Classy Thai for Footscray

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Issan Thai Street Food, 10 Droop Street, Footscray. Phone: 9689 9404

Footscray central – ahhh, so much wonderful food, so many lovely people.

Apart from the central themes of Vietnamese and Ethiopian tucker, I can think of at least half a dozen other food varieties without even trying.

But Thai?

Nope.

Never has been hereabouts – or not in my 15-year memory of western living.

The nearest Thai restaurants have been in West Footscray, Seddon and Kensington.

With the arrival of Issan Thai Street Food, that is no longer the case.

 

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And by adding another strand of diversity to inner Footscray, I think Noi and her hubby Vince are being very smart indeed.

As well, they’re adding some welcome life to the mostly moribund-over-the-years Westville Central building.

I know that in the wake of the Little Saigon fire, there were suggestions that Westville Central could – even if only temporarily – play a similar role.

I am not party to the commercial or real estate dynamics involved, but it is good to see some life around the place.

After a solo visit by myself for reconnaissance purposes, a happy group of seven CTS pals hit Issan and have a swell time.

We find the service fine and the wait times appropriate for the food we ordered.

The sharing platter som tum tard (top photo $18.90) is a doozy – a big mound of excellent spicy green papaya salad is surrounded by pork crackling, chicken wings, wet-smooth noodles, bean sprouts and chargrilled diced beef.

Even the hardboiled egg halves are superbly done, with the yolks gooey, not runny.

 

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Our order of satay tofu ($6.90), fuelled by the intense curiosity of three members of our group, doesn’t impress greatly – I think we have been expecting tofu a little more crusty and crunchy. This is OK and the peanutty sauce is good.

 

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The pork skewers of moo ping ($10.90) are outstanding.

The meat is perfectly cooked, packed with chargrill flavour and served with a zingy tamarind-based sauce.

 

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Our serve of Penang curry with beef ($15.90) is of modest proportions but all good.

Here, it’s the deeply, richly flavoursome sauce/gravy that is the hit, with some of us continuing to mop it up with rice long after the curry’s main protagonists have gone and other dishes have arrived at our table.

 

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Pad thai with chicken ($13.90) is a fine version of this popular dish.

 

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The chicken salad of larb gai ($13.90) really impresses with its freshness and tang.

 

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Likewise with the equally sexy moo narm tok ($13.90) – sliced grilled pork with lemon juice, herbs, chilli and toasted ground rice.

My photo here doesn’t adequately convey the fatty, chargrilled gloriousness of the dish!

At Issan, you’ll find not much by the way exotica, offal or regional specialties.

But our general consensus is that the Issan fare is a considerable cut above what is generally found in your typical suburban Thai restaurants.

We double ordered several dishes – the moo ping, the larb gai and the moo narm tok – and ate substantially and satisfyingly well.

Yet the bill for seven of us comes to a few cents under $20 each.

 

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Yarraville Thai

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BlueStone Thai, 58 Ballarat Street, Yarraville. Phone: 9689 0110

It seems like a lifetime ago …

Pre-blog, and before taking up our now long-time residency in Yarraville.

I recall visiting the venerable bluestone building in Ballarat Street when it was still a pub and had something of a name for steak and chips.

After that it became Dig A Pony, which we never got around to before it folded a few months back.

Now it houses BlueStone Thai and we’re up for it.

Having scoped out the menu online, I have no expectations of anything too adventurous or regionally based or unusual, like we might find up the road apiece at Yim Yam.

But that’s OK – just some nice, straight-up orthodox Thai will do us fine.

That’s exactly what we get.

The dining room is all dark-wooded niceness and warmed up on a chilly night.

The service is very good.

 

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Chicken satay ($9.90) is excellent, four sticks bearing thigh meat perfectly cooked and served with a runny peanut sauce.

 

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Mildly spicy green curry ($14.90) is a good-sized serve stuffed with plenty of meat pieces and vegetables.

 

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Basil chilli stir fry with pork ($14.90) is likewise mild, by our standards, and also rather good.

Two bowls of rice cost us $5 and the total bill is an excellent $44.70.

BlueStone Thai seems likely to have found a nifty niche – serving the kind of Thai food in which many punters delight and away from the frequently nutty crush and madness of the Ballarat/Anderson streets nexus.

On the way home on this Friday night, we witness Anderson Street absurdly gridlocked for blocks in both directions either side of train tracks – and with not a train in sight.

 

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Thai/Lao smash hit

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Noi Lucky, 4/1-3 St Johns Avenue, Springvale. Phone: 9546 9774

Such is the sprawling spread of Melbourne that a journey from the west to Springvale seems like a substantial road trip.

We’re Springvale-bound on Good Friday in the happy knowledge that like its largely Viet contemporaries in Richmond, Footscray, Sunshine and St Albans, the business centre is sure to be rocking despite the public holiday.

Upon arrival, we are nevertheless knocked out by the level of rocking.

Springvale is jam-packed, gridlock in all directions – much of it seemingly caused by SUV drivers with a penchant for double parking.

It’s busy!

No matter – we eventually find a park many blocks from our destination and happily walk to our lunch rendezvous.

 

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Strangely, this is just our second visit to this intensely foodie neighbourhood – we certainly wish it was closer to home.

Our aim on that first trip was the same as it is on our second – to eat some really, really fine Thai food.

We were flying solo that first time so had an OK lunch but felt we could’ve done better.

This time around we have expert assistance in the form of our good mate Nat Stockley (a big fan of Thai food), his wife Jackie (Thai by birth) and their niece Yaya, who arrived from her home in northern Thailand less than 24 hours before to study in Melbourne.

We’ve got the A Team on our side this time!

And for that we’re grateful.

 

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We enjoy Thai food and have written about on this site, though certainly not as often as the food of Vietnam or India.

But we know Thai food is not one of the western suburbs’ strong point.

And we know there’s really, really great Thai food out there in Melbourne – because friends such as Nat and Andy of Soi 38 have been telling us so for years.

So we’ve long awaited the opportunity to get a guided tour of one of Nat’s Springvale hidey-holes, as it happens at a fine eatery that serves Thai food and also a goodly range of dishes from Laos.

Do we make the most of the opportunity?

Yes, we do!

 

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Not everything we enjoy at Noi Lucky knocks our socks off but we enjoy it all one way or another.

And it is certainly the most fresh, crunchy, stimulating and delicious meal we’ve ever had from a Thai and/or Lao restaurant.

A millions miles from rubbery fish cakes and tired, pre-made curry sauces …

Noi Lucky is tucked away in the corner of a carpark in a corner of the Springvale commercial/food precinct.

 

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At first blush, it could be any one of hundreds of cheap Asian eateries spread across Melbourne, such is the familiarity of the vibe and everything about the place.

But the menu (see below) is something else – yes, there are fish cakes and curries in there.

But there is very much else besides and it all looks fantastic; and very, very affordable.

In the end, we are happy to let Nat and Jackie – regulars here – do the ordering, selecting a range of mostly Lao dishes they favour.

 

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With one exception – the chicken feet salad ($15).

We love us some yum cha-style, blackbean-sauce chicken feet so are dead keen on seeing what this is like.

The contrast could hardly be greater.

The poultry hoofers are, incredibly, boned!

What’s left is pale and chewy; I’m not sure if it’s been boiled or marinated or both – not a big hit with us but OK.

The rest of the salad ingredients are utterly superb – fresh-as, zingy, crunchy, perfect. They are available with a range of other protein protagonists.

 

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Nam khao (Lao crispy salad, $14) is rice seasoned with coconut and red curry, “crispy fried” and tossed in a spicy citrus dressing and fermented pork.

This dish has a real nice nuttiness about that I suspect comes from both the coconut and the crisp-frying of the rice.

It’s very moreish.

 

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Kao pad nam (Thai fried rice with fermented pork, $13.50) is something of an ordering contrmeps but we eat it anyway.

It’s a good fried rice.

In both this case and the Lao salad, it should be noted that there is nothing at all confronting or freaky about the fermented pork – it’s just a sausage-like pork byproduct that wouldn’t be out of place, for instance, on the more familiar (to us) Vietnamese pork chop with broken rice.

Om (top photo, $14.50) is a Lao stew of beef, with vegetables (including baby eggplants and mushrooms), galangal, chilli, lemongrass and dill.

It’s not an immediate hit with me but I warm to it – and could even see myself ordering it first-choice for a solo meal here with rice.

The dill flavour is very strong!

 

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Moo krob (crispy fried pork, $14.90) is a meaty delight that is nonetheless overshadowed by …

 

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… grilled ox tongue ($14), which is – according to the menu – the joint’s most popular dish, with the marinated muscle served with a “Thai dipping sauce” that is mostly soy.

This is more comprehensively cooked than I may have expected and is quite chewy.

But the meat is of wonderful flavour and I can’t stop eating it.

It’s true this outing to Noi Lucky has involved a bit of driving but we make up for it by dropping into Oasis Bakery on the way home for a stock-up shop!

We are left with the wistful desire that the western suburbs had more Thai/Lao eateries such as the one at we’ve enjoyed for lunch – with experts guiding our way.

 

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Soi 38 – at home in a CBD laneway

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Soi 38, 38 McIlwraith Place, Melbourne

Consider The Sauce has been happily following the Soi 38 handcarts around for a few years – see posts here and here.

So it’s a natural thing to rock up happily to the unofficial opening party of the permanent home for Soi 38 in the city.

 

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Our pal and Thai food nut Andy and his mate Top have found a superb location – in a laneway between upper Little Collins and Bourke, the laneway also serving as access to a parking building.

It’s a gritty, funky retreat that suits these guys and their food to a tee.

And those handcarts have become part of the decor.

 

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The boat noodles on hand are just as delicious as every other time we’ve had them.

The Soi 38 restaurant’s other offering – tom yum soup noodles – will have to wait for another day.

 

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This place is highly recommended as a lunch spot for those who work in or are visiting the Spring Street end of the CBD!

Soi 38 bowls cost $10.

Open Monday-Saturday 11am-3pm.

See the “Just Opened” story in The Age – words by Consider The Sauce, photos by Nat Stockley.

 

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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!

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.)

 

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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.