Monkey King Thai

A couple of years ago when I was still living with my folks, I remember the week we had new neighbours move in – a couple with three kids. They were friendly, quiet and easy-going, but it wasn’t the people that charmed us; it was the little bundle of fur by the name of Louis.

Louis – pronounced “Louie” – was a black and white kitten who could fit in the cradle of my two hands. He was the most gorgeous, adorable little thing I’ve ever seen, and the fact that he was missing his tail (a car/driveway accident) made him even more endearing. I had never been a cat person due to a bad scratch I received from a bad-tempered moggy when I was a toddler, but Louie squirmed and wriggled his way into my affections; coming out to meet the car when I pulled into the driveway, nuzzling up against my ankles when I wandered around the garden, creating holes in my pants as he trod on my lap and flexed his claws to try and make himself comfortable before  settling down to sleep for a good while (if you had to move him he would complain and sulk for a little while but then slink back again for more cuddles).

As he grew in leaps and bounds, he became even more adorably clingy; when I woke in the morning for work, I would hear meowing outside my bedroom window and pull up the blind to see him standing on the table under my window, his front paws on my windowsill. As soon as I pulled the blind up, he would race to the back door and wait for me to step outside into the morning sun where I would sit with him while enjoying my breakfast. Quiet evenings at home were kept warm with him on my lap, and he actively got in the way of my food blogging activities such as lounging across my laptop keyboard or photo-bombing my photo-shoots.

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Despite not being my cat – he was the hardest thing to leave behind when I moved. I remember going back one evening a few weeks after I had moved to collect a few more things, and spent a little while patting him on my lap while he purred contentedly. Eventually I had to leave, and he went off to sulk after I pulled him off my lap. Turning off the house lights, I traipsed on down the front steps in the dark, only to miss the last two steps and fall spectacularly, landing on the edge of my foot and twisting my ankle with a popping noise before landing on the concrete with a cry of pain. Clutching my ankle in the dark, through my blinding haze of pain I realised the previously sulking cat was now pressed up beside me in concern, looking up at me with his wide night eyes. But I had to head home, so after ducking inside for a strapping bandage, I hobbled up the hill towards the station, and dear Louis followed me all the way up the hill and saw me off when I reached the highway; I looked back and saw him sitting on the street corner as the night traffic went by.

It was a bit of a trek to visit him on a regular basis, but I would sometimes get my favourite Thai takeaway from Hanuman Thai – prawn pad kee mao – and sit on the back steps of the verandah with Louis, sharing my prawns with him. Like every other cat he enjoyed chicken, but prawns he absolutely adored.

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But for the past few months now The Sister and I have both been back to the Lindfield house and he hasn’t made an appearance – no streak of black and white fur leaping over the neighbouring fence as soon as he hears tyres crunch on the driveway gravel, no plaintive whine outside the front door when he’s missed you coming up the front garden path with your shopping bags. He was a dearly comforting presence during many difficult times in those couple of years, and I miss him terribly; I hope he is in a better place.

Visiting Hanuman Thai in Lindfield on invitation by the manager therefore had some bittersweet memories for me. Hanuman Thai has now been re-branded as Monkey King Thai, but still with the same warm and sleek modern furnishings as always, with its dark, moodily-lit interior and polished wooden floors and tables. The menu still remains the same, but Top – the manager – informed me that with another Monkey Thai opening on Barrenjoey Road in Newport, they hope to introduce a more seasonal menu with desserts.

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Every time I go by this restaurant it’s always packed – the locals drawn to the well-priced, beautifully presented Thai dishes that are punchy in flavour and spice, and lured by the Australian love of a BYO licence. They also have a few wines and beers in-house, and so as I settle down we start with a chilled glass of house chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. I was here this evening with the lovely ladies Night Owl, Blondie, Lara Croft and Miss B; Night Owl was meeting the others for the first time, and it was such a rare occasion to be able to organise an event with all of the latter three that we were quite excited. Thai is also one of the only cuisines that all of us can eat in relatively easy comfort – with many gluten and lactose-free options available for Blondie and Miss B. The Monkey King Thai was perfectly laid out into appetizers, noodles, salads, curries and signature dishes, with clear labelling as to which dishes were gluten-free and the waitstaff happy to check with the kitchen if other dishes could be made gluten-free.

We started dinner with a few appetizers at Top’s recommendation. The Steamed Dumplings ($7.90 for four), were a tender combination of prawn and minced chicken wrapped in wonton pastry and steamed to perfection, served with a homemade sauce.

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A must-try appetizer were the Piggy Puffs ($7.90 for four) which consisted of delicately minced pork, chopped fresh corn, pea and crushed coconut mixed with Thai herbs and curry powder before being wrapped in puff pastry. The pastry was deliciously crumbly and buttery, the curry powder quite gentle on the palate, and the coconut beautifully fragrant.

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Top also recommended the Crispy Soft Shell Crab ($9.90) which arrived at the table delicately stacked, battered and lightly fried served with a sweet chilli sauce.

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I’ve had so much soft shell crab, a lot of which has either had very crispy batter and dry meat, or tender, juicy meat with a thin and disappointing batter crust. I was delighted that this one both had a perfectly light, crunchy batter and deliciously tender crab meat – best devoured while hot.

We move along to our mains, which arrive in quick succession. The Yellow Curry ($15.90) which is gluten-free, is known as kaeng kari gai, a coconut-based yellow curry paste with potato and chicken sprinkled with fried onions and served with cucumber relish. The slow-cooked chicken thigh is tender and moist, the yellow curry paste deliciously fragrant and quite mild for those who can’t tolerate a lot of heat. The fried onions and fresh relish provide a refreshing crunch.

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The Massaman Beef ($15.90) is always a crowd-pleaser with its tender cubes of beef, simmered in a traditional massaman curry with coconut milk, onions, cashew nuts and baby potatoes. The massaman gravy is rich in flavour but I felt that the beef could have been cooked down for just a little longer to give it that slightly extra “falling apart” factor.

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You can’t have Thai without going for at least one noodle dish. Night Owl requested we order the Traditional Pad Thai ($12.90), also gluten-free, and we had it with seared beef rump steak pieces, mixed in with egg, bean sprouts, diced tofu and crushed peanuts. I have a soft spot for the rice noodles here – perfectly thin and silky, never over-cooked in the slightest with that gorgeous smoky wok flavour.

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Night Owl, Lara Croft and I have a soft spot for duck, and Top had recommended we try the Duck Plum Sauce ($24.90): tender roast duck served with shiitake mushroom and bok choy, stir fried and dressed in light plum sauce spiced with cinnamon, star anise and garlic.

I have never been too impressed by duck dishes outside of Chinese barbecue joints as most places tend to over-cook the delicate, gamey poulty, but I was very surprised at how well-cooked Monkey King Thai’s version was. Spice-wise, it does draw on Chinese techniques with star anise and cinnamon, and glazed in a light plum sauce it’s beautifully sweet but not overwhelmingly so.

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And finally, for the sake of ordering some vegetables I go with the Pad Kana Moo Grab ($17.90), stir fried crispy pork belly and Chinese broccoli mixed with oyster sauce. It’s a street food dish I’ve previously talked about in another Thai restaurant reviewthe dish originated through the poor and middle classes not having sufficient meat to make a meal, and so they would stir-fry scraps of meat with vegetables to make a dish more substantial. It’s quite amusing therefore to see the dish now, where the amount of pork belly almost takes over the entire platter!

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The pork belly is wonderfully cooked – crispy on top and the meat braised to slow perfection, the gelatinous fat melting in the mouth. The dish has a beautiful amount of smoky flavour and heat; I have a fairly high heat tolerance and this was good for me – but I imagine someone with a low tolerance may struggle with it a little!

Having eaten more than our fill, the staff were more than happy to pack away our leftovers into takeaway containers for delicious future work lunches and quick dinners at home. We girls lingered in the restaurant for a little while with our contented bellies, savouring the warmth and lazy conversation as the chilly Sydney winter weather swept by outside.

Confessions of a Glutton was invited to dine as a guest of Monkey King Thai
Confessions of a Glutton was invited to dine as a guest of Monkey King Thai

Monkey King Thai
338 Pacific Highway
Lindfield NSW 2070
(02) 9416 9301
www.monkeykingthai.com.au

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