Shop 18/11-19 Ferguson St, Williamstown. Phone: 9397 5484
On leaving Wild Rice after a really fine lunch, we troop up Ferguson St for a coffee at what turns out to be a hidey-hole of the Italian variety that we resolve to explore in further depth at the earliest possible opportunity.
As well, well-known Italian chef Rosa Mitchell is busy injecting Sicilian zest into the Hobson’s Bay Hotel, just opposite Wild Rice, though the prices we scan in the display menu outside put that joint into the “special occasion” bracket for us.
So maybe we’re being a touch harsh in our long-running disdain for Willy as a dining destination.
Still, it remains odd to us that a suburb so stuffed with eateries should have found so little place in our hearts, compared to, say, nearby Altona and Newport.
We’ve liked Wild Rice for a while, though, and are always pleased to return.
After visiting Snowballs Ice-Cream, we’d headed for Altona for a Viet/Sino place that turned out to be closed for Saturday lunch.
Further rambling was rejected in the interest of a safe bet in Willy.
Wild Rice is a swell Thai place with an elegant cafe-style vibe quite a way removed from that of many low-price places we frequent.
The service, we’ve found, is always swift and smiling.
The night-time a la carte list would stretch our budget – salads around the $15 mark, curries and stir fries from about $16 to $20 and up depending on your choice of protein.
So naturally, we head for the “lunch specials” list, which is available from noon to 5pm.
This features pad thai, tom yum and red curry noodle soups, and fried noodles for around $13-15.
But again, and happily for our wallets, we are drawn to the cheaper dishes.
Bennie will never say “no” to satay of any kind, so says yes here to the chicken stay and rice ($11.50)
The meat on his four skewers is a little hard to remove from the wood, but he loves it anyway. The satay sauce is a on the skimpy side, but tastes grand – it has a really distinctive flavour that speaks, we presume, of some real care and lack of shot cuts in the kitchen.
The rice and salad bits are good.
My “savoury pancakes” ($11.50) are actually a single rice flour pancake of the kind familiar to us from its counterpart in Vietnamese restaurants.
This one is a blast and half. It’s bloody good, with Bennie casting envious glances as his dad barely suppresses moans of pleasure. The stuffing is a just-right mix beans sprouts and minced pork. The salad quotient, provided by lettuce, carrot strands, mint and fresh coriander, is likewise near perfect. The whole dish is set off by being dressed with a beaut housemade sweet chilli sauce.
We really like the way both our meals treat the herbs as more than just a matter of garnish – the coriander and mint are sufficiently copious to make them full team members.
A couple of commentators at the Wild Rice entry on Urbanspoon opine that the restaurant is the “worst Thai food in the West” and “Thai food for people that don’t want the authenticity”.
The first comment is, I feel, on pretty shaky ground.
The second quip? I simply don’t know enough about Thai food to offer an authoritative judgment. But based on the non-bottle flavour of Bennie’s satay sauce and the simple, profound pleasures of my pancake, I suspect Wild Rice may actually be among the most authentic Thai places going around.