85 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills (map)
(02) 9280 2888
Spice I am
90 Wentworth Ave, Sydney (corner Campbell and Elizabeth streets) (map)
(02) 9280 0928
One of the friends of F's that I met at the Bjork concert was Ross Dobson, Sydney writer and food stylist (his new book, Kitchen Seasons: easy recipes for seasonal organic food, looks great and I'm going to buy it next time I'm in a bookshop - you should too!). I talked a little to Ross about food and asked him to recommend somewhere for us to eat the following night, "nothing haute cuisine or outrageously expensive, but something I couldn't get in Melbourne". When I confirmed that I love Thai food, he suggested dinner at Spice I Am prefaced by cocktails at Longrain. Thanks for the suggestion, Ross!
Okay, so technically one CAN get Longrain cocktails in Melbourne, now that there's a Longrain restaurant south of the border. In fact just a few months ago I had some great Longrain cocktails, especially the Red Dragon, in Melbourne. Nevertheless, F and I happily trotted to Surry Hills to check out the original. The bar area was less slick than its Melbourne counterpart, but the Sydneysiders filling it were more beautiful and dressed up (or fashionably dressed down) than we get in our humble neck of the woods down south... :)
Cocktails were $15.50 and we started with a Hanoi Hooker (ginger vodka, fresh pineapple juice, ginger, caramel syrup, fresh lime, apple juice) and a Mekong Mist (vodka, fresh lemongrass, lychee, rose syrup, lemon and apple juice). I haaaate requesting cocktails with sleazy names, it makes me feel about 14 years old. But F's Hanoi Hooker tasted great - my Mekong Mist was a little too sickly-sweet lychee-intense (as well as the juice, there were something like 5 whole lychees inside the damn thing) for my liking.
Our dining companion, J, was running late from work so we ordered some crispy chicken with yellow bean soy dressing ($14) from the bar menu to snack on while we were waiting. It was sinful and delicious, and the sauce had a stickiness to it that I really liked.
I much preferred my second cocktail, the West Indies Martini (gin, fresh cucumber, West Indies spiced syrup)... F's second cocktail was the Geisha (champagne, hibiscus and rose syrup with wild hibiscus flower). Finally J arrived, so we left Longrain just as it was getting really crowded and strolled down to Spice I Am, stopping on the way in a bottle-o to pick up a T'Gallant Pinot Grigio - selected both out of geographic loyalty (my family used to part-own a Mornington Peninsula vineyard) and because I figured it would be able to handle the spicy food.
Open since 2004, Spice I Am is hardly the NKOTB any more, but a bit of googlestalking (erm, "research") informs me that famously-fickle Sydney diners still seem to hold it in pretty high esteem. The restaurant is wedged between two backpackers at the city end of Surry Hills and the decor is no-frills, but the food is consistently cited as some of the most authentic Thai food you'll find anywhere outside of Thailand. F and I had cunningly put our name down for an 8:15pm table before going to Longrain, so we were able to just swan in at the appointed hour... but some of the people queuing for a table when we arrived were still waiting when we left!
We started with a serve of Mieng Kuay Teaw ($7.90). Roughly translated as "wrapped noodles", the dish consisted of sliced pork, bean sprouts, chilli and mint wrapped securely in flat rice noodle. Very fresh and tasty - I wish I'd asked what was in the delicious green dipping sauce.
We opted for the Larb Gai as our salad ($13.90) - minced chicken salad with grounded roasted rice, lemon juice, mint leaves and spring onion. It was a little salty, but the roasted rice was ground just right, not too fine or too coarse (by the by, have you ever tried to make larb gai at home only to discover you have no mortar and pestle with which to grind up your roasted rice? I promise you that trying to use a marble rolling pin as a substitute will produce hilarious results).
The Pla Sam Rot was even better. It was deep fried whole fish (sand whiting, methinks, but I'm happy to be corrected) topped with sweet and sour chilli sauce ($25.90). This one was very spicy, but, unlike the meal I had recently at Cookie, the good folk of the Spice I Am kitchen managed to balance the other sweet and sour flavours so that the chilli didn't overwhelm the dish.
My favourite dish, however, would have to be the Red Duck Curry ($24.90) - and not just because it was served inside a huge coconut. I loved the tenderness of the duck, the veggies (not too often you get to see green Thai Eggplant in a dish, at least not in the restaurants I've been visiting as of late), plus I loved the curry sauce which was rich and spicy but not too gluggy with coconut cream (as is so often the case, eh?). Lovely food, and F and J were lovely company! :)
Ross was right - I don't know where I could get Thai food this good (and relatively cheap) in Melbourne. Does anyone have any suggestions?