Above average suburban Thai

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Saha Thai Cafe, 431 Macaulay Road, Kensington. Phone: 9913 3663

To the CTS way of thinking, Macaulay Road in Kensington is something of an under-achiever in the food stakes.

So we’re way happy to be tipped to the existence of this cool Thai joint by colleague David.

It’s not on the shopping strip but across the train tracks and down the hill where things get very commercial/industrial very fast.

Anyone who passes this way with any regularity know how nutty the traffic situation can be.

Macaulay Road seems to be a rat run avenue mid-way between the more usual arterials of Racecourse and Dynon roads.

Nevertheless, in two visits to Saha, there’s been ample parking available on the other side of the road from the cafe.

 

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Saha is a superior version of your typical neighbourhood Thai restaurant – I bet the inhabitants of the residential backwaters around here are very happy about its arrival.

As far as I can see, there is nothing really unusual on the menu, but what there is comes out well done, at good prices and served with smiles.

One could take the view that this a basically a takeaway place that has some capacity to do eat-in.

On the other hand, with its handful of lovely dark-wood tables and white-enamelled chairs, far better to think of it as a casual and cool cafe.

 

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I’m told the veggie curry puffs ($6) are made on the premises but as always it’s hard to actually tell for sure – maybe they mean cooked in-house?

In any case, with their flaky pastry and good fillings, these are beaut.

 

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Yes, the fish cakes are rubbery but in a nice way.

They also boast a nice spice kick and a pronounced tang of coriander.

The sweet chilli sauce is, I think, store-bought but tarted up in-house.

 

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Saha chicken salad ($13) finds a mildly-spiced and juicy chicken mince jumble atop supermarket leaves.

It’s all fresh and works good.

 

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Massaman curry ($14.50) is the spiciest of our selections but not overly so.

The sauce is rich, dark, smooth and sticky, and the beef is beautifully cooked and of good quality.

The disappointments here are the spud chunks – they’re under-cooked.

The beef is more tender!

 

Saha Thai Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thai try in Chadstone

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D’Elephant Thai, Shop F018, Chadstone shopping centre, 1341 Dandenong Road, Chadstone. Phone: 9568 6600

Consider The Sauce has never before set foot in Chadstone shopping centre.

I’ve often been told that it is a bit more upmarket and swish.

This – an invitation to a blogger/media/industry tasting at D’Elephant Thai restaurant – is my chance to see if that’s the case, and to make very interested observations about the food on offer.

Especially in comparison with our very own reference point, Highpoint.

 

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I’m aware that Chadstone is huge and that I see only a very small part of it.

Nevertheless, turning up typically early, I take in warmly regarded Malaysian and Chinese eateries, several classy-looking cafe-style outlets and a really fine grocer/greengrocer/deli – all within a few hundred metres of my destination.

 

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D’Elephant Thai is a relatively new establishment, the management of which is keen to gauge the reactions of a mixed bag of invitees to their food (see menu below).

The place is nicely done out in cheerful style.

The event is very well run and the staff are wonderful.

 

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I admire the joint’s aim of providing good Thai food at affordable prices in a shopping centre context.

As my handbag for the night, Nat Stockley, points out, some of the very best and most personality-laden Thai food in Melbourne is also some of the cheapest.

But for Bennie and I, in the west, Thai food is invariably a notch or two more expensive than the other readily available multicultural choices.

 

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I enjoy the D’Elephant food.

A couple of dishes – a soup, a curry – are way to sweet for me.

On the other hand, several dishes have a good, feisty chilli whack going on – not something you’d normally expect in a shopping centre and something to be wildly applauded.

 

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A centrepiece of the proceedings is a som tum station at which the papaya salad is being prepared from scratch for the assembled.

They should definitely think about making this a permanent fixture.

(The salad was good.)

Would we eat at D’Elephant Thai if it was at Highpoint?

For sure.

(Consider The Sauce was a guest of D’Elephant Thai management and we were served food from a pre-set event menu. Editorial input into this post was neither sought nor granted.)

 

D'Elephant Thai on Urbanspoon

 

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Newport Thai hit

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Siam Kitchen, 334 Melbourne Road, Newport. Phone: 9391 5179

Consider The Sauce has received a good deal of medical advice in the past six months or so.

Some of it was about food.

“We really like Siam Kitchen in Newport,” the doctor said. “The wok dishes and salads – not so much the curries.”

That’s the kind of advice – medical or otherwise – we’re happy to follow!

Truth is, Siam Kitchen has been on our radar for a long time.

 

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The restaurant occupies the same strip as the recently covered Odd Spot Cafe.

We are expecting a modest, typical suburban Thai eatery.

So we’re surprised and delighted to discover within a really love room dominated by dark wood and tastefully decorated.

We’re happy to report that by and large the service and food reflect those good first impressions.

This place is a handy and classy notch or two better than the phrase “suburban Thai eatery” implies.

It’s early in the week but the place is busy, with a good half of the tables occupied and a constant stream of takeaway customers coming and going.

There’s only one front-of-house staff member at hand and she’s working very hard indeed, though some kitchen folk help out by bringing full dishes out and taking empty ones back in.

It’s Bennie and I only tonight so we keep it simple by choosing two entrees and two mains plus rice.

The entrees satisfy rather than thrill us.

 

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We whip through two roti breads served with satay sauce ($5) in quick time though it’s all rather nondescript and the sauce lacks punch and is too sweet for us.

 

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Crispy golden bags (tang tong) of marinated pork mince with garlic, spicy onion and herbs served with sweet chilli sauce ($6.90) are way better and much more interesting than your average won tons.

The chilli sauce, too, is a flavour hit, boasting more zip and depth of flavour than your typical commercial version.

I cannot tell if this one of those commercial brands tarted up in the kitchen or one made from scratch – either way, very nice!

 

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Seafood pad cha of – “traditional” stir fry with peppercorn, ginger, eggplant and mixed vegetables ($14.90) – is my selection based on the eggplant component.

As it turns out, the eggplant is pretty much the least of it.

There’s plenty of seafood that tastes very fresh – I slurp up the mussels as Bennie is uninterested, and the scallops have terrific flavour.

Best of all, there’s nothing tame about the seasoning levels here – it’s a spicy blast.

 

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Crispy chicken salad with herbs and chilli topped with peanuts ($13.90) is Bennie’s choice and the outright highlight of our meal.

The chicken bits really are crisp, and delicious to boot. And we love the crunch of the peanuts.

There’s a significant chilli hit here, too, and real tang thanks to coriander, mint and lemon juice.

Unlike some people we could mention, we’re by no means Thai food experts – but for what it’s worth, the Siam Kitchen menu appears to have no really unusual dishes or surprises.

That said, this is the best Thai food we’ve had in the west.

Check out the Siam kitchen website, including menu, here.

 

Siam Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Cheap, quick Thai

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Thai Deli, 195 Clarendon Street, South Melbourne. Phone: 9696 6895

We spotted Thai Deli while ambling along Clarendon Street destined for Shakahari.

We liked the look of it – small, busy, cheap and with an abundance of that lived-in look that Consider The Sauce finds so alluring.

In the weeks following, Bennie spoke of the place a couple of times – I like it that such a business registered in his mind.

He even compared it with a much-missed Carlton institution. There’s big differences between the two, but I get where he’s coming from.

So soon we are back to take Thai Deli for a run.

Myself, Bennie, Che meet up with Thai expert Andy from Krapow and get busy.

Perhaps I’ve been a little naive in hoping that a cheap Thai joint in the guts of South Melbourne would offer at least a couple of stand-out or unusual dishes.

It doesn’t.

But what we have is certainly enjoyable, very affordable and – I estimate – at least a little better than your average suburban Thai offerings.

 

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Chicken pad siu ($10.90) is perhaps the best of our four dishes. It’s oily, yes, but has some wok hei and is tasty and popular at our table.

 

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Chilli basil chicken ($10.90 with rice) is a single-person serve and just OK.

 

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Lamb salad ($11.50) has heaps of good, fresh greens and other veg bits. Thankfully, the sweet chilli sauce is abetted by something with a little more tangy – tamarind maybe?

 

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Beef panang curry $11.90) is good but very mild. Like the chilli basil chicken, I like the chunky (unprocessed) vegetables, including potato.

Andy reckons there’s bottled or canned sauce used to make this and other dishes the place does. Just about all Thai restaurants do so, he maintains.

I don’t mind that.

And if I lived or worked around here, I would no doubt be at least a semi-regular at Thai Deli.

But the truth is that within a couple of blocks there are three other places that do stuff that is lustier and more hardcore – see here, here and here.

 

Thai Deli on Urbanspoon

 

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A welcome return

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Yim Yam Thai Laos, 40 Ballarat St, Yarraville. Phone: 9687 8585

So scarifying was our last visit to Yim Yam in Yarraville that it has taken more than five years to return.

On that occasion, on a busy Friday night, the place was uncomfortably cramped and the staff seemed harried to distraction.

At that time, a much younger Bennie was very much unused to spicy food, so we made a point of choosing one dish by adhering to the restaurant’s chilli grading system.

But our “one chilli” choice was so unbearably hot that even I could eat only a few mouthfuls.

When I tried to raise this matter with the staff member who seemed to be in charge, I was blown off with a dismissive wave of the hand.

It was a long time ago – and certainly before the arrival of Consider The Sauce.

But, yes, it has remained in memory a vivid experience for both of us.

Returning for a mid-week dinner, we find much – perhaps even everything – has changed.

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The place has expanded, with a lovely dining room now adjoining the original, smaller eating and kitchen space.

The staff are happy, obliging and on the ball.

With this sense of expansiveness, what might have previously been viewed as an imposition – being seated at the window bench right next to the door – is just fine by us.

We navigate a dauntingly long menu of dishes mostly unfamiliar to use with aplomb, ending up with just the sort of meal we desired, even if our picks are a little on the unadventurous side.

Even better, by going without our usual soft drinks and appetisers of the snacky variety, the bill clocks in at just a tick over $40, which we hold to be excellent value considering the quality of the food.

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Vegetarian pad thai ($12.90) is a fine foundation for our dinner.

It’s quite wet and mildly spiced, yet has a good lemony tang and a profusion of lovely vegetables, sprouts and tofu.

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Vientiane salad ($12.90) is Bennie’s choice and it’s a good one.

This one, too, has a bold lemon quotient, but we pretty much inhale the “white noodles with shredded green papaya, tomato, peanuts and herbs with a lemon flavoured dressing”.

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Our protein hit comes courtesy of guy yang gup jaow mark kham – “marinated grilled chicken with chilli tamarind dip” ($15.90).

It’s good but doesn’t transport us to delight as our previous, vegetable-based choices did.

That’s down to the chicken being a little on the bland side and also being very like the Vietnamese grilled chook we’ve eaten so often.

The sticky tamarind chilli sauce is terrific, though.

If anything, the best part of this dish is scooping up the mess of carrots, coriander, spring onion and peanuts imbued with the chicken/marinade cooking juices.

Tonight’s Yarraville adventure has come about because I’d had quite enough of driving for the day, so somewhere, anywhere in our immediate backyard has been the go.

Walking around Anderson and Ballarat streets leads us to acknowledge just how many Yarraville village eateries we have yet to visit and/or write about, even if quite a few of them fall into the “special occasion” category for us.

Still, it’s been a happy outing in that we’ll be more than glad to return to Yim Yam where previously we have stayed away.

Yim Yam Thai Laos on Urbanspoon

Soi 38’s Popup Tour of Thai Noodles – get on board!

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Soi 38 Thai Noodle Tour, opening night, Sketch & Tulip Cafe, 364 Victoria Street, North Melbourne. Phone: 9329 9665

We love Andy.

We love his website, the Thai-centric website Krapow.

And we particularly love the way he and his Soi 38 colleagues are allowing Melbourne to sample superbly delicious “under-represented” Thai dishes.

Especially when they are presented in the imaginative and alluring manner represented by Soi 38’s latest adventure – “A Tour Of Thai Noodles” spread over a succession of Friday nights at a very cool North Melbourne bar/cafe.

The first night of the “tour” sees various friends and pals of Andy and Soi 38 front up to Sketch & Tulip for complementary bowls of noodles as a promotional effort for the upcoming Friday nights.

Tonight’s fare is boat noodles – that doesn’t slow us down any, even if we have written about them before. See here and here.

And who should we clap our peepers on immediately on arrival?

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Two of our favourite people, food-wise or otherwise – Ms Baklover of Footscray Food Blog and street food obsessive Nat Stockley!

OK, we’re obviously at the right place!

If anything, the boat noodles are even more yummy than before – with a deep, dark and rich broth of just the right amount of chilliness and two kinds of beef.

One is stewed and the other, I’m told, is marinated for a couple of days in soda water and then simply poached.

The latter is pale and pinkish and pulls off one of my favourite food tricks – it’s both tender and marvellously chewy.

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We admire the way the Soi 38 crew are pricing their noodles.

Sure, tonight we’re supping “on the house”.

But even at the regular price of $5, you can go one, two, three or more bowls and still be getting an outright bargain on food you’ll not find anywhere else in Melbourne.

Or probably Australia for that matter.

Here’s the Thai Noodle Tour itinerary:

Week 1: Kuay Teow reua Nua Nahm (Beef boat noodles)

Week 2: Kuay Teow Sukhothai Muu Haeng (Dry sukothai pork noodles)

Week 3: Kuay Teow Tom Yum Muu Nahm (Hot and sour pork noodles)

Week 4: Kuay Teow Bamee Bpuu (Dry crab egg noodles)

Week 5: Kuay Teow Bamee Bped Nahm (Braised duck egg noodles)

Week 6: Kuay Terow Tom Yum Muu Haeng (Dry hot and sour pork noodles)

We plan on making as many of these occasions as we can.

You should, too.

For further details, check out the Soi 38 website and/or Facebook page.

Sketch & Tulip Cafe on Urbanspoon

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A motherhood statement

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Mum Mum Asian Street Food, 67 Flemington Road, North Melbourne. Phone: 9329 7106

Mum Mum is a lovely eatery on Flemington Road that’s been open about four weeks.

Given its location opposite great swathes dedicated to the medical industry – where the food options are probably not so hot – and the many offices around here, I reckon this place will go well, especially at lunch time.

But anyone who feels their pulse quickening at the attractive thought of dining at an establishment with the words “Asian Street Food” incorporated into its name had best take a chill pill.

We end up reckoning there is good and maybe even very good food to be had here, even though our lunch is mixed bag.

It’s more that anyone seeking the funky pungency and aromas and spiciness of real-deal street food may be a little disappointed.

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From what the staff tell me, the usage of the street food term is a bid to create a point of difference between Mum Mum and the family-connected straight-up Thai place right next door.

So while the lunch menu from which we order is basically a Thai document, there are items such as taro prawns, seafood gyoza, various dumplings and spring rolls in the “Little Something” section.

The ground floor dining room of the Victorian double-storey building is a very nice, with different kinds of wood in the chairs, tables, stools, floor, stairs to the upstairs and screen creating a warm feel.

I like the idea of a Thai-style curry “free of coconut milk” and I like the idea of a lighter lunch with lots of fresh vegetables – so I order the “jungle veg. curry w. rice” ($11.90).

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This turns out to be a miscalculation on my part, because without coconut milk – or some other thickening agent – what I get, of course, is not curry but soup.

The vegetables are fine and the broth is spicy and highly fragrant with kaffir lime and basil.

But somewhere along the way this misses the mark with me – it fills me up but leaves me feeling empty.

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Bennie does much better with his “fresh basil chick w. fried egg” ($11.90), which is much more sexy than his dad’s lunch.

Piled on top of rice is an oily, garlicky mix of chicken mince, lots of fried onions of the kind that Bennie really loves these days and other vegetables, with a fried egg as head gear.

This, too, is rather spicy but too much so for the boy.

Interestingly, our pal Nat had a rather different experience with this dish at Mum Mum – as you can see by reading his comments at Urbanspoon.

Whether this is because Bennie has been served a very different and much better meal, or whether we are utterly clueless about a food style on which Nat is an internationally renowned expert we know not.

As we depart, I spy another customer tucking into what looks like a marvellous plate of lamb mussaman curry – that’s for me next time!

Check out the Mum Mum website here.

Mum Mum Asian Street Food on Urbanspoon

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