20 Campbell Street, Haymarket (map)
(02) 9211 1808
My first night in Sydney, my dear friend C picked me up from the airport and drove me back to his Pyrmont apartment to meet his new partner W and to share a bottle of (very nice) champagne. The three of us then made our way over to Thai Town, the Thai-centric part of Haymarket, where they introduced me to the delights of the ultra-popular Chat Thai.
Bookings can be made, but mostly it's a DIY reservation system where you arrive, write down your name, number of people, whether or not you're happy to share a table and your time of arrival. Then you tear off your number and wait for it to be called.
The charming C, waiting by the kitchen for our table while W went off to buy a bottle of white wine.
The bustling interior of the restaurant, filled with a good mix of students, Thais and others. Not only is it open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, it's open for supper until 2am... it's almost like being back in South East Asia!
We started with some skewers: loug chin ping (meatballs with nahm jim) and mu bhing (char grilled pork marinated in galangal, lemongrass and garlic and nahm jim jeaw, which is a relish made of ground rice, roasted chillies, palm sugar, tamarind essence and tomatoes). $2 per skewer, packed full of punchy flavour. Marvellous.
The sai grog essan ($10) were gorgeous fat little pork and rice sausages (left to ferment for days), fried and served with fresh cabbage and ginger. We also had a fantastic larpb gai (only $8!!).
The juicy poached ling fillets were topped with a handful of fresh Chinese celery and served with a zesty side relish of garlic and bean sauce ($14.90). The pad thai with prawns was $12.90 (but had we ordered it with chicken or tofu it would have been only $8.90).
A woman up at the open kitchen at the front of the restaurant was preparing par thung go (a type of fluffy donut stick) then frying it up.
A bowl heaped with par thung go was placed by the cash register along with a dipping bowl of warmed green pandan custard, as a delicious free snack for passing patrons.
For dessert, C and W insisted we order the mango sticky rice ($7.50) and the coconut ice cream ($5). We ate like kings and our bill came to less than $90 for the three of us.
The following day I went for late lunch with my Sydney hostess, the gorgeous Miss C, to Sujet Saenkham and Padet Nagsalab's new Issan-style restaurant House (on the strength of a Twitter recommendation from the lovely Eatnik).
202-210 Elizabeth St, Surry Hills (map)
(02) 9280 0364
On my recent trip to Thailand I became addicted to som tam (green papaya salad), a dish that is sadly rare in Melbourne Thai restaurants. Imagine my joy when I opened the House menu to find not one but FIVE varieties of som tam to choose from! We went with the som tum Lao ($8), the one with fermented fish sauce and shrimp paste.
Papaya salad and Miss C, looking pretty.
Issan street food is known for its heat, and the larb nua ($12) was no exception. Minced beef with eshallot, shallot, Vietnamese coriander, mint, ground roasted rice, ground chilli and lime. Here - here! - is the heat missing from so many Melbourne Thai restaurants. It was so hot it practically made us cry (so we munched lots of cucumber and sticky rice to compensate), but was also deliciously sour and salty. More please.
DUCK. Although the dish was similar, I couldn't resist also ordering the larb ped ($18, the most expensive thing on the menu) as I'd never tried duck in a larb before. Oh SWEET LORD it was good, my tastebuds water at the memory of it. We also really enjoyed the gai yang (char grilled marinated chicken, $16), served with a jim-jaew dipping sauce.
Because we got there at about 2:30pm on a weekday afternoon it wasn't particularly crowded - but I understand it gets packed in the evenings, transforming into a happy Thai beer garden (the pub next door sells beer and wine which you can bring into House). As much as I like Saenkham and Nagsalab's other culinary success story, Spice I Am, I think I like House even more. Sigh!