thai esarn – bayswater
by Mei Leong
I’ve been asked a few times before: "Where’s the best Thai food in Perth?" And my honest answer used to be: "Bangkok."
There are a too few good, or even, passable Thai eateries in Perth – the food is usually too rich (too much coconut cream), not fragrant enough (tastes like it came from a jar) or overly sweet or salty (heavy handed with the MSG), hence rendering the memories of food enjoyed in the Land of Smiles disappointingly further out of reach.
Thai cuisine is intricate – its seasoning teeters on sweet, salty, sour and hot. Interesting textures with flavours that zing up your nose and into your stomach. Maybe so hot it goes in hot, comes out hotter. And we found something very, very close to this at Thai Esarn.
Mum and I had been to Thai Esarn maybe, three years ago (pre-blog days) and liked it. Back then, it was a bit awkward and the food a bit limp, but still amazingly good.
Being the only table for a long time, we were left in peace to suffer our delightfully spicy dinner. Thai food isn’t good when it’s not spicy and this especially applies to Som Tum (paw paw salad). The innocuous. unripe green pawpaw is shredded and bruised in a large mortar and pestle with fish sauce, hot (hot!) chillis, dried shrimp, garlic and dressed with crushed peanuts.
The salad was ordered ‘medium’ spicy, yet it was quite hot! But I couldn’t imagine it any different – this is how it’s supposed to be – hot, crunchy, pungent and acidic. Fabulous. I can’t imagine what ‘hot’ is like, probably unbearable, so if you are not a chilli masochist, go easy.
The Panang chicken curry was very good – fragrant with slivers of kaffir lime leaf sprinkled over just before serving. The curry was refreshingly not too rich, with a clean taste, letting the galangal and lemongrass flavours shine through.
As a bit of an experiment we ordered the Nham Krook Kao, a traditional Esarn (north east Thailand) dish of marinated rice which is deep fried until crispy, with lashings of pork rind, lime juice, spring onions and roasted chilli.
Crunchy, yielding textures with the sharpness of lime, steadily rising heat of chilli and the slipperiness of pork was complex and more-ish, with each ingredient at the peak of freshness. The cook’s skill is evident in this fantastic hash of rice and aromatics. A must eat.
We spoke to the owner about this dish and he confirmed that Nham Krrok Kao was a rare dish – possibly the only such one offered in Perth. Even though Esarn food is found in bits and blobs in most Thai restaurants, I’d suggest to skip right to the specialties page at Thai Esarn because you’ll probably find something fragrant, textural and special.
The restaurant’s unexpected location in Bayswater translates to few dine-in customers. (Though the interior is quite nice – trimmed with beautiful purple and gold elephant table cloths and an antique armoir.) Instead, they do a roaring trade in takeaways, with a steady stream of locals coming and going.
Looking back at our last experience, the food has (unbelievably) gotten better. I suspect it’s a bit of a local secret!
I was a bit hesitant in writing this review, because now the secret’s out. Who knew there’d be great Thai food in Bayswater…
Now, whenever we go to Thailand, I don’t have to come home with a hole in my stomach from excessive chilli and spice. I can come here and gorge instead.
Up’s: Great, authentic Thai food – specialising in little found Esarn (Isaan) food. Very reasonable prices and friendly service.
Down’s: Order mild if you can’t bear chilli.
Thai Esarn Restaurant
1/5 Beechboro Rd cnr Drake St, Bayswater WA 6053
T: (08) 9272 9189
Sun – Thu 5pm – 9.30pm
Fri – Sat 5pm – 10pm
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