Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Thai on Chapel

he says:

These days I don't get over to Chapel Street as much as I used to, sadly (or not) the days of partying at Revolver until the wee hours are well and truly behind me. On this occasion I was quite excited to be invited over to the Windsor end of Chapel to check out the not so subtly named 'The Thai on Chapel'.

Life has been pretty busy lately so I wasn't able to do much research about what to expect, as is my usual process. With so many great food blogs and Urbanspoon at my disposal it's actually quite rare these days that I don't walk into a restaurant without pretty much knowing exactly what I am going to order before a menu is even placed in front of me. After my excellent experience at 'The Thai on Chapel' I'm starting to question whether taking away the element of surprise actually somewhat diminishes a little part of the dining experience. 

On walking in to the restaurant I was immediately aware of the differences to what I usually encounter when entering the Thai establishments that I normally frequent. The interior is quite dark and warm and rather modern yet rustic in appearance and feel. I really think the restaurant design thing is harder to do well than it might seem. In this aspect (and most others) I would say the folks at 'The Thai on Chapel' have done really well.

Even better, and perhaps my favourite thing about 'The Thai on Chapel' is the open (and very clean looking) kitchen where you can watch the chefs making Kanom Krok and Kao Kiab Pak Moo. Comparisons to the legendary Sydney 'Chat Thai' immediately came to mind. 

On grabbing ourselves a table and a menu I immediately noticed the 'Appetizer' section which contained a list of most of my favourite dishes and I started to worry as I often do when accepting these invitations that the dishes that the proprietors would select for us may not be the same as those I would have selected for myself. I needn't have worried. 'The Thai on Chapel' have a definite focus on Street Food and thankfully this is what they decided to showcase to me on my visit. First up was the always delicious Moo Ping (Grilled Pork Skewers), I love these little guys with their smoky sweet flavour and amazingly zingy Jim Jaew dipping sauce accompaniment. Forget Satay, it's Moo Ping all the way for me! Here is a great recipe for Jim Jaew from the supremely authoritative She Simmers. I just can't wait for her soon to be released cookbook!

Another dish you can observe being made is the deliciously nutty and sweet Kao Kiab Pak Moo (Steamed Pork Dumplings). These consist of a nutty tasting pork and pickled turnip filling wrapped in a delicately steamed rice paper. 

These gorgeous little dumplings were a new one for me and one that I will definitely be returning to enjoy again. The filling tasted very similar to another favourite Thai street food snack Sago Sai Moo.

I have eaten the next dish at a number of Thai establishments both in Thailand and Australia and the beautifully constructed 'The Thai on Chapel' version is up there with the best. Often Sai Krok Issan (Fermented Pork Sausages) can be extremely powerful on the garlic, which is fine at the time of eating but can be difficult for those you come in contact with for the next 12 hours but these had the balance just right. Not too powerful on the garlic but just enough to enjoy the spicy funky blend of fermented pork, garlic and sticky rice. They are eaten wrapped in a crunchy lettuce leaf with a price of spicy ginger and a slice or two of chilli. Perhaps an acquired taste for some but for me these are the kinds of flavours that remind me of so many wonderful meals that I have enjoyed in Thailand. 

If there was only one reason to visit 'The Thai on Chapel' (and there are many) it would have to be the Kanom Krok. These amazing little morsels of sweet coconut goodness are another of the hidden gems of Thai Street Food. Apart from perhaps one or two other restaurants, I don't know of anywhere else in Melbourne that serves them and definitely none that do them as well as 'The Thai on Chapel'. Due to their lack of availability and supreme deliciousness I have previously been forced to make them myself. You can check out my recipe here, it's actually one of my most viewed posts. Kanom Krok are fried in a specially designed pan (see photo above) to achieve a crunchy texture on the bottom that combines perfectly with the sweet creamy coconut filling. The toppings are usually corn or spring onion which are delicious but 'The Thai on Chapel' version with sesame and peanuts was another new one for me and in my opinion one that definitely works. These are listed on the Appetizer section of the menu and are eaten throughout the day in Thailand however for most western palates they would possibly be more appropriately ordered as a dessert.

Once we had happily devoured all the lovely street food snacks our hosts brought out a bowl of 'Guay Jub'. As I've said many times before, when done well Thai noodles soups are absolute masterpieces. It would be hard to find many other dishes with such depth and complexity of flavours. 'The Thai on Chapel' Guay Jub is made from scratch and contains numerous ingredients, soft gelatinous fatty pork belly, braised pork, fried tofu, pork liver, pork crisps and a soft boiled egg. The broth is divine with a richness of anise, salty soy and sweetness that has you spooning mouthful after mouthful of the very special liquid. My Thai dining companion commented that this was the most authentic flavoured Guay Jub he has tasted in Australia (and we've had a few together). 

Yen Ta Four is the Chinese influenced (actually all noodle soups are Chinese influenced) Thai seafood variation of noodle soup. This broth is again made from scratch and in this case it is particularly noticeable as the flavour is quite strong and not something I can even go close to describing. For me the highlights of this dish are the springy fish balls, tender squid, crunchy wontons and of course the complex yet unusual flavoured broth. Yen Ta Four is another dish that isn't very commonly found in Australian Thai restaurants however I highly recommend giving it a try. It's definitely in the acquired taste basket but it does have an addictive sweetness that makes the discovery process a little less challenging.

I was pretty much stuffed by this stage but our lovely hosts obviously knew my weak spot and made me an offer I couldn't refuse, a plate of Durian Sticky Rice. This is one of those desserts that I just can't say no to. If you have never tried it then get down to 'The Thai on Chapel' immediately. The flavour of durian is just wonderful and to me it is the smell of Thailand. I'm not sure how it happens but when I'm in Thailand it seems like the smell of durian is perpetually floating in the air. The funky earthiness of the durian combined with the sweet coconut cream and mushy glutinous rice is something to behold. 

Tub Tim Krob is another classic Thai dessert. It's pretty simple in construction, you just colour some water chestnuts with red food colouring then toss them in tapioca flour and boil them until the red colour comes through, then add the red rubies to some crushed ice and sweeten it with a few squirts of Hale's Blue Boy Sala (Red) cordial. Simple, light and deliciously refreshing.

I couldn't help spot this conspicuous little display case filled with beautiful looking Macarons with flavours like Cream Cheese Banana, Chocolate Orange, Cookies and Cream, Salted Caramel and Durian! Sadly I didn't get to try any of them that night but I will definitely be looking for an excuse to drop by again and grab a box or two. 

Overall I have to say that I really enjoyed my meal at 'The Thai on Chapel'. Even more exciting is the many other items on the menu that sounded fantastic that I didn't get the chance to to try that night. Other dishes on my hit list are Patongko (Thai Donuts with Pandan Custard), Pad Prik Khing, Noodle Tom Yum and the Gai Yang to name just a few. I really like what the owners of 'The Thai on Chapel' have achieved with this restaurant. They fill that nice spot in between the high end Thai establishments like Longrain and the more cafe/eatery style places like Tidlom or iSpicy, all while maintaining a high degree of authenticity. I really think there is a big market for authentic Thai food served in a modern environment while not being too expensive. It might seem like I'm asking for a lot but the proprietors of "The Thai on Chapel' have shown that it's possible. I'm very sure that if they were located in the CBD they would be attracting queues not unlike those you will experience if you ever try and get a table at Sydney's Chat Thai. 

This review was conducted in my capacity as restaurant reviewer for ‘Thailiciouz’. I dined as a guest of the restaurant who knew in advance that I would be dining there, and selected the dishes they wanted to showcase. Please visit the ‘Thailiciouz’ website for information on how you can receive hot deals from various Thai eateries, massage parlours and other contemporary Thai businesses.

The Thai on Chapel on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Soi 38 at the North Melbourne Spring Fling

he says:

After lots of research and even more practice we are very excited to announce the launch of our new Thai Street Food venture 'Soi 38'. This Sunday 21st October we will be premiering Soi 38 at the North Melbourne Spring Fling. Regular readers will already be aware of my dream of launching a Thai Boat Noodle Pop Up Street Food Cart in Melbourne. It's a bit of a crazy dream but I have a passion for Thai Street Food and a passion for Melbourne so somehow in my mind it fits perfectly. It's really all about the love of Thai Street Food and hopefully having a bit of fun (or as the Thai say sanuk).

Thai Boat noodles (kwaytiao reua) are a delicious and intensely flavoured but little known traditional Thai dish. They are associated with central Thailand, and are so called because they used to be sold from small boats along the canals and rivers. These days the vendors have moved onshore and the most famous boat noodle restaurants are found in 'boat noodle' alley near the Victory Monument in Bangkok. We visited 'boat noodle' alley when we were in Thailand last year and that's where my infatuation began…

With a cart fully imported from Thailand and a recipe refined over the past 6 months the plan is to bring a little bit of Thai Street Food authenticity to Melbourne. A huge thanks goes to my good friend Khun Top from Tidlom Thai Antique for his help with the recipe and for patiently answering all of my many questions.

A big part of Thai noodle soups is the seasonings - fish sauce, white sugar, crushed roasted chillies and chillies in vinegar. These are added at the customers discretion to create a personalised taste combination of the four pillars of Thai food - salty, sweet, sour and of course spicy!

Soi 38 is synonymous with street food in Bangkok as it is one of the most famous and most popular locations where some of the best street food can be found. Soi means side street in Thai and rather than naming all the side streets off a major road they are simply numbered, hence Soi 38. At night Soi 38 literally transforms into an open air food court crowded with stalls, tables and customers while at the same time the street is still open to cars who use it as a kind of drive through as they order take away through their car windows.  

Eating Thai soup noodles is a little bit of a skill, albeit one that is quite easily obtained. Unlike many of their South East Asian neighbours the Thai don't use chopsticks on a regular basis. Chopsticks are pretty much reserved for eating soup noodles. The method is to use the chopsticks in the right hand to pluck out some noodles and other special bits while simultaneously using a spoon in the left hand held just under the chopsticks to ensure that the mouthful of noodles is quickly followed by a slurp of the delicious broth.

So if you have an interest in Thai food (which I assume you do as you are reading this blog) do yourself a favour and get down to Errol Street this Sunday and try what I hope will be some of the best soup noodles you've ever tasted! In my opinion Boat Noodles leave Vietnamese Pho in their wake. Unfortunately Boat Noodles are just not very well known in Australia, it is my hope that Soi 38 will be one of the first small steps in changing that.

she says:

After slurping up a few bowls of boat noodles and rubbing your very satisfied tummies - roll on over to the smaller street food cart for the final sweet touch - Khanom Dorayaki.  I do believe this treat originated in Japan (with a savoury red bean filling) - but the Thai style in my opinion is far superior as it contains a variety of sweet fillings.  At the Spring Fling we will be serving Custard, Pandan Custard, Sweet Taro, Sala Custard and Creaming Soda Custard Dorayaki.

Our adventures with Thai food were (in the beginning) very heavy on lunch/dinner meals and light on desserts.  As a huge fan of sweets this needed to be amended and slowly we happily worked our way through many Thai desserts.

Although we have many favourites - Khanom Dorayaki is up there with the best!  I remember our first experience with Dorayaki so clearly - we were walking along at a market in Silom and spied this lovely Thai lady making these circle shaped pancake like sandwiches.  Purchased straight off the cooker we took our first bite and while the runny warm custard was dribbling down our chins we looked at each other and smiled with happiness!

A year down the track we decided that this treat needed to be bought to Melbourne to serve along with Boat Noodles and after tracking down that lovely Thai lady 'Lucky' - she showed us how to cook this very delicious dessert and gave us her secret recipe.  We can't wait to share these with you - I am fairly confident you won't be able to stop at one!

You can read more about our Boat Noodle adventures here, here and here. And here is a little bit on Sukhumvit Soi 38.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Nai Peng

he says:

I have to apologise for being a bit slack lately when it comes to posting. Actually this seems to be a pretty standard opening for most of my posts lately and I'm running out of excuses other that just being plain slack... I still have a lot of meals from our not so recent visit to Bangkok to catch up on and I am determined to get them all completed. It was such an amazing holiday with so many wonderful meals that I have to admit that I don't mind having to revisit the photos as they bring back some great memories.

This time I'm writing about Nai Peng which is a chicken noodle shop near Chulalongkorn University in Hualampong. Once again I learned about this place from my trusty Bangkok's Top 50 Food Stalls guidebook. I mention this so aften I should probably add a link to Bangkok Glutton's blog where you can purchase a copy. Even if you're not planing on visiting Bangkok, for around $15 it's worth grabbing a copy as it is a very interesting read and definitely will have you thinking about getting over to Thailand in the near future. It actually made for quite a fun little adventure trying to find some of these stalls. A bit like a treasure hunt really with a real pay off when you actually find the place you're looking for. Some of them are quite a challenge to find as Chow readily admits some of her maps are not quite as good as they could be, clearly her focus is on food rather than maps. Anyway, here's the link if you're interested.

Nai Peng was no exception when it comes to being difficult to find. You'd think that having the address to show to the tuk tuk driver would make it nice and simple but due to the subtle tonal differences in the Thai language you can often end of a long way from where you want to be. This was the case on our first attempt to get to Nai Peng which is located in the Suan Luang market but due to my mispronunciation (a common occurrence) we ended up nowhere near where we intended. Apparently there is another market that is very similarly pronounced to Suan Lunag. You can imagine the 'oh you mean Suan Luang, not Suan Lunang' with both sounding identical to my western ears.

Our second attempt was much more successful and we arrived just before the lunch service and had the opportunity to see them preparing some of the ingredients for service. I'm not sure what these guys were doing with the noodles but it seemed to be some kind of separating process. They took all the lovely looking fresh Sen Yai (wide flat rice noodles) out of the bags, smooshed them around the table and then put them back into the same bags.

This young fellow had the unenviable job of preparing some kind of herb that I couldn't identify. As with most of the Thai vendors at least he got to sit out on the street where he could enjoy all the happenings rather than being hidden away in the kitchen. This is really one of the less considered benefits of street trading from the vendors perspective. The convenience for the customers is pretty obvious but when you talk to the vendors they really have a great sense of community with their fellow stall owners and the whole process is incredibly sociable as they chat and joke to each other constantly. I'm sure this is a major reason they find the energy to get up so early and man their carts and shops day in day out from the early hours of the morning until sometimes late into the evening.

It goes without saying that the noodles were just sublime, beautifully charred with a wok imbued smokiness and a texture unlike anything else. This was a turning point for me and left me wondering why these wide noodles dishes like Pad Eee Eew and Pad Ki Mao are not as popular as the infamous Pad Thai. The little extras are what set the great noodle dishes apart from the god ones and the addition of the little crunchy fried processed squid noodles and lashings of Sriracha sauce took this great dish to that next level. Like most of the noodle dishes in Bangkok the price per bowl of 30 Baht ($1) will have you thinking about consuming a second of possible third bowl.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Krua Thai 2

he says:

Are you mad for Thai noodle soup? No??? Well move along please nothing to see here.

If you're still here I can safely assume that you are like me and love Thai noodle soups or at least are interested in learning more about these amazing creations. Lovers of Thai noodle soup need look no further than Krua Thai 2. I was directed to Krua Thai 2 by Khun Top of Tidlom Thai Antique who credits Krua Thai 2 (and his mother) with teaching him all he knows about Thai food, and that's a lot. As with most times when I talk about food to Thai chefs we invariably end up talking about Thai noodle soups and in particular where the best examples can be found in Melbourne. Most (well pretty much all) Thai restaurants that offer more than the standard Tom Yam Goong use a packet powder or bottle paste base to construct their soups which although often delicious leaves the final product a far cry from what you will taste when in Thailand.

Only on Saturday and Sunday at Krua Thai 2 you can get a great array of traditional Thai noodle soups, all of which are made from scratch. Even better, you can get small size servings for only $6 a bowl which means you can comfortably try out a number of the options available (if not all). We managed 5 bowls and will certainly be back to have them all again and try the rest, including the dry variations. As far as I'm concerned, the list above is pretty much the greatest hits of Thai noodle soups.

First up was the Kuay Tiao Rua Nua (Beef Boat Noodles) with Sen Mee (Rice Vermicelli) noodles. I've read that anyone who knows what they're doing would never order Boat Noodles with anything but Sen Mee so as I like to pretend that I know my stuff that's what I ordered. This dish was just sublime and easily the best version of Boat Noodles I have tried outside of Thailand. I could have ordered a second bowl straight up but wanted to save room for as many of the greatest hits as possible.

Next was the Guay Jub which I have also had previously but again this version was far superior. It's an interesting dish as the noodles are little flattened discs that are rolled into tubes and cooked until beautiful and tender. Unfortunately my photo doesn't quite show them up so you'll just have to get over to Krua Thai 2 to try them for yourself. This dish contained a number of different proteins, some of them gorgeously tender and some not so easily discernible but all of them superb. Once again the broth was sublime, which was actually the case with all the soup noodles we ate at Krua Thai 2.

Being a Boat Noodle tragic I had to try both the pork and the beef variations, I couldn't say which I preferred as they were both just amazing. I'm in the process of refining my own Boat Noodle recipe for our soon to be launched Thai Street Food Cart so while our visit to Krua Thai 2 was about enjoying their amazing noodle soups it was also about research. I have to say I was actually a bit intimidated by the quality of the broths in particular but I'm hoping with a bit more work I can produce something that is at least comparable. It is certainly the level that I aspire to reach.

Standard condiments are provided on all the tables, fish sauce, white sugar, crushed dried chillies and two variations of chillies in vinegar. The Krua Thai 2 broths were all wonderful without any seasoning but the addition of a touch of this and a splash of that can take them to another level. I definitely encourage you to have a bit of an experiment but be careful with the dry chilli as it really packs a punch.

My main reason for visiting Krua Thai 2 was to try their Boat Noodles and while they were excellent I found myself raving most about the Tom Yam. I only recently discovered that the red coloured Tom Yam Goong that we see on so many Thai menus is actually a completely different dish to Tom Yam which uses a clear broth. I don't know where to start when it comes to describing how good this soup was. Let me just say that it made me feel like I was back in Thailand. If you visit only one of the restaurants and try only one of the dishes that I write about then this is the one. Yep, it was that good. Probably the most authentic Thai dish I've eaten in Melbourne, and I've eaten a few...

I don't mind Yen Ta Four and have tried it a few times, it's such a confronting bright pink colour which I believe is produced from some kind of fermented soy bean although more commonly a colouring sauce is used. I couldn't say which approach Krua Thai 2 use but judging by the authenticity of the other dishes we tried I suspect it is probably the former. Another unusual aspect of this dish is that it contains seafood with fish cakes and squid but also pork and blood cubes, not a combination you see very often. Yen Ta Four has an interesting and not particularly confronting taste though so don't be intimidated to give it a go.

As I mentioned above I am currently working on putting the finishing touches on my Boat Noodle Soup recipe and subject to permit applications and other red tape I am very hopeful that we'll be launching our Thai Street Food Cart at the North Melbourne Spring Fling on 21 October. In addition to Boat Noodles, Tina will be making Thai style Dorayaki and judging by the ones she has made so far I reckon they're going to be a hit.  Hope you can make it!

Krua Thai 2 on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 21 August 2012


he says:

Buubbub is a Burmese and Thai restaurant located on the northern end of Smith Street Collingwood. I used to get over this way all the time but these days I rarely dine on either Brunswick or Smith Street so I was happy for the opportunity to get back over this way again. OK so first things first, what's the deal with the name? It certainly doesn't sounds Thai and although I have no idea about the Burmese language I'm guessing it doesn't sound very Burmese either. So the deal is that Buubbub is a construct of Thai numerology which has then been converted into letters (letterology?) and you get Buubuub. And I'm told it means 'people will love our restaurant and keep coming back' or something along those lines. Owner Khun Mai tells me that she has been happy with the level of business since opening and is comfortable that the numerology based restaurant name is working as it should. The Thai can be quite superstitious (Khun Mai is Thai) and I have read they often pay large sums of money for specific 'lucky' mobile phone numbers. I also understand that the selection of lottery numbers is treated with a great deal of superstition, often specialist fortune tellers are consulted to assist in picking the winning numbers.

Buubbub specialises in Burmese and Thai cuisine but as I pretty much always eat Thai and have never tried Burmese I was keen to see what the Burmese food was all about. Most people will know of the recent political issues in Burma, or at least they may have heard of Aung San Suu Ky. Burma is formally referred to as Myanmar, I'm not sure that Myanmarese food rolls of the tongue quite as easily as Burmese food.

The restaurant has some of the usual traditional Thai decorations but is also prettied up with an almost vintage feel which I thought fit quite well with what most diners would expect from a Smith Street establishment.

We started with a pretty standard array of entrees, curry puffs, chicken satays and spring rolls. I didn't ask but I got the feeling that these were all made in house as the fillings didn't seem like the usual pre-made kind. The chicken spring rolls were full of delicious minced chicken and not just a smattering of mince filled out with cabbage as is often the case. Same goes for the vegetable curry puffs and spring rolls, all were chock full of vegetables including peas, corn and even potato and no cabbage in sight. I don't mind a bit of cabbage in my deep fried entrees but something different makes a nice change. It's also worth mentioning that they were all cooked quite well with no trace of excess oiliness that is the telltale sign of poorly executed deep frying.

The chicken satays were excellent, a great dipping sauce that was a lovely and peanutty and the chicken was beautifully tender. None of these entrees are things that I get too excited about as they are pretty standard but I definitely enjoyed them all. I don't often order spring rolls and satays these days but I do think these kinds of simple menu items are often a good test of a restaurant. You can tell a lot about how these simple items are prepared. Buubbub easily passed my entree test. Now onto the mains.

The first dish to arrive was the Burmese Tamarind Chicken Curry. This style of curry is different from most Thai curries in that it isn't thickened with coconut milk or cream and therefore has a much thinner ligher consistency  It actually reminded me of the Thai 'Gaeng Som' sour curry. The use of water or stock as a base for curry usually indicates an inland origin where coconuts are not available. The flavour is also markedly different to the coconut curries with the sourness of the tamarind the predominant flavour. This isn't to everyones taste but is certainly worth trying if you get the chance. Unlike Gaeng Som this curry wasn't particularly spicy although I'm not sure whether this is traditional or an adjustment to cater for Buubbub's mostly western clientele. Another differentiating factor was the use of a lot of fresh vegetables including tender eggplant and crunchy green beans.

Any lack of coconut creaminess in the previous dish was certainly more than compensated for by the Fish Cake Curry. This dish was very creamy with coconut milk and quite heavy and thick in consistency. Khun Mai informed me that they use Kara coconut milk which is also my choice when cooking at home however while it's far superior to any canned option it is quite thick and in my opinion is often best thinned out with some water. Still, the thickness of the curry didn't detract from the flavour which again wasn't overly spicy or sweet. A nice change from a lot of the Thai curries served up in Melbourne. Interestingly this curry uses fish cakes as the protein, something I hadn't seen before and quite liked. Although the large fish cakes make serving a bit awkward they add a lovely springy texture to the dish.

The last dish was easily my favourite. The Eggplant Salad was quite interesting as once again it was quite unlike anything I'd tried previously. I am so used to seeing Thai salads like this presented beautifully with lots of lovely textural elements and on sampling my first mouthful was quite surprised by the flavour. I was prepared to be hit with that wonderful combination of spice, sourness and sweetnees and was definitely not expecting the flavour of smoky grilled eggplant that I experienced. It's certainly not something that I associate with south east asia but I liked it! I had to keep tasting it just to be sure how I felt about it, it's strange how your expectations on seeing a dish can preposition your taste expectations. As with all the meals I ate at Buubbub I really can't comment on the authenticity of this dish but that's probably irrelevant anyway. It really should be all about taste and on that measure Buubbub passed with flying colours.

This review was conducted in my capacity as restaurant reviewer for ‘Thailiciouz’. I dined as a guest of the restaurant who knew in advance that I would be dining there, and selected the dishes they wanted to showcase. This review is reproduced on Please visit the ‘Thailiciouz’ website for information on how you can receive hot deals from various Thai eateries, massage parlours and other contemporary Thai businesses.

BuuBBub Burmese and Thai Food Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 9 August 2012


he says:

As usual I am way behind with my posts and have been very slack lately but I am determined to get though them all. Mostly I am determined that I must finish all the posts from our recent trip to Bangkok. Obviously that plan was that these posts would be written while I was relaxing on the balcony with a can of Singha in hand but it didn't work out that way. Well, writing the posts didn't, I can't say the same for the can of Singha!

I have a lot of good things to say about the Thai food in Melbourne which just seems to be getting better and better by the day. Lately I am finding (or being recommended) new places very regularly, so many that I am having trouble keeping up! If I have to choose one dish that still has a way to go until it gets close to that quality you get in Bangkok it would have to be Thai soup noodles. Most places either don't offer it or take the easy option of constructing their broths with a base of pre-made powders or pastes. This is fine for cooking at home (hey, I use them too) but personally I think a restaurant should avoid these short cuts.

It's for this reason that I really try and seek out as many noodle soups as possible when I'm in Bangkok. The depth and sublime quality of the broths is just amazing. I love most Thai noodle soups but my favourite by far has to be Kuay Tiau Bamee Ped (Duck with Egg Noodles). We had this a number of times from a vendor at Soi 38 on our previous trip and sadly our attempts to find something similar on our return to Melbourne yielded nothing of any note. Aside from the divine broth, what set the Thai version apart was the tender fall apart braised duck. I've never tried anything like it outside of Thailand.

Roongroj is right next to the wonderful Nang Leung Market. If you are staying in or around Banglapmhu, Nang Leung is about a 5 to 10 minute tuk tuk ride and probably a 20 minute walk from our hotel on Phra Artit.  The market is just fantastic, akin to some kind of open air food court and wet market all rolled into one. At the busy times this place just hums and with so many vendors occupying their little booths you can get most of the your favourite Thai meals in the one place. As it's where the local eat you can be comfortable that the flavours are not westernised in any way. I found Roongroj in the back pages of my Top 50 Street Food book with the simple description 'Duck Noodles' and that was enough for me. We hailed down a tuk tuk who knew of Roongroj (always a good sign), although he pronounced it more like 'Loonlot' and we arrived around 8:30, just before closing time. I get the feeling that duck noodles are more of a lunch dish as the place was totally empty and although this would usually deter me I trusted in Chow (Top 50 author) as she has never steered me wrong.

This was easily the best bowl of duck noodles I have ever tasted, yes big call I know everything about it was just perfect. Amazingly tender melt on the mouth delicious braised duck, gorgeous springy egg noodles and a sumptuously rich but somehow still light broth, just heavenly! To me noodle soups are an enigma as they are pretty much impossible to deconstruct and identify individual ingredients, its the balance and combination of the aromatics used that truly make them some kind of secret magical potion.

We ordered these fried wontons with chicken in gravy for Charlie and of course snuck a taste for ourselves. Duck noodle soup is the Roongroj specialty but judging by the chicken in gravy I'm pretty confident that they everything they serve must taste amazing. That's the thing about Thailand, they're so passionate about there food that if you're serving Thai food to Thai people it better be good or you won't last long. There's just no place for mediocrity, even the places that the Thai say are just OK are good and the ones that they say are good are amazing.

I spotted this article among the wall full of commendations and celebrity photos that tells about how Roongroj is featured in a Thai restaurant guide written by a senior politician listing his favourite eateries. It shows how seriously the Thai take their food, somehow I just can't see Julia authoring a treatise of her favourite restaurants...

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Tidlom Thai Antique

he says:

One of the surprise side effect of writing this blog has been the wonderful supply of great restaurant recommendations for readers. I really appreciate it when people take the time to comment or email me with their suggestions. I got an email last night from prolific Urban Spooner Nat Stockley about Tidlom Thai Antique on Healeys Lane in the city. Nat knows his stuff and spoke highly of Tidlom so I wasted no time in getting there the very next day to check it out.

I reckon Healeys Lane is a great little location which has a bit of a street food feeling, well street food potential anyway. In the past I've often wandered down it lamenting the lack on any appetising looking establishments. Tidlom Thai certainly looks the goods and judging by my lunch today it tastes the business too. I had read on Half Eaten that the chef and owner Khun Top had previously had something to do with the now closed Appetizer Kub Klam. Well I'm not sure whether it has actually closed but the only time I tried to visit for lunch it wasn't open and I haven't been back to try again. It's a tough one for me because if I'm venturing that far afield for lunch I find it hard to go past Pad Thai in Midtown or Le Bangkok on Lonsdale Street.

I really like the TV themed menu, which isn't actually blue. (camera white balance issues...) The English font is a bit tricky to read but Khun Top informed me that it is being reprinted in an easy to read font. Personally I love seeing Thai script on a menu as it gives me comfort that the food is being cooked to suit more traditional Thai tastes which is something I'm pretty passionate about. While I was heading there I pretty much decided that I'd be trying the Yum Pla Duk Foo (Crispy Fried Catfish Salad) but on arriving the lunch menu didn't offer this specialty. It wasn't a problem though as the $9.90 lunch specials all sounded fantastic. Pad Thai of course and Pad See Eew (my latest obsession) but even better Pad Kee Mao (my new obsession). Some great sounding Fried Rice dishes (Khao Pad), including Khao Pad Poo (Crab Meat Fried Rice), Tom Yum and Green Curry Fried Rice to name just a few. Also very enticing is the Pad Krapow and the Pak Kanna Moo Krob (Chinese Broccoli with Crispy Pork). All these great dishes for less that $10 each. Thanks again Nat, I definitely owe you one!

The Cha Yen (Thai Iced Milk Tea) was fantastic. Tidlom also do a Thai Iced Coffee, another favourite of mine. Given the less than great quality of espresso coffee in Thailand this was my regular morning caffeine hit on my recent visit to Bangkok. When you visit Tidlom Thai make sure you skip the can of Coke and give either the Cha Yen of Cafe Yen a go. I reckon they're both a great accompaniment to spicy Thai food.

Speaking of spicy Thai food this is the Pad Krapow Gai (Chicken Krapow) that my dining companion ordered. It all looked pretty good but certainly not what I would call a traditional Thai Krapow. Now I'm not 100% sure about this but I pretty much expect minced protein in my Krapow (unless it's a seafood variation). I also found the sliced onion a bit excessive however I did like the use of snake beams and the flavour of the mouthful I tried was certainly very good. To be honest I'm more of a pork Krapow man myself.  Oh yeah, one more thing, "Where's the egg?" I just can't abide Krapow without a crispy runny yolk egg. (UPDATE: I returned to Tildom today and noticed that crispy egg is available as an extra for $2).

Ever since I returned from Bangkok I've been obsessed with Pad See Eew and have slowly been working my way back to all my old favourite places to try their versions out. I find it quite interesting to try the different interpretations. Personally I much prefer it over Pad Thai but that's just my opinion. Tidlom Thai have Pad See Eew which I will obviously be trying soon but they also have Pad Kee Mao which appears to be quite similar but it uses basil and also a lot of chilli! It was a very generous serve but I easily demolished the plate without coming up for air. There's something about that smoky wok flavoured slightly chewy wide rice noodles combined with the chilli and soy that is just fantastic. This spicy dish would go perfectly with a cold Singha. I'm not sure I will be ready for beer drinking until the weather starts to warm up but Khun Top's offer of $45 tabletop 3L mini kegs of original Singa (the yellow things in the background of the picture below) had me making plans for long Friday lunches on hopefully warm sunny late September afternoons.

I probably wouldn't have noticed unless I had read it on Half Eaten but there do seem to be an excessive number of light bulbs hanging from the ceiling... Still I really like the simple Thai touches at Tidlom Thai, one wall is covered in old Thai movie posters and the other has a montage of Thai number plates. It isn't overdone but that's what I like about it. Tidlom has a casual feel to it and it appears to be focused on not just Thai food but perhaps a slightly debaucherous version of 'Sanuk' involving eating great Thai food and drinking lots of alcohol with friends. According to Food in Melbourne Tidlom translates to 'continuously flying high or remaining in the same position continuously, cosily'. It's not hard to see the consumption of food and lots of alcohol in the subtext there...

The best part of the fitout at Tidlom has to be the original Thai food cart that doubles as the counter. Hopefully come summer Khun Top will find a way to set this up in the laneway and use it for its intended purpose of cooking up delicious Thai street food. The thought of sitting in a Melbourne laneway enjoying a few Singas with friends on a balmy Summer evening with the sublime smells from a Thai wok wafting though the air brings a big smile to my face.

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