Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, heads to the uber popular Chat Thai restaurant where some reasonably priced classics are just the ticket.
"They’re going to spank us” Ute says whispering. She elaborates, "we’re in trouble, they wrote ‘late’ next to our name. I even argued with the woman over the location as I walked around and around the street as it used to be on the other side of the road!” she says.
Chat Thai is the uber popular Thai chain of restaurants whose location can be signalled by the crowd of people queuing outside. We’re at the Thaitown location, which is the original location on Campbell Street in Haymarket right opposite the Capitol Theatre. It’s a long, narrowish space with exposed brick walls and paintings. You walk past the crowd of people that stand and sit transfixed, watching the chefs cook in the front kitchen. They await their name and number being called like yum cha patrons.
Seating is crowded and it is noisy inside with much jostling of elbows. Our waiter is efficient and friendly enough but the aim is to get you fed and turned around so that someone else outside can take your place. We have a look at the menu which actually looks like a book about the experience rather than the actual menu. The menu is varied and we choose quickly.
Thai tea $5
There is a range of soft drinks but I decide to try a Thai tea. A strong black tea mixed with condensed milk and sugar, it is sweet and strong but really quite addictive.
Gai chicken satay (each) $2 each
There is so much on the menu that it was hard to choose so we decide to go for the classics on the entree menu. We start with the chicken satay skewers. The entrees come out in a flash and we take a bit of the juicy, chicken satay sticks blanketed in a thick satay sauce. These come with a cucumber chilli salad.
Todt mun bpla fish cakes $10
This was one of my favourite dishes although rather surprisingly described as "dollops of fried fish cakes.” They really are dollops though but light and puffy and worlds away from any tough, chewy or firm fish cakes. They are served on lettuce leaves, in a generous number with pickled cucumber relish and a tumble of deep fried Thai basil leaves.
Som dtum thai $10
There are five types of sum tum salad, that wonderfully refreshing green papaya salad and our waiter recommended this version with peanuts and dried shrimps said to be a spicy, salty and slightly sweet version. It was crunchy and fresh and transported me back to holidaying in Thailand.
Goong nam prik pao King prawns with smoked chilli jam$20
A small pause after the entrees and the two mains arrive within minutes of each other. The first is four enormous stir fried king prawns on smoked chilli jam with kaffir lime leaves. The prawns were enormous and firm but not rubbery with a delectable sweet smoked chilli jam sauce offset by the coriander and kaffir lime leaves. I would have loved a knife to be able to cut the prawns as they were so large (not that I’m complaining about overly large prawns…).
Pla Dtom Som $24
Our other main is enormous and sadly there was no way that we could finish it. It is a large fillet of steamed blue eyed cod with caramelised palm sugar, turmeric and tamarind sauce with Chinese cabbage, spring onion and chilli. It strikes me as very sweet and strong with the gentle sourness of tamarind and the fish is cooked well. It was good but perhaps not one of those dishes that you would hasten to order a second time.
Sticky rice with mango $8
There is just room for one dessert between us and even that is probably pushing it. But the dessert menu with two and a half pages of offerings is hard to ignore. Overwhelmed by choice, we ask the waiter what is good and he gives us one answer, the sticky rice with mango. It’s a mound of salty sweet sticky rice with a little sweetened coconut cream and sliced fresh mango. On top of this is a sprinkling of crunchy rice and the whole thing has a good balance of textures and flavours with the rich coconut and salty sweet rice and fresh, sweet mango.
A few nights later, Mr NQN and I visited Chat Thai and without a booking, waited in the queue with everyone else. As it is an unseasonably chilly evening, they are nice enough to bring everyone cups of hot jasmine tea and the wait is about 30 minutes in total as we progress from standing outside to moving our way into sitting on the precariously lopsided stools.