Thai temptations

26 Jan 2005 by business traveller


85 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills, tel 61 2 9280 2888

Housed in a vast warehouse among the forward-thinking media and design companies of Surry Hills, Longrain is full of chic but casual 20 and 30-somethings, day and night. Designer Rob Sample says the long canteen-style tables came about purely for financial reasons - three communal tables were cheaper than buying 30 small ones.
On my lunchtime visit, there wasn't space at any of them, so I settled for a stool at the bar. Chef and co-owner Martin Boetz previously ran Sailors Thai and has launched his own book, Longrain Modern Thai Food. Longrain has topped polls in The Sydney Morning Herald in 2001, 2002 and 2004 and it's no surprise. My betel leaves topped with smoked trout, chilli, garlic, galangal and trout roe, followed by salt and pepper squid, were the best I had tasted in the city - or anywhere else. Dishes are designed to be shareable but luckily I was on my own; these were too good to share.

Price: Lunchtime main course around AU$30 (£12); dinner main course AU$32 (£13).
Opening hours: Lunch, Mon-Fri noon-1500; dinner, Mon-Sat 1800-2300.

Sailors Thai

106 George St, The Rocks, tel 61 2 9251 2466

David Thompson's second restaurant in Sydney, which opened in 1995, has managed to live up to the reputation of its original sister, Darley Street Thai. The latter closed in 2000 when Thompson turned his sights to London, where he opened Nahm and earned his Michelin star. The rather high prices at Sailors Thai reflect its Thompson credentials, and also its prime location in the heart of Sydney's touristy Rocks district.
Upstairs is Sailors Thai Canteen, a noodle bar open from noon to 10pm. There's a communal table for office workers and visitors who are short of time (or cash), where service is fast and the atmosphere noisy and lively. Lunchtime favourites are pad thai and yam platort (deep fried fish salad with chillies, roasted rice, mint and lime juice).
If you opt for the main restaurant, try to secure a table on the small terrace, which sits behind Circular Quay where you just about get harbour views (the ultra-modern Cruise bar obscures them slightly). Here, the usual Thai curry staples of chicken or beef are replaced with sexier alternatives. How about jungle curry of duck with apple eggplant, or dry red curry with fresh Queensland scallops? Everything is up to the high standards associated with the Thompson name and worth the high prices. Don't get carried away, though, because the desserts are well worth saving room for. I couldn't decide so went for a selection and, after much deliberation, decided the coconut sticky rice was the best.

Prices: Restaurant main courses around AU$32 (£13); canteen dishes AU$20 (£8).
Opening hours: Lunch, Mon-Fri noon-1400; dinner, Mon-Sat 1800-2200.

RQ Sydney

294 Crown Street, Darlinghurst, tel 61 2 9360 8688

The darlings of Darlinghurst can't get enough of this modern, lively glass-fronted restaurant, and it's pretty small so at busy times you might have to wait a while for a table. As the name suggests, dishes are created from a mixture of cuisines from the ?rice quarter? (Thailand and Vietnam) by chefs Nhut Huynh and Sophud Borisud. The decor is a little clinical for my tastes: all white, including the linen tablecloths, except for the odd dash of colour from the sleek leafy bouquets, but the atmosphere is warm and friendly.
Our white-jacketed waiter knew his stuff and was clearly passionate about the food he served - almost too passionate. Taking my order, he tried to persuade me to try other dishes but I stuck to my original choice: roast duck stir fry with chilli jam, snow peas, cashews and crispy basil. I did take his advice to try the banana flower salad with chicken, prawns, coconut and chilli chutney entree and it was a good move, nicely presented with a fine balance of sweet and spicy flavours.
You can bring your own wine and pay AU$3.50 corkage, or choose from a two-tier wine list costing $32.50 (£13) or $42.50 (£17).

Prices: Prices are simplified with a set price for entrees (AU$12.50; £5) and mains (AU$19.50; £8) except for the seafood dishes, which fluctuate depending on market price.
Opening hours: Mon-Sun 1800-midnight.

Arun Thai

28 Macleay Street, Potts Point, tel 61 2 9326 9132/9135

This traditional restaurant may not be as sexy as its contemporary counterparts, but if you want authentic food, prepared and served by people who are passionate about Thai cuisine, it won't disappoint. Just off Kings Cross, a not-so-salubrious part of the city, it's a little Thai haven from the outside world. Step across the bridge at the entrance and the smell of ginger and spice and the sound of gentle music will immediately de-stress you from your hellish journey here (the traffic in these parts is notoriously bad).
In an attempt to ?get modern?, there's a new bar area where you can eat snacky bites with your fingers (or khap klaem in Thai, which literally translates as drinking food). You must try the betel leaves, rolled around dried shrimps, chilli, peanuts, ginger and lime; you can taste every distinct flavour in each mouthful. Another signature dish is pla neung see-ew (steamed whole barramundi with ginger, chilli, soy sauce and shallots). This restaurant has been in Sydney for 18 years(the last 10 years here in Macleay Street) and is here to stay, thanks to its reputation for taking fresh, local ingredients and using them in the traditional Thai style. There are no fancy modern twists here.

Prices: Main courses around A$24 (£10).
Opening hours: Mon-Wed 0530-2230; Thurs-Sun 1200-2230.

Jimmy Liks

188 Victoria Street, Potts Point, tel 61 2 8354 1400

Of all the new-style Thai eateries, Jimmy Liks is the most slick. Designed by Rob Sample (who also did Longrain), it has the same contemporary wooden-slatted, earthy interiors and long bench tables. It's like a bar with a Thai restaurant added on, and is dark (almost too dark), sexy and loaded with attitude - popular with young, image-conscious Sydneysiders. In fact, The Sydney Morning Herald once reported an incident when a customer who had got fed up waiting for a table (you can't book here) complained: "Perhaps I'm not good-looking enough", to which the waiter replied: "I'm not here for you to dump your insecurities." Fortunately, any negative press in the early days seems to have taught the staff a lesson, and I experienced none of this rudeness on my visit, just a slight air of superiority that you find in most "of-the-moment" establishments.
On the advice of the couple seated next to me, I first tried one of the expertly mixed Asian cocktails - a Chachi (fresh basil smashed with Cointreau, grapefruit and lime juice), which was a good start. The food was equally fresh and intoxicating and was served in manageable portions that didn't sit heavy on the stomach - even the lightly battered salt-and-pepper cuttlefish. Three courses later, the conversation was in full flow with my neighbours on both sides and by the end of the night, after a few more Chachis at the bar, we were friends for life.

Price: Main courses around AU$25 (£10).
Opening hours: Mon-Sun 1800-midnight.¡

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