I had been wanting to try a ramen joint in my part of town (Chatswood) for some time, but when we arrived on this evening around half past 7.00, the line was spilling out the door. Disheartened, we set in to wait before I remembered that I had spotted a new Thai restaurant on Victoria Avenue on my way down. The Sister and I thus decided to give Khao Pla a try that evening.
Khao Pla opened in this quieter street off the main Chatswood strip in late June this year. Reading the articles outside the shop window, I was intrigued when the article made mention of an “ex-Ms G’s chef”. The menu certainly reflected a desire to follow the likes of Longrain and Chat Thai with alternative ingredients and modern twists.
The decor of the small restaurant is similarly eclectic. The walls are full of black and white photographs of Thai culture – food, markets, people, cars, etc. The interior is very dark and sticks to a monochrome scheme except for the occasional splash of fluoro yellow from the industrial-style mis-matched stools. Because of the dark colour combination, the lights over the table were almost spotlights and almost a bit too bright. With all the hard surfaces around the restaurant, we found that the noise level became quite loud when it was full, despite the small size of the establishment.
Seated beside the front door throughout our meal, we also had the entertainment of watching people struggle with the door where it would only close by a certain way with a very loud bang.
Service was quite good from the start, with our water being poured while a lady who seemed like the ‘head waitress’ cheerfully explained aspects of the menu to us and pointed out to us which dishes had a high chilli content. Once we had made our orders, we were brought a bucket of utensils – chopsticks, spoons, forks and serviettes.
The Pla luak jim: steamed coral trout fillet, ginger, chilli and lime juice ($15), arrived first, lying on a little bed of neatly-sliced spring onion.
Steamed rice came at $3 per person. The fish was quite a firm white fish fillet. There was a slightly fishy taste to the fillet and we found the fish really did require a generous amount of the topping sauce to mask that flavour. It was a slight shame as I imagine had the fish been fresher, the dish would have been quite all right.
Next to arrive was our ‘salad’, the Yum dok kare: Crispy katuri flower and morning glory, dried shrimp, minced chicken and homemade chilli jam dressing ($16). The idea was to dip mouthfuls of the salad into the accompanying chilli jam:
This had to be the most unusual salad I’ve ever had in my life – probably more because I associate salads with fresh, raw vegetables. The different textural element was interesting, with the katuri flower having a texture and flavour similar to that of a shaved zucchini. The morning glory was the leafy vegetable, and almost each leaf had been individually coated. The chilli jam was deliciously sweet and not too spicy.
The dish I had been most looking forward to was the Pa lo tom kem: braised pork belly, quail eggs and fried bean curd and shiitake ($15). Unfortunately I liked this dish the least – not only was there coriander on top (which I can usually push to one side), but the soup itself also had a very strong coriander flavour to it. The Sister enjoyed the flavour though. The fried bean curd wasn’t anything out of the ordinary (you can buy packs of it at any Chinese grocer) and the quail eggs were cooked through, but the biggest disappointment had to be the pork belly. Barely braised at all, it was too gelatinous even for my sister and for a number of pieces she needed to cut about half of the piece off because there was so much fat on it.
A particularly perplexing moment of the evening was when The Sister ordered a Hot tea ($3), which arrived in a large teapot and cute little espresso cup. We lifted the lid to see the strainer and were a little let down to see that not only had a tea bag had been put in (as opposed to leaves), but also that the water was lukewarm – I would have estimated a guess at 25 degrees. We mentioned the water issue to the waitress, who brought over a new pot, although it still took some time for the tea to steep. Even when it had, we couldn’t really identify what type of tea it was supposed to be, but it did taste faintly of the complimentary tea you can sometimes get at Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants.
To pay that price and receive a tea bag was really a bit much.
Luckily we gave dessert a go and the Black sticky rice and jasmine tapioca with dark sugarcane sauce and Thai milk tea ice cream ($10) arrived beautifully presented and fragrant with jasmine.
It was a gorgeous contrast of textures with the meltingly-sweet and creamy ice cream, the chewy chunks of jelly and tapioca, with the sticky, slightly-salty warm black rice. There wasn’t much of a ‘sauce’ with the dessert – I’m not sure if the rice had already absorbed it, but throughout enjoying it I had actually thought the ice cream was dark sugarcane as it had a very caramelised taste to it.
While I can see what Khao Pla is trying to achieve, the experience that we had unfortunately was more miss than hit. I would return for the dessert, but as for savoury I would probably try ‘safer’ dishes rather than experimenting with some of their more unusual ones.
370 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood NSW 2067
(02) 9412 4978