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Southern Thai Food At It’s Best At Rambutan

April 8th, 2010

As I stepped over vomit on the colourful Oxford Street, I wondered where the hell my friend Eve was taking me to dinner.

Walking up the street towards Paddington, I notice a shop front with dark bronze curtains in the window and deep lighting through them… That is where we are going – Rambutan.

We cross the road and walk into the dark and arcane looking restaurant you are immediately greeted by a sweet maître d’, who asked what name our reservation was under. “Your table will be ready shortly, please take a seat downstairs in the Tiki Lounge and we will come and get you once your table is ready”. We accept and happily move downstairs into the stunningly appointed Tiki Lounge. Quite often when you are asked to wait at a restaurant, you get a bit impatient, you might Visit FoxyBingo or get out a book to read. In this case because the maître d was so charming and the atmosphere was so welcoming we didn’t think twice about waiting. Passing the kitchen, you smell fresh ingredients. A Rambutan & sorbet bellini and a coconut & kaffir lime daiquiri carnavale coming up! Amazing cocktails by some of the best bar tenders I’ve seen work their magic behind the bar.

After a quick catch up with Eve over cocktails, we are called to our table. A cosy little table in the front window.

The venue is packed, but it’s not feeling like it’s over-crowded. It’s noisy, but it’s not unbearable. It’s the perfect environment for the moods we were both in.

So what kind of food do the attractive owners Joe and Milena serve at Rambutan? It’s Southern Thai food. The décor really throws you off as it actually looks nice (where most Sydney Thai restaurants look pretty cheap).

Looking over the menu, I read each item and take notice of the interesting ingredients. The meals are designed to share, so Eve and I pick a couple of entrées and a couple of mains.

Entrée -Betel leaves (Miang) with smoked trout & grilled chilli eggplant relish and steamed dumplings with chicken, prawn, sweet corn and plum sauce.

Main - Wok fried King prawns with pong gari coconut cream, baby corn and curry leaf and Braised wagyu beef, flat noodles, Vietnamese mint and black vinegar sauce.

The Betel leaves were carefully constructed, and superbly presented. Spicy, yet manageable. The relish works perfectly with the spice and the trout – it was so easy to eat, and so flavoursome. Not a huge portion, but very huge in taste. The steamed dumplings are so delicious too. As it is, I love chicken, prawns and sweet corn, so mixing them altogether and adding a sweet plum sauce with it, was just heaven for me. I would have been happy having this as my main, just alot more of them!

The pong gari coconut cream has an intricate flavour. Pong gari has something like 6 or 7 spices in it, so mixed with the coconut cream, they complemented eachother well, giving a wholesome texture for the king prawns, which for me take alot to fill me up! For something different, we got the Wagyu beef. The amazingly marbled meat was tender, with the taste of mint, but there was a spice in there that I just couldn’t guess. Whatever it was, completed the dish. It tied the sauce, the beef and the noodles together.

Of all the dishes, I most enjoyed the dumplings. I could have had them as a main and the king prawns as an entrée and feel perfectly filled.

Leaving space for dessert, I had a look at the menu again. Only three desserts to choose from? That suprised me a little, considering some of the restaurants I’ve been to lately have a huge range of desserts. I ordered the young coconut jelly with vanilla bean and passionfruit. It was then I realised it’s about quality – not quantity. This dessert was just incredible. The thing I loved most was the way they worked with the texture to get the most out of the presentation and the teaming of ingredients. In my mouth, its felt as good as it tasted.

Will I go back? Yes I would. It’s great for after work drinks and dinner, watching people rushing around after work down below and relaxing with friends in a contemporary venue.

Pros: Communal and tight layout makes you feel cosy, design and décor, service and bar tenders.

Cons: Such a great restaurant in such a dodgy part of town – but maybe that’s what adds to the charm of it? Sort of like the best house in the worst street. Expensive for Thai food, but it’s justified once presented and tasted.

Pricing: Entrées from $4 to $25, Mains from $8.50 to $34 (then there’s the market price whole fish), Desserts from $9 to $12. Cocktails are all around $16, with some exceptions, Sangria – $36. White wines from $36 to $64 a bottle, Red’s from $48 to $64 and Champagne $108 to $340 a bottle (or $18 for a glass of Mumm Cordon Rouge NV).

Final Say: Cool, calm, communal and collective. Unique and enjoyable food. Catch up with friends sort of place. Maybe not a quite date, but definately a second or third date restaurant.

Rambutan – 96 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst – (02) 9360 7772

Rambutan on Urbanspoon