Real Thai w No Gen Y
Chapel Windsor is the weird and wonderful playground of Melbourne’s Gen Y. Cool bars, fast food, groovy cafes and restaurant franchises a plenty for the young and restless.
So finally on a hot summer's evening we were delighted to escape the entertainment strip and discover a calm oasis of a venue specialising in the heady flavours of Thailand. This humble restaurant is named Ayatana, which is described on their website as a Buddhist term translating to "sense base" or "sense sphere", expressing the essence of sight, taste, smell, hearing, touch and feeling from the heart!
The venue is tiny, very unassuming, simply appointed, and proudly decorated with pictures of Thailand and familiar leading wine brands of Australasia. We were greeted and presented with a small concise menu of modern Thai appetisers and extremely well priced main courses, which could clearly be shared (ranging from $8 to $25).
The menu was impossible to choose from, every dish sounded light, exotic and enticing. We started with, what some would say is so last year, a dish of artfully topped betel leaves with crispy prawn, roasted coconut and caramelised tamarind sauce ($8 each). They were refreshing and perfectly balanced.
We chose the very on-trend SC Pannell Pinot Gris. We were then enticed by the crunchy bio dynamic brown rice salad, crushed cashews, green apple, bean shoot and flying fish roe salad ($12). This was presented as a towering textural temple to all the great Thai salads I’ve tasted! Crispy rice noodle, sour apples, textural brown rice goodness, red onions, lip smacking chillies, lashings of fish sauce, native lime, flying fish roe and bean sprouts left me feeling alert, healthy and cleansed for my next tantalising Thai treat.
And what a treat it was! This year, thanks to rock star chefs like David Chang, has been dominated by tasty hand rolls and steamed buns, this clever Thai inspired version was a steamed bun filled with a delicious Larb Gai type salad of minced chicken, lime leaves, lemon grass, chilli and mint - it was sensational!
We could have continued to graze all night, the wine was a perfect match for the food, the service was humble and gorgeous, whilst the window position made for further Gen Y entertainment. By now the 40 seat restaurant was full of families and young professionals.
We chose a seafood course of hot sweet and sour sliced crispy barramundi fillets, pineapple, tomatoes and red onion. I’ve had this dish before, in Thailand, as a crispy whole fish and equally enjoyed this user friendly interpretation of finely sliced wild barramundi fillet, lightly rice floured and shallow fried, before being coated in delicate pineapple, tomato and a peppercorn spiked glaze, crispy shallots and fried basil.
Next up, we opted for another classic of Chicken in a traditional Thai green curry w Japanese pumpkin and Thai basil ($18.90). The curry was authentic and correctly light in coconut milk, a rich chicken broth of green herbs and spices, flecked with moist chicken breast and the king of Thai herbs sweet basil.
The next dish is most chef's death row request, the famous Som Tum salad ($14.90). A cult street food of hand cut green papaya, dried shrimps, lime, fish sauce, peanuts, snake beans, and cherry tomatoes - I must have more!! I need more chilli dishes!!! It is an addictive salad that celebrates all the amazing flavours of Thailand.
Steamed tofu was ordered to extinguish the enjoyable fire, followed by a salted caramel sundae perfectly prepared and partnered w salty caramelised bananas.
We paused to reflect on a great meal, distanced from the clichés and cues of modern dining, to celebrate a kitchen being on-trend with respectful cooking, fine china, polite service, and great wine choices. Let’s hope this is something our industry never grows out of!
What the Chef's says - Carefully balance the crucial combination of hot, sweet, sour and salty flavours - otherwise known as the 'Thai Food Compass' - in our contemporary Thai offering. Juthamas Vichayaporn.
What Wilson says - Talented kitchen, strikes back!
When can we go - Lunch: Thu to Sat 12:00pm-4:00pm; Dinner: Mon to Sun 5.00pm-Late;