Banana Leaf

Basement level, Silom Complex, Silom Rd, Bangkok

One of the things about Bangkok that is a little hard to believe if you haven’t been there before is that there is good food to be found in shopping centres. I guess it’s that way in a lot of Asian metropolises, really. My friends took me to this place when we met up in Bangkok.

We had a few dishes to share, starting off with an oyster omelette and some stir-fried vegies. The omelette was alright, but really did need that sweet sauce which accompanied it. There seemed to be some concoction of cornflour mixed through the egg too, which left it teeling a little gluey. The actual oysters were good, though. I love a country where oysters aren’t considered a total luxury. The mixed vegetables were a bit boring, and far too oily.

We also had the Penang chicken curry, which was aromatic and spicy, but not overly so. It was what I would call a modest curry; it didn’t bowl you over, but was pleasantly satisfying.
The star of the show, however, was the twice-cooked pork hock. Roasted, and then braised, topped with chinese mushrooms, bamboo shoots and chives, the flavour of this dish was rich and deep, without being overly salty. The accompanying green sauce (something vaguely raita-esque) wasn’t really necessary.

Pum Thai Cooking School

Patong, Phuket, Thailand.

We stopped in at this cooking school on the main road through Patong (the back road, not the beach drag) because we had an hour and a half to kill before the movie we were going to see, and needed to get dinner anyway. Seeing as they had express classes, where you cook two dishes in 45 minutes, it was pretty serendipitous.

I have to say up front, the express classes probably aren’t the best, especially if you want to learn more than a process. All of the prep work is done for you, which speeds things up, but takes away the learning opportunities – asking questions about ingredients and learning prep tricks is half the fun of a cooking class I think – and it wasn’t much more than a hands-on version of watching a cooking show. That being said, it was still fun.

Mr N (seen above) cooked a green chicken curry, which was tasty, but a little too sweet for my liking. I should stress here that it wasn’t his fault, as you’re pretty much coached through exactly how much of each ingredient to use, so the result is pretty uniform. The recipes are just need some refining. The pad Thai Mr N also made was OK, but surprisingly had no tamarind in it at all, and the egg was fried separately to the rest of the dish, and not incorporated into the noodles. Weird. Mr N was also quite sure that the green curry was the source of his gastrointestinal problems for the next couple of days, but we ate a lot of stuff on holiday, so it’s hard to be sure.

I made the tom yum goong, which was pretty uninspired – we just used a tom yum paste, and the prawns weren’t of great quality – to the point I didn’t even take a photo of it. I also made a pad see-ewe, which was not bad, but again, I followed the recipe, and it was a bit too sweet for me.

I think that the longer classes would be more educational, as one includes a market visit, so I’d presume you get to do all the prep yourself. I think next time I do a Thai cooking class, I’m definitely going to learn to make curry paste from scratch.

Thanh Thanh

246A Victoria St, Richmond
Phone: 9428 5633

In an effort to be competently able to recommend restaurants along Victoria St, Recently Mr N and I went to Thanh Thanh – sneaking in a quick dinner before a movie at Victoria Gardens – one of hte things I love about Vietnamese restaurants in this strip is that you generally don’t have to wait long for your food. Thanh Thanh is no exception.

Mr N had the com chien bo luc lac (fried rice with cubed steak) and I had the perennial benchmark dish com tam suon dac biet (broken rice special – with a pork chop, egg/pork pate, shredded pork skin, and a fried egg).

The steak was in an unnecessarily salty sauce (given that it’s accompanied by a dish of salt and pepper and a lemon wedge, for dipping) and the fried rice was OK, but not spectacular. The broken rice was similarly pedestrian – the banh trung was overly salty, and had too meaty a texture for my liking. And the fried egg had a solid yolk! Part of a good com tam suon in my opinion is the runny yolk mixing with the dusty pork skin, creating a textural powerhouse of a sauce which coats the tiny grains of broken rice. Not this time, I guess.

Reading back over my various reviews of Vietnamese restaurants, I’m starting to think my expectations might be too high! But there are the odd few places that do completely satisfy me, so maybe I’m not *too* unreasonable. Thanh Thanh was not bad – good service and reasonable food, but I wouldn’t recommend it above other Victoria St stars like Vi’em, Co Do or Thanh Ha 2. They’re all similarly good value.

Thanh Thanh on Urbanspoon

Lanna Thai

65 Flemington Rd, North Melbourne
Phone: 9329 2960

This is another of the restaurants near my work, which my colleagues and I visit semi-regularly, when someone has a birthday to celebrate. Every time we go there, they’re pretty busy, but I’m not sure if it’s the quality of the food or the paucity of options in the immediate area. The food’s not bad, but it’s not on my list of favourite Thai restaurants in town. I’ve also been warned to be skeptical of any restaurant that references itself as Northern Thai (lanna means North).

The last time we went, I got the ol’ iPhone out and snapped just about everyone’s food. Exhibits A and B: Thai beef salad, and chicken pad Thai.

I had the chicken pad Thai that day. I was feeling a little uninspired, so went for the safe option. Also, I think pad Thai is a good way to benchmark a Thai restaurant in Melbourne (even though the best pad Thai is almost always street food in Thailand). Lanna Thai’s version was disappointing. A little bland, and lacking in the wok hei (Cantonese for wok air, or wok breath, which essentially refers to smokiness and the aromas which come from slight charring of the ingredients when they hit the searing hot wok).

Exhibits C & D: Chicken wrapped in pandanus leaves, and chicken pad see-ewe.

Exhibits E & F: The curries. A prawn Massaman curry, and a green chicken curry. I had the green curry on a previous visit. It’s good, but lacks a kick. In their defence, I didn’t ask for it spicy (though neither did I ask for it mild). I do love the little ramekins, which come on matching porcelain stands.

Exhibit H: The birthday girl finished off her lunch with banana in sticky rice with ice cream.

Lanna Thai on Urbanspoon

Red Spice Road

27 McKillop Street, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9603 1601

I’ve heard a lot about this place since my return from Viet Nam, but it’s taken a year to finally visit it. A restaurant serving a South-East Asian inspired menu, with an adjoining bar which serves cocktail jugs? Yes, please. The place has a great, stylish feel to it, and the service is impeccable. I finally met up with some friends for a few post-work drinks, and bar snacks. I look forward to going back and having a proper meal there.

We sipped our way through a few cocktail jugs (the Fruit Jungle is better than the Red Spice Road Mojito), and we decided it was time for some snacks, before going our separate ways for dinner. We ordered the betel leaf with salmon, lemongrass, chilli and kaffir lime. It was tasty, and all gone too soon. The salmon roe on top were a nice touch. We also ordered the corn and chive fritters, which were a little ugly, and to be honest, rather forgettable.

Red Spice Road on Urbanspoon

Thaila Thai

82 Lygon St, East Brunswick
9387 0659

Thaila Thai’s been one of my favourites for going on a decade now, back when I used to live around the corner from it. Massive serves of delicious curries and stir fries, with vegetables on the crunchy side of cooked are a winner with me. As are the very reasonable prices, which have slowly crept up in recent years, but are still relatively cheap.

I went there with my family not so long ago, which was interesting, because my parents owned restaurants for about 20 years before retiring recently, and are nothing if not tough critics when dining out. I guess that’s where I get it from. This occasion we had Kai Pad Gra Pow(chicken stir-fried with basil and chilli), Yum Nuer Yang (a spicy beef salad), the Pad Thai Moo (with pork) and at dad’s behest, a Gang Lamb (slow-cooked lamb curry).

The stir fry was tasty, the salad refreshing, and the pad Thai particularly moreish. The lamb curry was a bit odd; not bad, just not particularly Thai style, and I’ve been informed by a friend who’s been a Thai ex-pat for 5 years that lamb isn’t a traditionally used meat in Thai food, by any means.

If you get the chance (or if you’re getting take away) watch the cooks in action – it’s an interesting assembly line process where one cook starts off the meat, one deals with the vegies, and one sauces the dish. Not unlike a Western kitchen, I guess, but sort of novel in an Asian restaurant.

Thaila Thai on Urbanspoon

$15 express lunch at Fifteen

115 – 117 Collins Street, Melbourne –
Phone: 1300 799 415

I’ve been holding off from writing this review for a while, because I was a little conflicted – while I don’t always write positive reviews, it’s rare that I’ll be flat-out negative. Unfortunately, this lunch was pretty bad. @jetsettingjoyce seems to agree. I’m thinking, hoping, wishing, praying that it was just a bad day at the restaurant, but with head chef Tobie Puttock actually in the kitchen that day, I’m not so sure. I do really like the ethics behind the restaurant – they train up disadvantaged youth to get careers in hospitality – but it seems there are other places doing the same thing, with better results. Charcoal Lane comes to mind.

The misadventure started off with a broccoli and potato soup. It was extremely oversalted, and full of woody pieces of broccoli stalk. Now I’m not of the opinion you should be using the florets only – far from it, I eat the stalk all the time – but there’s a reason you painstakingly peel the thicker parts of broccoli stalks. They don’t just look like little trees for nothing.

I was hoping for redemption by pasta, but was sorely disappointed. The orrechiette with veal ragu was similarly underwhelming. The serves were minuscule, and while the pasta itself was quite good, it came out on the luke side of warm, which meant the fat in the veal mince had started to solidify, producing an unpleasant, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth feel.

I sampled some of Joyce’s vegetarian option – gnocchi with a spicy capsicum sauce. Conversely to the orrechiette, the sauce was good, but the gnocchi was overcooked and mushy. Again, the serving size was tiny.

I have had some friends who have been to Fifteen for dinner, and loved the experience, but I’d have to say I’m not inspired by my visit there. I understand that a $15 express lunch is pretty cheap for this type of restaurant, but cheap shouldn’t equate to nasty. I honestly hope it was just an aberrant lunch service, but I’m not really game to spend the money to try my luck again. Sorry Tobie.

Fifteen Melbourne on Urbanspoon

Nasi Lemak House

115 grattan St, Carlton
Phone: none!

A Carlton institution for the last six years, Nasi Lemak House never fails to satisfy me (and countless others who live, work or study in the vicinity of Melbourne University). Although it is open at night, I more often than not find myself there for lunch, when it’s wise to arrive a few minutes before the hour, to grab a table before the lunch-hour regulated hordes descend.

The staple of Nasi Lemak House is the eponymous nasi lemak. Of course, NLH has thirteen variants on this dish, if you include the vegetarian versions. On a recent visit, my friend @tammois ordered the Nasi Lemak Langkawi. Coconut rice, sambal, ikan bilis (fried anchovies), peanuts and a fried egg, topped with a pappadum. The Langkawi variant has fried calamari with a sweet and spicy sauce, in place of the traditional fried chicken drumstick. @tammois didn’t even come close to finishing the whole dish.

While I enjoy the nasi lemak from time to time, I usually find myself distracted by the Malaysian hawker dishes on the menu, such as the Char Kuay Teow, Wat Dan Hor Fun or the Laksa. This time, I tried the Malaysian Loh Mien. It’s hokkien noodles in a slightly sour gravy/soup, with mixed seafood and bok choy. To be honest, I was a little disappointed. The gravy was a rather non-descript savoury falvour, and seemed to lack the tartness I was expecting from the menu description. It could probably quite easily been saved by the addition of chilli or a lemon wedge, but I think next time I’ll go back to the laksa or the char kuay teow.

More photos of subsequent visits.
Nasi Lemak House on Urbanspoon

Dinner party eats – made by me!

This post should have been up a couple of months ago, but such is the backlog of photography which needs wordage applied!

It was a warm summer’s eve, so we started with a corn gazpacho, accompanied by avocado and cheese quesadillas.

Followed by a (shudder) Donna Hay recipe. Grilled yoghurt and chilli (Milawa free-range) chicken thighs, accompanied by a roasted cherry tomato and cannellini bean mash, and a rocket and peach salad.

I reprised the baked peach in filo nests for dessert, only this time topping with Sara Lee Toffee Crunch ice cream instead of the pistachio ricotta yoghurt.