Saturday, July 19, 2008

Spice I am not..

There's thai and then there's thai. This is the latter. A buzzing restaurant opposite capitol theater in Sydney has been doing a very busy trade for about a year or so, it's a Tatsu recommended place where you'd be better off booking every night of the spicy week: Chat Thai. Not only is this wonderful split level dining room of the funkiest spaces i've seen in a while, but this is good, clean thai food that doesn't rely on sugar and cheap oils to wow you with flavour. We scored an upstairs seat the first time I went, with a great bird's eye view of people and plates of steamy, vibrant food, the whole glorious theatre of dining playing out underneath and around us. Now, I love fish. Good fish, that is. I don't really do deep fried, so when I find a place that steams fish well, I get a little excited, but when I find a place that not only steams a snapper well, but adds a gloriously rich red curry to it that dances with sweet galangal, kaffir lime, lemongrass, garlic and roasted red chillis topped with some basil thrown in for good measure, I get very, very excited. God, Bpla Choo Chee, I have no idea how to pronounce it, but I know what to do with it when it comes.
Dan and I don't have a kid, which is a good thing, cause if we did, we'd probably trade it in for really, really good stir fried Asian greens and Pak Boong Fai Daeng is just that. A lovely, light dish of water spinach tossed with oyster sauce and yellow soy bean sauce, dancing in some firey garlic and chilli. It pirouettes right across your palate and into your heart. They use a great quality spinach that dazzles in a shock green and they don't douse the dish in oil or sugar. So flavoursome and so light, it disappeared in seconds.
Ki Mao, the thick rice noodle with chicken, chinese broccoli and eggs in a dark soy sauce was a nice but not entirely remarkable dish, but the chicken used in both this and the green curry, were divine. A really good way to judge the quality of an asian restaurant, or any restaurant for that matter, is to pay special attention to their chicken. You can hide bad meat with heavy sauces and such, but bad chicken just stands out. You feel gross as soon as you've eaten it. The chicken here was well cooked and tender, not the scraggly little pieces that you know not to expect any flavour from the moment you look at them. I usually feel a bit if'y after eating chicken, but I was fine after both the curry and the noodles here.
The lean pork skewers (Mu Bing) make a great starter, unless you're a Muslim or a vegan. They are marinated in garlic, tumeric and coriander root until they are beautifully tender and almost cleave into the peanut dipping sauce they come in.
The Gai Pad Met Mamuang (these names are coming copied to you straight off a takeaway menu, so please, don't be impressed!) is also a great starter, it's chicken tossed with roasted cashew nuts and seasoned with chilli jam and shallots. Tats is crazy for good crispy chicken and he likes the versions of it that they come up with in this kitchen.
Another dish to introduce to your mouth is the Emerald duck, sliced 5 spice barbeque duck tossed with seasonal greens. Eat it with a side of steamed rice, chilli fried rice or the glutinous sticky rice which comes in bamboo bound little plastic packets that you squeeze clumps out of onto your plate.
This is a celebratory kind of a place. It's a fun and lively atmosphere that makes you want to come back with a group of friends, and that's just what I did the next week. It was a Tuesday night, we booked, and were glad we did, the place was packed with a line out the front. At $22 for a brilliantly done, fresh snapper, the prices are excellent. It's a good healthy meal in a beautiful place with very friendly and attentive staff who wear little toy licence plates hanging off their sleeve with their names on them.
We wondered across the road to Passionflower for ice cream after the meal. Hokey pokey, sticky rice, black sesame, mango and cookies and cream flavours were chosen and shared. It was a beautiful way to end a lovely night. Once we had our ice cream we went upstairs to some kind of Japanese amusement room where you could take photos in weird booths or try and win pumpkin sized toys from neon machines, even after a week in Japan, I still didn't get it.
So, this is definitely one to try, nothing flashy, just really, really good thai that won't make you feel queasy afterwards. Book, wait for a while, or settle for takeaway. Don't forget the must have, achingly tender Bpla Choo Chee, how can something that sounds so bad taste so, so good?

Chat Thai
At: 20 Campbell St Haymarket.
Ph: 9211 1808

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