Nothing clues me in that a restaurant has big aspirations faster than catching a whiff of mandarin rind from the Aēsop products they use in their bathrooms. For many years, I thought this was the way the Sydney Morning Herald awarded hats – there certainly seemed to be a correlation between a restaurant having Aēsop products and them receiving their toque.
At Appethai Restaurant, which has slotted into the old Spice I Am digs in Darlinghurst, the bathroom products are but one hallmark of their lofty aspirations.
You will also find elegant Luigi Bormioli glassware, nicely weighted cutlery, and lustrous gold décor, which should all help to clue you in that they’re not your average, run-of-the-mill Thai restaurant.
Wines here are interesting, and go all the way up to Gosset Brut Grande Reserve Champagne ($239/bottle). We kick off with a more modest Monmousseau Brut Etoile NV ($13/glass) that’s clean, fruity and dry, before moving on to a second French import – the Chateau Riotor Côtes de Provence Rosé ($49/bottle). Markups are reasonable, and the perfumed, salmon pink, dry rosé is cuisine appropriate.
In the kitchen, executive chef Yoavapapongse Praisang and head chef Kongphak Phetputtrangkul, have brought their combined experience to bear in a menu comprised mostly of tried-and-true Thai favourites. Drawing upon ground cut by other modern Asian standouts - Red Lantern and Longrain to name but two - attention has been paid to provenance, with key suppliers named on the menu. You can taste the difference in Seared Chilli Scallops ($19.70) where four premium Hokkaido scallops glistening with chilli sauce, are teamed with pea puree and shimeji mushrooms, with fish sauce providing a link-back to Thai cuisine.
Individual baskets bearing Golden Egg Pastry Tartlets ($8/2) are a revelation, particularly when eaten wrapped inside their decorative green betel leaf. Filled with free-range chicken mince, prawn meat and shredded coconut, the delicate tartlets have a big savoury punch that doesn't rely upon heat for impact.
Three grilled Kiwi prawns top the Banana Blossom Salad ($24.90). They’re the creamy highlight of a salad where the banana flowers were a little dominated by coconut cream.
To my taste buds, it could do with more chilli to balance the nutty creaminess, so we were grateful for Appethai’s lovely house-made chilli dressing because it allowed us to do this ourselves.
While I’d normally pass over Red Curry Duck ($32.90) with lychees and pineapple as likely over-sweet Australianised rubbish, Appethai's eye-catching rendition is great! With moist slices of well-rendered duck meat sitting alongside tender white noodles of young coconut flesh, this clean, aromatic curry strokes all five taste centres with salty, sweet, sour, hot and umami. Texture isn't forgotten either, with slightly bitter pops from exploding green pea eggplants making us both smile.
Against a soundtrack of sophisticated cocktail hour modern jazz, we tackle BBQ Wagyu (6+) Beef ($36.90). It’s the perfect dish to savour at the end of your meal. Fingers of marinated wagyu beef, still nicely pink in the centre, respond well to their bedfellows: tender shimeji mushrooms and spicy tamarind dressing. I reckon it could do without the purely decorative green sugar along the slate, though.
Serendipity ice creams in flavours like Coconut and Jackfruit ($3.90/scoop) are certainly one way to put your mouth back together at the end of your meal, though I’d recommend taking a chance on the Dessert Special of the Month ($14.90).
I won with a super-pretty verrine of bua loi – glutinous rice balls bobbing in warm, salty coconut cream. The balls have different fillings so it’s a fun lottery to see who gets pandan, and who gets an interior of caramelised coconut shreds.
Sydney’s market for Thai has been a bit destroyed by cheap and average restaurants, but if you give Appethai a chance, they may well restore your appetite for Thai cuisine.
296-300 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst
Ph: (02) 9356 4147