Thursday, 31 May 2012

ChonSiam Thai

he says: 

I spotted ChonSiam the previous night on my way to Yok Yor for dinner and after noticing the sign offering $4 Boat Noodles and Hoy Tod (Crispy Mussel Omlette) for $10.90 I knew it wasn’t going to be a long wait for my return to try both of these offerings. I asked the wait staff what time they opened secretly hoping that I might be able to enjoy the Hoy Tod for breakfast as I believe that it typically when it is eaten in Thailand. Sadly that wasn’t going to be an option as they open at 11 which really wasn’t a problem as I was always going to be back down that way for lunch anyway. If I’d been able to eat three meals a day in Haymarket I would have. 

I’ve tried a few variations of Hoy Tod including one with oysters in Bangkok and a few mussel versions in Melbourne and this was easily one of the best. For starters the serving was massive, much bigger than any I’ve enjoyed previously. I’m not normally one to get excited over large servings but I was having a late lunch and the banana I had for breakfast had long since lost its appetite suppressing effects. The ChonSiam Hoy Tod was much thicker and almost frittata like with crispy textural edges that yield to a soft creamy inner peppered with luscious plump mussels. The idea with Hoy Tod is that you literally drown the whole thing with Sriracha (Thai Chilli Sauce) then break off chunks of the omlette and devour it with the fresh crunchy sprouts. The awesomely huge serving of Sriracha seems excessive at first but I easily managed to empty the bowl. 

If I had found this dish in a Thai restaurant within walking distance of my work in Melbourne I would have returned multiple times to enjoy it and was trying to work out how I was going to have time to come back for it again while still finding time to try all the other dishes I’d seen that I had added to my must try list. Sadly this turned out to be my last encounter with ChonSiam’s Hoy Tod but at least I have the memories. This was just a truly wonderful meal, if you’ve never tried Hoy Tod you can’t go wrong at ChonSiam. I absolutely loved this dish, it was probably the best thing I ate during my short stay. 

Of course I wasn’t going to let the chance to try a bowl of $4 Boat Noodles pass me by. Regular readers will know of my obsession with this dish. So the next day I returned to ChonSiam and forked out my hard earned $4 for a bowl of Kuay Tiau Rua. ChonSiam offer pork and beef versions and while I would have loved to try both I had just finished a bowl of Kanom Jeen noodles with Jungle Curry Fish balls at Thanon Khao San so I opted for the pork. This was my last visit to Haymarket before I had to leave Sydney so I was literally cramming in as much as possible! The serving size isn’t large like I’ve seen at some Thai restaurants in Melbourne but also not as small as the Boat Noodle alley restaurants in Bangkok. It was somewhere in between and had I not just eaten I would probably have been comfortable with two bowls. The broth was very rich and quite dark and left me feeling a bit intimidated as both times I’ve cooked Boat Noodles at home I haven’t been able to achieve a broth with these qualities, obviously more practice is needed! After adding my usual seasonings of fish sauce, dried chilli and sugar I felt the broth was a bit salty, perhaps due to my heavy handedness with the fish sauce but this was easily balanced out by the addition of more sugar. The noodles were perfect with a nice springy texture, you might say they were cooked al dente. With pork balls and small cubes of what looked like fatty pork belly and crunchy kanna (chinese broccoli) rather than the usual pak boong (morning glory) I thought this was a very traditional and equally delicious rendition of Kuay Tiau Rua. For a measly $4 how can you go wrong, I know some places that sell a cup of coffee for more than that! And Guay Jub for only $6, oh if only I had more time… 

Chonsiam on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Yok Yor Haymarket Sydney

he says: 

OK this is going to hurt. Sydney has far better Thai food than Melbourne. I can’t believe I admitted that, now I feel dirty. Being a parochial Melbournian (and ex Queenslander) I find it very difficult to compliment Sydney at the best of times but this one is just plain unavoidable. I was in Sydney for a couple of days for a work conference and decided that I really needed to find out for myself whether all this talk of Sydney having superior Thai food to Melbourne was actually true. I had heard about the infamous Thai Town district in Haymarket and seeing as I was staying in the city that seemed a good place to start. 

After consulting a few blogs and checking out the Sydney Thai magazine I decided my first visit would be Yok Yor in Haymarket. I was lucky enough to be joined by an old friend Kate and even luckier that she let me choose the dishes that evening. I’m not sure what the deal is with the Yok Yor kitchen staff wearing hard hats but that certainly wasn’t of much interest to me, I was attracted by the great selection of interesting dishes on the menu. This was to be the first of many experiences over the next few days where I was both surprised and delighted to see a menu with numerous dishes that I’d previously only ever seen offered in Thailand. 

Khao Ka Moo is a very decadent dish of fatty stewed pork leg on rice served in a sweet gravy and accompanied by a lovely chilli and vinegar relish. The fattiest part of the pork leg is used, the skin is left on and no attempt is made to render away any fat. Definitely not one for those who cut the rind off their bacon (Tina) that’s for sure! This was great, super rich and super flavoursome. The squishy fatty pork is a textural sensation although it does require some self counselling to push that feeling of guilt deep down inside where it can’t be seen or heard. 

I was always going to eat Gai Yang (Thai grilled chicken) at least once while I was in Sydney and Yok Yor's Peek Gai Yang at $3 each seemed a pretty good option. I'm pretty sure Peek means wing in Thai. These wings were lightly charred and and gorgeously tender as you’d expect but the highlight for me was the Nahm Jim Jeaw dipping sauce which hit all the right marks on the sweet, salty, spicy and sour scale while also providing some texture via the ground toasted glutinous rice. 

The next dish was a completely new one for me that I’d never seen before, even in Thailand. It actually filled in the blanks of a conversation I had with my Thai teacher a while ago when I was unsuccessfully trying to explain/pronounce Kanom Buang. This is an old post of the Kanom Buang I enjoyed in Bangkok for those not familiar with this delicious treat. I was a bit lost when she told me that Kanom Buang dish was influenced by Vietnamese dish Banh Xeo as I really couldn’t see the link, especially as Kanom Buang is a dessert. So enter Kanom Buang Yourn and mystery solved. Described on the menu as Thai style crispy crepe filled with shredded prawn and coconut accompanied with cucumber and red onion relish it's impossible not to see the link with Banh Xeo. Simply described as a light refreshing Thai salad served in a crispy crepe with a killer dressing, this dish was my favourite of the night. 

The last dish was also a bit of a surprise as I thought I had ordered Yum Pla Dook Foo (crispy fried catfish salad) but apparently I was mistaken and what arrived was certainly nothing like I was expecting. Pla Dook Yang Nahm Pla Warn is grilled catfish served with a sweet tangy tamarind sauce. I had seen this being grilled in food stalls all over Bangkok but had never summoned the courage to try one. There was no point wimping out now so I attacked this headless little catfish with my fork and spoon and gave it a good dousing in the dipping sauce. Catfish is a much maligned little fellow however when cooked properly it's actually very good. I did struggle a little with all the bones but I suspect there is a bit of an art to eating these little guys while avoiding having to awkwardly negotiate lots of little bones. 

After dinner we took a bit of a wander around Thai Town mostly so I could determine what and where I would be eating for the next few days but also to check out the numerous Thai grocers nearby. If I wasn’t jealous enough about the quality and authenticity of the Thai restaurants I was extremely envious about how easily the Sydney CBD workers are able to access such a great range of Thai ingredients including fresh snake beans, green papayas, monkey bananas and even betel leaves to list just a few. The range of ready made meals and desserts was also very impressive and I was particularly taken with the DIY Som Tam kit that even included a little bag of dressing. 

Yok Yor on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 26 May 2012

roll'd (wrapped in freshness, daily)

he says:

Melbourne is a funny place sometimes. It's a place where according to Nina Rousseau, two restaurants in the in the Vietnamese heartlands of Albert Park and Elwood can serve bowls of Pho superior to the well established restaurants of Footscray, Springvale and Richmond that have been offering this staple up to their mostly Vietnamese clientele for up to 20 years or more. This Pho is so good that it can be sold for $23 a bowl which is significantly more expensive than the usual price of around $9. Melbourne can be a funny place sometimes...  If I had been enjoying a bowl of Pho at the time I came across this article in the (melbourne) magazine I would surely have splurted a mouthful of broth and noodles across the room in incredulation! I was left wondering that perhaps there was some price anchoring at play, where the mind decides that something is better just because its more expensive. Or possibly the reviewer's opinion may have been swayed but the schmick modern fitouts of these establishments, although the article clearly state that appearance played no part in the judgements. Maybe it's neither and these particular bowls of Pho are so superior that the inflated prices are totally justified, I'll be honest, I'm unlikely to ever travel to Elwood and fork out $23 for a bowl of this magical concoction so I guess I will never truly know.

Anyway, now that I've got that off my chest I am really excited to be writing about a newly opened Vietnamese establishment in Goldsborough Lane QBW called Roll'd. Being a worker in this area of the city I have long lamented the lack of a decent and nearby Vietnamese lunch option. Judging by the obvious popularity of Roll'd, with its constant queue out the door I was not alone. Roll'd is great little operation with all the modern styling that seems to be mandatory for new restaurants these days, think brown recycled cardboard takeaway packaging, ingredients used as merchandising display and funky signage where Bun salads are listed as The B' and Banh Mi is described as 'mr bun Mee'.

I've never been particularly enamoured of the modern styling of restaurants that serve traditional cuisines but I'm also trying these days to not be put off by it. After all, it's taste that is most important. I'm also tiring of trekking down to Swanston Street in my lunch hour every time I feel like a fix of Vietnamese so I was more than willing shelve my preconceptions and give the Roll'd menu a good going over. Roll'd have taken a very smart approach in their selection of dishes covering most of the usual Vietnamese favourites, from Bun (Vietnamese Vermicelli Salad), Goi Xe Phay (Vietnamese Coleslaw), Goi Cuon (Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls), Banh Mi (Vietnamese Baguettes) and even my favourite Ca Phe Sua Da (Vietnamese Iced Milk Coffee) and of course Pho.

The rice paper rolls (described on the menu as roll'd soldiers) look beautifully prepared in their display cabinet and you can also see them being made at the front of the shop which is a nice indication of the Roll'd credo of 'wrapped in freshness daily'. I sampled the BBQ Chicken + Sesame seeds roll'd soldier and selected the Spicy Hoisin dipping sauce to accompany it. It was easily one of the best rice paper rolls I've tried and certainly the best in the CBD. Freshness makes a huge difference when it comes to rice paper rolls. The Soft Shell Crab with Avocado roll'd soldier is also on my 'must try next' list.

What got me really excited was the Roll'd selection of Banh Mi, in particular it was the Roast Pork with Crackling version that had me salivating in excitement. I first tried this in Dalat and had never seen it since. I made it my mission while in Vietnam to try every Banh Mi I came across and I enjoyed some wonderful exponents of this French inspired classic but it was the Roast Pork version that stuck out in my memory as being the best. Nhu Lan is pretty much accepted as the best purveyor of Banh Mi in Melbourne however even they don't offer a Roast Pork option so that just makes the Roll'd offering even more special in my opinion. The crunchy chewy crackling and the decadent fattyness of the roast pork combines wonderfully with the crispness of the shredded carrot and the cleansing freshness of the cucumber and coriander. I loved this Banh Mi so much I returned the next day to enjoy it all over again. I will have to try very hard to convince myself to try the rest of the Roll'd menu as I can guarantee I will be back many many more times to enjoy the Roast Pork with Crackling Banh Mi over and over again.

On my third consecutive daily visit to Roll'd it was raining heavily and bitterly cold so I decided that I would make the best of this miserable Melbourne weather and order a bowl of Pho. I have previously written that while I enjoy Pho it isn't my favourite Vietnamese soup. Instead I prefer Bun Bo Hue or Bun Rieu but there was no way I was going to Swanston Street in the pouring ran so the Roll'd Pho seemed a good option. It turned out to be a great decision and the warm bowl of broth was the perfect antidote to the inclement weather. The broth was light but flavoursome and I couldn't detect any overt signs of MSG, not that I'm bothered either way. I've moved out of the anti MSG camp these days, everything in moderation I say. The noodles were just right, not at all mushy with a nice springy texture. The beef was lovely and tender cooked slightly rare, and the addition of sprouts, chill, sliced scallions and pickled red onion rounded the dish off perfectly. Like I said above I'm not the best judge of Pho because I usually order its sister dishes but I found this dish soothingly comforting like being wrapped in a warm blanket in front of the fire on a cold Winter evening.

If you want to read more about the other Roll'd offerings you can check out their website here. Peach Water also recently posted about Roll'd and has some good photos of 'The B' with Traditional Homemade Spring Rolls (Bun Cha Gio) plus the roll'd soldiers in their stylish takeaway packaging and even a cool video showing the soldiers being roll'd. Read her post here. Judging by how busy there are, Roll'd are obviously doing a lot of things right. Don't be put off by the long queue, the ordering system is quite efficient and somehow your lunch finds its way to you pretty quickly.

Roll'd on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Com Hen at Vietnam Noodle House

he says:

I was recently inspired to return to Vietnam Noodle House on Swanston street recently by Krystal's winning entry in my 'The Flavours of Vietnam' cookbook giveaway. I asked readers to tell me about their favourite Vietnamese dish and where you ate it. In her comment Krystal reminded me of a very tasty and little known Vietnamese dish Com Hen.

Krystal's comment: favourite vietnamese meal was at a small restaurant (there was no signboard of course!) in Hue called Com Hen... unfortunately i have not come across this dish anywhere in Melbourne!

I like Vietnam Noodle House although I wouldn't say its one of my favourites, more accurately it's one of the better CBD Vietnamese options and a busy one at that. The stern yet efficient staff allocate diners to tables with expertise and precision of a tetris champion ensuring there is barely a spare seat available during the busy lunchtime hours.

Like Krystal, I also first tasted Com Hen when we visited Hue. We asked our cyclo driver to take us to a restaurant that served the local specialty which I was expecting would be Bun Bo Hue. I was pleasantly surprised to be taken to an inconspicuous little cafe that served Com Hen. Com Hen is a simple but very tasty dish consisting of rice, lettuce, sprouts, fried pork crisps and tiny baby clams. The photos above is the actual dish we ate that day. It was wonderfully light and refreshing and very satisfying on an extremely hot day in Hue. I also remember our cyclo driver schooling me on the correct pronunciation of Com which is rice in Vietnamese. That day I learned that it isn't pronounced 'com' but more 'gorm' which certainly helped for the remainder of our holiday. Perhaps not so much as our favourite phrase 'hong da' meaning no ice but still very useful. 

Com Hen is tucked away at the back of the extensive VNH menu and while not exactly the same as the version we ate in Hue is was still delicious and also wonderfully light and refreshing even on a not so warm Melbourne Autumn day. In writing this post I realised that I had a nagging question about Com Hen that I had never really answered. What puzzled me was the use of the delicious baby clams that are the main ingredient in this dish. How is it that clams are used in a dish that is the specialty of Hue, an inland city miles from the coast? Given Vietnam's general lack of refrigeration it struck me as very unlikely that they would be transported to Hue all the way from the coast. After a bit of research I discovered that the baby clams are in fact farmed in the freshwater of the Perfume River near Hue.

Unsurprisingly Vietnam Noodle House's version is not at the level of what we ate in Hue but it is quite tasty and as there are no other establishments (that I'm aware of) that serve Com Hen it might just be the best version in Melbourne! I'm pretty sure the clams used are of the tinned or possibly frozen variety as I haven't seen fresh ones for sale anywhere locally. The tiny little molluscs are about half a centimeter in diameter and I can imagine that shelling them is a tedious task.

The Vietnam Noodle House version of Com Hen is definitely worth seeking out, especially if you are like me and have made it your mission to try as many of the amazing and diverse Vietnamese dishes as possible. The clams are not overpoweringly strong and they aren't particularly fishy, the best I can offer is that the taste could loosely be compared to mussels. When used in Com Hen they are cooked with chilli and onion which provides most of the flavour of the dish. The chilli combines perfectly with the lightness of the fluffy rice in a classically Vietnamese style while the crispiness of the lettuce, sprouts and shredded carrot adds a fresh texture.  

Thankyou to all those who took the time to tell me about your favourite Vietnamese meals, its always nice to discover new dishes and the establishments where they can be enjoyed. On that note, if anyone knows anywhere else in Melbourne that serves Com Hen please enlighten me and leave a comment. 

Melbourne Vietnam Noodle House on Urbanspoon

Monday, 14 May 2012

Nuits Saint George 1er Cru 2003 and Farr Rising Berry's Creek 2010

he says: 

Ok so time to get back on that shifty looking horse and bash out another wine post. We recently visited friends in Ballarat and in what has now become a bit of a tradition I brought a couple of bottles of nice wine for us to taste and wax on about to each other. Although none of us is even close to considering ourselves an expert when it comes to wine tasting (drinking is another matter entirely) we all really enjoyed the process last time and I think we may have even learnt a thing or two... maybe. You can decide for yourself by checking out my post of our last tasting here

As usual I am continuing with my process of putting a Victorian Pinot up against a French Burgundy. Some may consider this an unfair battle but I personally think Victorian Pinot stands up quite well against their French counterparts. Actually they are often so different that comparison yields some quite interesting and stark differences. 

As the Victorian candidate this time I chose one of my personal favourites, Farr Rising Berry's Creek Gippsland Pinot Noir 2010. It's very well priced at $45 and to me is pure funk funk funk which I just love love love! The Farr Rising winemaker is Nick Farr, son of Gary Farr of By Farr wines. Nick's wines are a lower price bracket which obviously makes them much more attainable. I reckon they are great wines and great value. I'd love to purchase Victorian Pinots at the $100 mark but its so hard to justify when they are sold so young. I mean, I just can't wait 5 years. I want to drink it now!

So now to the hard part, here goes. The Farr Rising showed a dull clarity with a pale to medium intensity. We decided the colour was garnet and the condition clean. The wine displayed a pronounced intensity with an aroma that was predominately strawberry fruit and a sweetness that you could almost smell. The acidity was quite concentrated with a balanced chewiness. Flavourwise the Berry's Creek was mildly floral and mostly fruit with a distinct strawberry sweetness that was complimented perfectly by a musky forrest floor funkiness that has me pursing my cheeks in delight. Medium in body and length this wine showed no identifiable faults and a maturity of palate that belied its young age. The Berry's Creek is mid range Gippsland Pinot par excellence, a classic fruit and funk driven Victorian Pinot. I rated this wine good/great. It isn't an easy one to find and is definitely worth hunting down, I purchased this bottle from Blackhearts & Sparrows in East Brunswick. I can only imagine how good this wine will be in 5 years time. Come to think of it, I really should grab a half dozen and put them down for a few years.

In a completely different weight (and price) division is the Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Les Chaignots 2003. This bad boy was $105 from my local wine store Parkhill Cellars on Errol Street. These guys usually annoy me with their pretty shallow range of pinot under $30. Sure they have some very good expensive Pinot but I judge a wine store across all price brackets and Parkhill fails on this measure. In saying that, they do have a premium wine cabinet that I am only now developing the skills to full understand and therefore consider purchasing from. I spotted this bottle of Premier Cru sitting there dustily on the shelves and immediately recognised the Nuits-Saint-Georges from my evening of Burgundy Debauchery at our Sommelier friends house a few weeks earlier. I have learnt enough lately to identify that at $105 for a 2003 bottle of premier cru this was a bargain. I love the idea of 'shelf gleaning' (to borrow a term from Lauren) at wine stores to find those older bottles that have been sitting on the shelves for years maturing in quality yet still have the price tag they were given when they were stocked many years earlier. My suspicion was confirmed a few weeks later when I saw a 2009 vintage of the exact same wine for $131 at City Wine Store. 

The Les Chaignots was contrastingly different in appearance to the Berry's Creek. It displayed a crystal clarity with a deep intensity to its clean condition and mahogany colour. Unlike the 2008 Nuits Saint George Bourgogne I enjoyed a few weeks earlier there was no pungency to the initial nose, just a gorgeous pronounced smoky oak aroma with touches of peppery spice. On entry the Les Chaignots showed a medium level of acidity with a tightness that easily and smoothly dissipates into the palate. Much longer and fuller bodied than most Australian Pinot, it delivered a medium dry sweetness that perfectly complemented the smooth velvety tannins. I attribute these fine qualities to age and am once again left lamenting the scarcity of mature Australian Pinot. As I have come to expect from French Burgundy, the flavour was heavily spice driven, which after some discussion we agreed tended toward toasted cardamom. With its intense spice and smooth tannins I rated this wine outstanding. It is easily my benchmark for classic well aged Burgundy.  Now to save my pennies for a bottle of Grand Cru...

In conclusion, both wines were incredibly enjoyable and I felt the musky fruit driven Gippsland Pinot was the perfect lead in to the classically complex French 1er Cru Burgundy. You can read more about Domaine Robert Chevillon here

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Mae Khong River

he says:

Mae Khong River is a newcomer to the Victoria Street Thai scene having only opened about month ago, however I am very confident they will make a big impact. Mae Khong is possibly suffering a bit of an identity crisis due to the similar named CBD Vietnamese restaurant Pho Bo Ga Mekong (Bill Clinton had two bowls). The Mae Khong river is associated with Vietnam by most people however it actually originates in Tibet and flows though China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The northern Thai have a special affinity with the Mae Khong river and affectionately refer to it as Mother Khong. The section of the river that flows though Thailand is also famous for a natural annual phenomenon called Bung Fai Paya Naka or ‘Naka Fireball’. It’s a visual spectacle steeped in traditional folklore where fireballs appear to rise from the river and ascend into the sky. It is believed that the fireballs belong to the great serpent of the underwater world Phaya Nak and a festival is held each year in October to celebrate the event. You can see some images and more information here.

Mae Khong is the sister restaurant of another popular Victoria Street Thai establishment Tom Toon and is affectionately referred to by some as Tom Toon Too. I haven’t yet dined at Tom Toon so I can’t give a comparison of the two. Our two very friendly hosts and part owners khun Jeab and khun Khem explained that Mae Khong has mostly the same menu as Tom Toon with additional seafood specialty dishes that reflect the Isan background of the group of four owners.

Chicken Satay $7.90

To start things off we sampled a selection of delicious dishes from the Mae Khong appetizers starting with the Chicken Satay (Sateh Gai). I can vividly remember the first time I tasted satay way back at Expo 88 in Brisbane. Coming from a fairly sheltered food background in North Queensland it rocked my world! In those days the closest we came to international cuisine was our regular visit to the Sun Doo or Hong Kong Chinese restaurants for the standard order of Lemon Chicken, Honey King Prawns, Beef Black Bean etc… You get the idea. The satay chicken at Mae Khong was the Thai version, as you would expect, and much sweeter and stickier than what you find at Indonesian establishments. I love it, the Thai are so generous with their use of sugar in so many dishes and being a bit of a sugar junkie I think this is one of the reasons I love Thai food.

Stuffed Calamari $14.90

The next offering was another of my favourites, Stuffed Calamari. The stuffing is a mix of pork, carrot, glass noodles, lemongrass, pepper, garlic and the usual secret mix of spices. The blackened charring of the calamari is mouth-wateringly appetizing and maintaining the balance between achieving the scorched exterior while not overcooking the calamari is quite difficult to achieve. I find that the firmer texture of Thai chargrilled calamari takes a little getting used to as the flesh is not melt in the mouth tender like deep fried calamari however it certainly isn’t chewy, it’s just different. The wonderful limey salty seafood dipping sauce (Nahm Jim) is made fresh daily and really gives this dish a free kick right in front of the posts.

Gai Ping $9.90

Ribs are probably my favourite cut of chicken, and for me no visit to the Footscray Market is complete with purchasing at least a kilo. This is Mae Khong’s take on Gai Ping and it’s a great one. Gai Ping is usually cooked over charcoal but given the beautiful crunchy texture of the ribs I’m pretty sure it spent at least part of its cooking time in the deep fryer. Succulent tender crispy chicken and a tamarind chilli sauce with hint of plummy sourness, just sublime.

Som Tum Mee Krob $15.90

This impressive looking dish is Som Tum Mee Krob and is a Mae Khong specialty that I’ve never seen nor heard of previously. Khun Khem proudly informed me that Mae Khong chef and part owner khun Chuma is a past winner of a best som tum competition back in Thailand. I’m not sure if the award was for this particular variation of som tum but if I were a judge in such a competition this dish would be very difficult to go past for the top honour. I loved the flavours but also loved the creativity of combining crispy fried rice noodles with the crunchy fresh green papaya. The usual som tum suspects were also present, chewy dried prawns, acidic tomato, cashews, snake beans and Mae Khong’s specially made and very popular fried pork crisps (Khaep Moo) which make a decadent salty snack and are also available for take-away. 

Som tum is traditionally served with sticky rice (Khao Niaw) which is eaten by pinching small clumps in the fingertips and rolling it into little balls them dipping the chewy clumps into the som tam dressing. Mae Khong serve their own special version that was imparted with an earthy nuttiness thanks once again to the addition of secret ingredients.

Guay Jub Moo $11.90

The next two dishes are where things got very exciting for me. I am obsessed with Thai noodle soups, to me they are something of an enigma. The powerfully flavoured clear broths just send my taste buds into a dizzying frenzy. Spooning a mouthful of the exotic elixir triggers a heavenly sensation where my eyes involuntarily close and my head rolls back in rapture. 

The first of the two masterpieces of Thai cuisine that I sampled that evening was Guay Jub Moo. The magnificent pork broth is complemented by tender stewed pieces of fatty pork chops, sliced fish cake (Luk Chin Pla), morning glory (Pak Boong) and boiled quail eggs that when bitten burst their creamy yolk and send this dish to another dimension.

Yes, I really loved this dish but I am completely mad for Thai noodle soups and this was easily one of the best I have enjoyed in Melbourne. Guay Jab is typically eaten for breakfast in Thailand and traditionally it also contains various kinds of offal. OK now I love a noodle soup and like to think of myself as a food traditionalist but offal for breakfast, even I have to draw the line at that one! Thankfully the Mae Khong version didn’t contain any of those suspicious looking giblets. Another point of interest with Guay Jub is the use of curly flat rice noodles. This was yet another ingredient I’d never seen or read about before, yes the whole evening was quite a learning experience for me and I loved it! The noodles were texturally quite different with a buttery creaminess unlike any rice noodles I’ve previously eaten. I don’t remember seeing this dish on any Thai menu in Melbourne and for that reason alone it is worth the visit to Mae Khong.

Kuay Tiau Gai Sen Lek $9.90

I thought that the amazing Guaj Jub was going to be a hard act to follow and was tempering my expectations so as not to unfairly judge the next dish. I needn’t have bothered. Up next was Kuay Tiau Gai which immediately took up where the Guay Jub left off. This time the broth was chicken based and equally sublime with notes of cinnamon and five spice. Khun Khem advised me that the soup had already been seasoned by the chef and no further additions were necessary. The Thai custom as I understand it is to use a circle of seasonings (Kreuang Puang) consisting of fish sauce (Nahm Pla), chilli flakes (Prik Pom), chillies in vinegar (Prik Dong) and white sugar to season their noodle soups to each individual's personal taste in a similar way to the western use of salt and pepper. After the fantastic experience to that point I was more than willing to eat as instructed and did not attempt to adjust my broth with any seasonings. In addition to the perfectly seasoned chicken broth, further flavour was delivered by shredded chicken and spongy chicken balls. In Thailand most soup noodle vendors will allow you to select your preference of noodles from thin vermicelli rice noodles (Sen Mee), medium rice noodles as used in Pad Thai (Sen Lek), wide rice noodles as used in Pad See Euw (Sen Yai) or my personal favourite thin egg noodles (Bamee). Chef Chuma selected sen lek for this dish which is not what I normally choose but once again I was more than happy with his decision.

I rarely fault Thai food and my rating scale usually starts with ‘ok’ at the lower end and then heads north from there and I have been pretty open about the bias induced by my love of Thai noodle soups but I have to rate both these dishes as absolutely outstanding! Even more exciting is that Mae Khong also serve an Egg Noodle Soup with Duck (Kuay Tiau Ped Bamee) that I will be returning for very soon.

Pla Yum $30.90

By this stage we were completely full but out of some kind of extreme hospitality that khun Khem insisted was the Thai way she appeared with yet another dish! And not just any dish, a whole deep fried Barramundi served with a mint and coriander salad (Pla Yum). I had joked to friends that this reviewing game was a tough job and at that point I felt like I was literally eating my words! The deep fried fish was cooked in what I have come to accept as the Thai style, meaning that it was cooked until quite crispy which leaves the flesh not as moist as you typically expect. I’ve become accustomed to this style of preparation and have learned to enjoy the crunchiness of the fried skin and find that the dipping sauce imparts a moistness that offsets the slight dryness of the flesh. The accompanying salad is wonderfully Thai with freshness delivered by the aromatic herbs and a wonderful lingering flavour imbued by the lime, chilli and fish sauce dressing.

Deep Fried Pastry with Banana Dumplings and Ice Cream $9.90

Khun Khem is a wonderful host who I felt really treats her customers like they were guests in her own home. I witnessed her friendly affable interactions with other tables as well as our own. She is very hospitable but also very persuasive, although given our weakness for Thai desserts her rebuff of our somewhat half-hearted calls for ‘no more please’ was not completely her fault. After her cheeky offer of ‘just one more small dessert’ we succumbed and were brought a delicious creation of Deep Fried Pastry with Banana Dumplings (Khao Tom Mud) and Ice Cream drizzled in sweet condensed milk. Like our dining experience that evening, this post seems like it has gone on and on so I will attempt to wrap it up. The dessert was excellent, not too heavy with a myriad of textures ranging from chewy to crunchy to creamy, just wonderful! I particularly liked the banana dumping and if you have never tried the Thai preparation of banana with sticky rice I strongly suggest that you remedy that omission.

In conclusion, I’ll keep it brief. If you love authentic Thai food get to Mae Khong at your first opportunity, I’m very sure you won’t be disappointed.

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.

Mae Khong River on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Tom Phat

she says:

Saturday morning we were excited to wake up and go out for breakfast to a place in Carlton that we had been told about called Middle Fish.  It is a rarity for us to go out for breakfast on the weekend so we were really looking forward to it.  Charlie wakes with the birds so we were out very early only to discover that Middle Fish didn't open until 10am.  Ouch.........but disappointment only lasted a few minutes as Andy of course had a back up plan!  Enter Tom Phat.........

After a short drive to Sydney Rd we arrived at Tom Phat.  Upon arrival I was immediately excited!  The fit out was very cool and the front window seat was a lounge with cushions - perfect seating for a lazy Saturday morning.

After ordering coffees (which were excellent by the way) we ordered Black Sticky Rice with Mango, Coconut and Jaggery Yoghurt and Viet Eggs with Hanoi Baguette (we also ordered good old poached eggs and toast for Charlie and she was suitably impressed - well the eggs ended up all over her which is a sign of a very satisfied toddler).

They were out of Hanoi Baguettes for the Viet eggs so they served it with roti instead which we thought was a master stroke.  We love roti and it is not as filling as a baguette.  The fried eggs were nice and crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle which is just how we like them and the chilli soy dressing added a really nice flavour to the dish.  I will leave it to Andy to explain more on the Viet eggs as I did only have a taste - I was hanging to dive into my Sticky rice!

The Black Sticky Rice with Mango and Yoghurt was unbelievable!  The black sticky rice was lovely and plump and the yoghurt had a sharp sourness to it which I really enjoyed.  My favourite part of the dish was the placement of the mango.  There was a sort of mashed mango on top which was cool in temperature and then on the bottom there was chunks of warm mango!  When I first dipped my spoon into the bottom and tasted a piece of the warm mango I was in heaven!  This is a dish that starts off great and ends up amazing!  A perfect (and a bit indulgent) breaky!

We really enjoyed our morning at Tom Phat and I know we will be back soon.  It looks like it would be a great place to go for dinner and a few drinks....they have another room next door to the room we were in and again it has an interesting fit out with a what looks to be a well stocked bar.  This room was not really open when we were there in the morning (lights were off) but I couldn't help taking a few pics.

Tom Phat
184 Sydney Rd
Ph. 9381 2374

Tom Phat on Urbanspoon

Monday, 7 May 2012

Speedy Banh Mi

he says:

Most readers will already know about my love of Vietnamese Banh Mi, on a weekend I can often be found negotiating the masses at Nhu Lan in Footscray. I often lament the lack of a decent CBD Banh Mi option. Actually I lament the fact that my office isn't located in Footscray! Imagine the lunch options.... N Lee are the standard CBD banh mi provider and they do a pretty good job of the simple sliced pork roll banh mi and also quite a good meatball option and I don't mind paying the $6.50 which many see as an exorbitant price for banh mi but I justify it that it stacks up pretty well against the price of a standard meat and salad roll and punches out about 10 times the flavour.

I was recently tipped off (Thanks Amy!) about a new CBD banh mi player in a little foodcourt at the Spencer Street end of Collins street (546 Collins to be exact). The day after receiving the recommendation I headed down there to check it out.

The place is called Speedy's and they offer 6 different choices of banh mi but the special players for me are the grilled chicken and grilled pork. You can't get these anywhere else in the CBD so it's worth a visit just to try them out. All rolls are $4.90 which is pretty competitive and they also have a combo can of drink deal for $6.50. There is also a smoothie combo deal for $9.95.

I opted for the grilled pork and was very pleased that I did. My roll was packed full of pork which is a nice change from Nhu Lan where they are a bit more traditionally skimpy with the meat. I say traditionally I as I must have eaten a dozen different versions of banh mi when we were in Vietnam and all of them were totally wonderful but light on the meat. I also really liked that Speedy used a Nuoc Mam sauce rather than the N Lee style Maggi seasoning compromise. It just doesn't cut it for me and given that Nuoc Mam is so easy to make and really sets off a banh mi the use of Maggi seasoning doesn't make sense.

The only downside to the Speedy Banh Mi offering was the roll, it was not quite as good as N Lee and therefore even further short of the high quality crispy and crunchy but still soft inside offering of Nhu Lan. This isn't a deterrent though, the Speedy product is of a high standard and definitely worth the $4.90. I have a feeling that on a different day the roll might have more freshness and the banh mi would  be that much better for it. Nhu Lan rolls are the benchmark in my opinion so its tough to make the comparison, especially as Speedy's clearly don't have the room or scale of operation to bake their own. As I don't work in Footscray and often crave banh mi I'm more than happy to make this small compromise.

Speedy Juice Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Oriental Spirit

he says: 

Oriental Spirit is one of a number of excellent Thai restaurants in the Hoddle street end of Victoria Street, Richmond. This area contains one of the highest concentrations of Thai restaurants in Melbourne and is a must visit for any foodie who takes their Thai food seriously. If you use a bit of imagination this stretch of Victoria Street could be any of the Sois off Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok. Only the frequent tram’s constantly rumbling past remind you that you are still in glorious Melbourne.

Before opening Oriental Spirit over 7 years ago, owner and chef Krisada ran his own restaurant back in the Isan region capital of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Although Oriental Spirit specialises in Thai cuisine, khun Krisada also offers an interesting selection of non-Thai dishes including Curry Laksa, Peking Duck and Fish Chilli Sambal. That said, it is his Thai offerings that he is most proud of.

For our visit he recommended a delightful selection of dishes starting with Oysters with Lemongrass which is his take on Modern Thai cuisine, a cooking style that I broadly define as a blend of western food styling and traditional Thai flavours and cooking techniques.  The Oysters in Lemongrass are an excellent showcase of chef Krisada’s interpretation of these cultural combinations, served in a traditional clay kanom krok cooking implement, the immaculate presentation would not be out of place at any of Melbourne’s high end south east asian restaurants.

Oysters with Lemongrass $11.90

The oysters are served partially heated leaving them not quite raw and not quite cooked. I found this quite an interesting decision however I felt that the subtle heating assisted to bring out the flavour of the wonderfully spicy sweet lemongrass and ginger scented sauce in which they were served. The sweetness was offset nicely by the saltiness of the oysters and the accompanying kick of chilli gave a casual (and I suspect unintentional) hat tip to an oyster bloody mary.

The next dish to arrive was the beautifully presented Pineapple Fried Rice (khao pad siparot). The presentation of this dish will be familiar to most who have visited Thailand, a hollowed out pineapple stuffed full of sumptuous fried rice with sweet chunks of pineapple. On feasting my eyes on this wonderful creation I was immediately scouring the table for my pina colada! Khao pad is a staple for the Thai however most will not take their daily dose of khao pad presented with such splendour.

Pineapple Fried Rice $17.90

Aside from the presentation, this flashed up version of khao pad definitely delivers on taste with juicy whole king prawns and moist pieces of chicken thighs providing the substance to partner the gorgeously wok smoky fried rice. Khun Krisada’s version of khao pad is not particularly spicy but rather more on the sweet side thanks to the addition of sultanas and of course pineapple. The use of lovely nutty salty cashews, sweet shredded pork and crunchy textural snake beans make this version of fried rice unmistakably Thai. In additional to providing visual appeal, the pineapple also serves as a very functional serving vessel that seemed to have no end. I found this dish deceptively large and had to return to it a number of times until I finally caught a few glimpses of pineapple flesh beneath the rice that indicated the end was nigh.

Our final dish for the evening (or so we thought) was the one that we were most excited about, Crispy Papaya Salad (som tum thod). Som tum is definitely as Isan specialty and it is very common in Bangkok to see groups of construction workers from the north enjoying fierily hot bowls of this for their lunch. Aside from it being a traditional favourite of the Isan people its inexpensiveness makes it very accessible to the lower income workers. Street food vendors who serve som tum will almost always also sell grilled chicken (gai yang) and those with means will eat the two together while those without receive their protein from the dried shrimps that add a contrasting chewy texture to the crunchy shredded green papaya.

Som Tum Thod $13.90

I love a good som tum as much as the next person but what got me salivating in excitement was chef Krisada’s version of this traditional Isan dish. The word ‘thod’ in Thai means fried which confused me a bit at first as I though that ‘pad’ meant fried as in khao pad where khao is rice and pad is fried. I’m still not completely sure but I have decided that pad is for food that is wok fried and thod for food fried in any other cooking implement.

In the thod version of som tum the shredded green papaya and carrot is deep fried to achieve a wonderfully crisp crunchy texture and divine flavour that is even further enhanced by the zesty, sweet and very spicy dressing. Thai chefs guard their dressing recipes very zealously and I was unable to pry much information from khun Krisada as to its construction. My palate detected lime juice, palm sugar and fish sauce but there’s no great revelation there as these three ingredients are used in almost all Thai dressings and dipping sauces. Earthy peanuts, acidic tomatoes, chewy dried shrimps and spicy chillies added further complexity to this very special variant of som tum. 

Thai Bitter Leaf $2.50 each

Perhaps our host felt our excitement for his efforts or perhaps he was just feeling generous as even though our appetites were well and truly satiated he brought forward one last wonderful creation from his kitchen. The Oriental Spirit menu lists this magnificent snack as Thai Bitter Leaf (miang kham). Typically in my experience a betel leaf is used for wrapping up the contents of this little parcel of goodness. The Oriental Spirit version uses a pak kana (Chinese broccoli) leaf, which I felt was an interesting variation. In any case, the wrapping is merely a support act for the symphony of flavour and texture contained within its folds. The myriad of ingredients make identifying any individual element very difficult however chef Krisada very kindly informed me that I was enjoying a blend of galangal, ginger, palm sugar, chilli, lime, shallots, cashews, toasted shredded coconut, chilli and a sublime sticky sweet sauce of gapi (shrimp paste), tamarind, sugar and I’m sure a few more secret ingredients.

While I had noticed Oriental Spirit on previous visits to Richmond I hadn’t identified it as a Thai restaurant, perhaps that’s due to the name Oriental Spirit which doesn’t leap out at you as sounding particularly Thai or maybe its just that I’m not very observant. I’m sometimes a bit averse to restaurants that try and combine multiple cuisines. Personally, I preference specialisation over diversification. In saying that, Oriental Spirit has given me cause to reassess. I’m still not sure it would be my choice if I had a craving for Laksa but after meeting khun Krisada and tasting some of his food I am comfortable recommending Oriental Spirit to those wanting to try a modern take on Thai cuisine without the high prices of some of the high end CBD southeast asian restaurants. 

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. 

Oriental Spirit on Urbanspoon