nothing cooler than sitting by the central fountains there and eating cheesecake from the Lindy’s concession. The problem is, I’m no longer 10 years old. I no longer think shopping centres are cool.”

The St James Quarter with the W hotel's signature swirl prominent on the skyline. Picture: Ian Georgeson.

And he contrasts the Edinburgh Ka Pao with the original restaurant in Glasgow. “That first Ka Pao occupies a dreamy art deco building, which is so gorgeous it was saved from demolition by a feverish local campaign. The interiors of both boast girders and ducting and booths, but where the Glasgow version looks like a response to the heritage of the building, in Edinburgh all the sharp edges feel like the only possible option. Thank God for the leather-clad banquettes, which soften things.”

The St James Quarter management have been approached for comment.

Inside the St James Quarter, which opened a year ago with its 850,00 sq ft shopping galleria. Picture: John Devlin.