And so begins the battle of the north-side Thai restaurants. In my last post, I reviewed Morks restaurant (located in Florey), which has been my all-time favourite restaurant in Canberra. There's a contender on the scene, and that's the relatively new Chong Co Thai Bar and Restaurant located on the outskirts of Westfield Belconnen. As soon as I walked in to the restaurant, I noticed the classy interior. It was a great balance between traditional Thai features and modern elegance. The open kitchen connected to a bar that serves a range of cocktails. I thought the centrepiece of the restaurant - the water fountains - was a lovely touch.
Mixed entree $10.90 The standout item on this platter was the fish cake. I'm not normally not a fan of Thai fish cakes, but the great texture, flavours and the spicy heat made for an absolutely delightful mouthful. I would have quite happily traded the spring roll (very unusual flavour) and the curry puff (not enough filling) for a plateful of those fish cakes. I could have eaten a plateful of the chicken skewers too. The chicken was so tender and juicy, it was as if it had been poached in a water bath rather than grilled. The homemade satay sauce was also nice but wish it was less chunky and more "dippable" so that I could have had more of it with my chicken!
Goong Maprao $10.90 The mixed entree had some delicious elements, but I much preferred this impressive-looking entree - deep fried prawns coated with shredded coconut, served with sweet chilli sauce. I loved the crunch of the shredded coconut shell, but what I loved even more was how the coconut flavour was paired so well with the prawn.
Tofu $8.90 I actually forgot to take a photo of this dish because it looked so good we tucked in straight away! I only remembered to take the photo after we had polished off half the dish! This tasted as good as the best fried tofu I've had in Asia - crunchy on the outside and silky soft on the inside, absolutely moreish.
Gang Phed Ped Yang $20.90 I never thought I'd say curry could be presented in a way that was visually stunning, but the curries that were placed in front of us were almost works of art - with the tasty-looking morsels peeking out of the fragrant curry and the delicate garnishes and swirls. I don't think my camera did it justice.
This was a red duck curry with coconut milk, lychees, cherry tomatoes, pineapple and mixed vegetables. After tasting this dish, I thought I'd gone to food heaven. One of my companions said the curry sauce was so incredible that he just wanted to drink it straight! The roasted duck pieces were amazingly tender and flavourful. The portion size was also very generous, with quite a few pieces of the roasted duck and several lychees and cherry tomatoes (not just one each).
Chicken Panang Curry $18.90 This dish had the same creamy, luxurious consistency as the duck curry but in terms of flavour, I can't honestly judge it on it's own merits as I was too busy trying to get as much of the duck curry as I could before it disappeared.
BBQ Lamb $20.90 I'm not sure if this is technically a Thai dish, but the menu said the lamb was grilled with Thai herbs. It doesn't really matter and I'm glad it was on the menu because it was a divine dish. The meat had been well-marinated and it was packed with flavour.
Poo Nim Makarm $24.90 This was deep fried soft shell crab with tamarind sauce and mixed vegetables. This dish didn't really live up my expectations as there was a bit too much batter on the soft shell crab for my liking. And with the sauce on top of it, the crab did get a bit soggy.
A couple of other things that could be improved: their menu and the way they repeat our orders. The formatting and content of the menu betrays the elegant presentation and quality of the food. A more refined and restrained menu would go a long way to make a better first impression of the restaurant.
The other thing that slightly bothered me was that the dishes with Thai names were repeated by the waiter using the Thai names only. I don't think they picked up on our puzzled looks when they were repeating the orders. If the waiter wants to confirm our orders to make sure they have it right, shouldn't we be able to understand what the waiter is saying? It couldn't hurt to confirm the dishes using the English names of the dishes as well. However, it wasn't a big deal as we ended up getting the dishes that we ordered.
What impressed me most about this restaurant (other than the duck curry) was the personalised hospitality we received. We were always looked after by the same waiter, which meant we weren't continually being asked the same questions by different waiters. When the restaurant was full and very busy, it wasn't difficult at all to get the attention of a waiter and they were very prompt in fulfilling our requests. And when it wasn't busy, after noticing that we had finished the rice on our plate, our waiter would personally serve more rice onto our plates (asking us if we wanted more rice, of course).
So, who wins the title of best northside Thai-style restaurant? Does Chong Co knock Morks off the number 1 position? Not yet, but that's not going to stop me from coming back to try their Mussaman curry and Choo Chee fish!
I think Morks has certainly set the benchmark for providing sophisticated and elegant Thai dining with 5-star service but they better watch out because Chong Co is not far off.
Food Avenue rating: 9/10