20 Campbell Street
Haymarket NSW 2000
+61 02 9211 1808
Melbourne may trump over Sydney in many aspects: a 24-hour international airport (curfew, my arse), coffees worth writing blogs about and an integrated public transport system (not that myki is sooo awesome but anyway). But when it comes to Thai food, Sydney wins pants-down.
There is a small section in Sydney’s Haymarket called Thai Town, where the aromatic scent of chillies and spices entice you when you’re heading into the city. Thai Town is where you can find Thai soap opera DVDs and it’s where locals queue up nightly for a table at one of Sydney’s beloved culinary institutions, Chat Thai.
Rocking up to Chat Thai at 7pm on any given night would result in a lengthy wait so it’s best to come after the dinner rush. We were sweet just before 1am, our appetites worked up after a crazy night at the Black Keys concert. As far as I know, there aren’t a lot of places that open until very late in Sydney so we were glad to see that Chat Thai doesn’t shut its doors until 2am.
We were going to pull all-nighter that night so we decided that we needed assistance from caffeine. We had a 7am flight to Auckland and figured that we could wing it by hanging out the city for a few hours before heading back to the airport where we would kill time using the free wi-fi facilities at the international terminal before our flight. However, this was before we found out that Sydney is not a 24-hour airport so in the end, we ended up bumming around Sydney’s CBD as we didn’t have a hotel booking – not my finest idea and something I’d never do again. You can therefore imagine how tired we were that morning when we boarded the plane and how relieved we were when we finally arrived at our lakeside hotel in Queenstown the following evening.
I had a hot Thai coffee with caramelised milk ($4) which was made from ‘Arabica beans originating from Northern Thai regions’ while Marty had a sweetened iced tea with caramelised milk ($4). Both our drinks were delicious and tasted very much like their Vietnamese equivalents. On a side note, I don’t know if ‘caramelised milk’ is just another term for condensed milk but hey, I’ll happily take it if it’s this good.
We shared a few dishes. Chat Thai’s menu is so extensive that it was difficult to narrow it down to just a few dishes. In the end, we chose three dishes. First up, we had the spicy chargrilled beef salad (nahm dtok nuea, $13). Our waitress warned us that it was really spicy and we were like, ‘nah, we’ll be right.’ She wasn’t kidding though. It was so spicy that we both started sweating and our noses ran like crazy. I’ve only started liking spicy foods in the last couple of years so my reaction was fair enough but Marty has liked spicy foods for as long as he could remember so to see him struggle was kind of amusing.
Nevertheless, the salad was delicious. Everything was fresh and the beef strips were so tender and full of flavour and heat, ramped up by lashings of fish sauce and lime juice. It’s a dish that I’ll definitely be trying to replicate at home – but I’ll be going easy on the chilli.
I wanted pad thai (call me a gweilo but I really do like my pad thai) but Marty insisted we try something different. We settled on another noodle dish, something neither of us had heard of before, the sukho thai ($12.50). I later googled the dish, only to find nothing on it which led me to believe that this was a Chat Thai creation (correct me if I’m wrong though). The menu said that we were going to get thin rice noodles but we got egg noodles instead. The menu also said that we’d get fish dumplings and minced chicken. We got shredded chicken instead. We also got bits of char siu pork. I’m not sure if it was a translation barrier or whether they ran out of thin rice noodles and minced chicken though if the latter were true, it would have been nice to be told.
Never mind, the dish was still nice. The noodles were dressed in a sweet soy-like dressing and mixed with the fish dumplings and chicken along with some peanuts and dried shrimp for a bit of texture. The dish come with a chicken-based broth and you either had the option of having it served as a noodle soup (wet) or with broth on the side for you to adjust accordingly (dry) – we chose the latter. It was a decent dish but in hindsight, I’m kicking myself for not ordering pad thai – or anything wok-fried.
Our final dish was the marinated pork loin (mhu daad diew, $11). These sweet pieces of pork were air dried before being fried and served on a plate to us with chilli sauce on the side. It was almost like eating jerky, but they were more tender and less dry.
For dessert, we wanted sticky rice and mango ($8) but we were told that the kitchen ran out of mangoes (well, it was almost 2am…). In fact, a lot of the desserts were no longer available. In the end, we ordered the black sticky rice and coconut cream pudding with taro and young coconut flesh (khao nieaw daam bieak, $5.50). My parents make black sticky rice with coconut cream desserts from time to time so I was keen to see if Chat Thai’s version would be just as good.
Sorry mum and dad, but theirs was better. The warm dessert was homely and soothing, with bits of fresh taro, coconut and palm seeds to make things interesting. The serving might have been small but it did fill whatever space we had left in our almost full tummies. And the best bit? It was sweet enough for Marty (who does like his sweets) but not too sweet for me (I’m a potato chips and savoury kind of gal). Win-win.
Chat Thai is a place where I’d visit again and again just to try every single dish on their menu. The food is of great – even the noodle dish that didn’t exactly thrill us made us want to come back. The service was efficient and friendly, despite a (surprisingly) large crowd at this hour on a Monday night and we weren’t rushed even though we stayed until almost 2am. There is something like five stores in Sydney and I’m hoping that they’ll follow Mamak’s footsteps and open one in Melbourne. Because I think I need good Thai food more than I need to hear about yet another issue with myki.
On that note, I’ll be covering my New Zealand foodie adventures in the next few weeks. So if you’re keen to hear about burgers in Queenstown, mutton birds, moronic fish and chip shop workers in Picton and amazing, amazing seafood chowders in Wellington, then my blog’s the place to be in December!