There is a fire in the House.
Sick of long queue at Mamak and Chat Thai? Looks like this new joint can be a nice addition to our last night supper list. It was a cold winter night when we discovered this establishment called House as we were walking towards Central Station on our way home after the all-you-can-eat ribs frenzy at Cafe Ish.
The dimly lit outdoor dining area was so inviting with stilts of heaters burning away to keep the patrons warm and toasty. A Thai live band is also serenading while the diners tuck into some hot warm Thai spicy food. It is so tempting but we were so full from all the ribs at Cafe Ish, we simply couldn't even fit in another tiny dessert and decided to give it a miss. I made a mental note to come back real soon and the opportunity prevails as I find myself here with Simon (the heart of food) for lunch.
House is located on Elizabeth Street in Surry Hills, a big space adjoining to Triple Ace Bar, where Italian bistro Sopranos once was. The wide open space is welcoming with sturdy wooden tables that are perfect for groups, old movie posters are framed on the walls and they even have Thai live band entertainment on certain nights to set a relaxing ambiance. You can walk straight from Triple Ace Bar into the indoor dining area passing through the bright open kitchen where chefs are playing with fire.
The bilingual menu booklet in English and Thai has an extensive list of Thai street food from grilled BBQ meat, salad to home made dishes local to the Thai north east region. As I flip to the first page, a huge portrait of head chef Sujet Saenkhan greets you and ready to take you on a wild fiery hot journey. Sujet, sound familiar? Yes, he is also the head chef at Spice I am, and House is his new venture that taps into the hotter, spicier Thai northeast street food - the Isaan food.
"Do you like it hot or not hot?" The waitress asks while we are ordering. It is a unanimous decision to say yes since both me and Simon have big appetite for chilli. Go hard or go home.
There are two types of Som Tum to choose from - Thai or Lao version, we go for the latter one. According to the menu, the core ingredients that gives Som Tum Lao its distinctive flavour are fermented fish sauce and shrimp paste (belacan), whereas the Thai version is mixed with dry shrimp. The finely chopped young papaya salad is moderately hot, pounded through together with crunchy raw green beans, cucumber slices and cherry tomatoes. A handful of roasted peanuts on the side to give the salad an extra crunch.
Dishes are arriving amazingly fast at our table all together at the same time but soon we discover the portion size here are pretty small in comparison to the price they are charging. Next dish is the Mok Gai Hua Plee which comes wrapped in a little cute banana leaf parcel.
Same same but different to the Ho Mok Pa that I've learned to cook in Luang Prabang, the steamed curry chicken pieces are tender and not at all spicy, nicely infused with eschallot, lemongrass, galangal, chilli and kaffir lime leaves. There are also purple tendrils entangled around the parcel which I initially thought are squid tentacles but turns out to be shredded banana flower that adds texture to the dish.
The traditional Issan jackfruit salad is prepared by using young jackfruit, mixed with dried chillies, lemon grass, mint leaves and a wedge of lime on the side for the extra tang. The soft young jackfruit doesn't really have much taste to it, but I am particularly drawn to the tiny pea-size unripe jackfruit that simply burst inside my month when bite into it.
It is served with long sticks of young bamboo shoot, cucumber and snake beans on the side. I particularly enjoy the young bamboo shoot with a subtle hint of acrid flavour which adds a light soury acidity to the salad.
The words 'egg embryo' on the menu caught my eye. The Tom Yum Powng Kai is served in an impressive golden copper pot with burner underneath to keep it warm throughout the meal. The fertilised embryos used in the dish are still in early stage and pretty much look like bright orange ping pong balls in all different sizes, floating in the soup.
The embryo is firmer almost fish ball like, it doesn't have the gritty texture and the strong flavour like a yolk either. But the Tom Yum soup itself is actually more appetising. A mix of galangal, lemongrass, tamarind, eschallot, vietnamese coriander, chilli, kaffir lime leaf and holy basil are the contribution for a fiery hot and sour concoction, a perfect soup for the wintery Sydney.
I was a little disappointed to find that there are only two choices on the dessert menu until the waitress comes back and informs us that there are actually three more "specials" desserts that are not listed. "We have BTS. Do you know what is BTS?" She asks while Simon and I both shrugs. "It is better than sex..." She replies bashfully. "Oh really? Better than sex huh? So what is it call?" I reply and I can be a noob sometimes, it actually take both Simon and I a few seconds to wake up and realised that BTS stands for Better Than Sex.... duh!
The BTS comes with two thick slices of French toasts that are buttery soft, served a giant scoop of pandan ice cream that is creamy with the occasional icy frost, the pandan flavour is not overpowering and is balanced well with the strong toffee-flavour gula melaka syrup all over. It is probably the highlight of our meal.
Once you have a dessert "better than sex", it is all going down hill from there. Our second dessert also has a cheeky name, the Cup D is a chocolate cake served hot in a big cup, atop with a scoop of coconut ice cream. The chocolate cake is nice and warm but unfortunately it tastes floury and not as sweet. Simon doesn't mind the coconut ice cream but I think it taste like a scoop of frozen coconut cream out of a can.
I do have a soft spot for Lao and Thai north east food and there are still a lot of items on the menu I would like to try. The food is decent and not over the top, it is about Thai street food after all, but a very expensive Thai street food which I can never justify. The meal cost $78 for the two of us, which is considerably pricey especially the portion is small.
I also just realised when I get home that perhaps there is a mistake on the cost of the bill, as the four dishes plus sticky rice is only $53 in total, that means the dessert will have to be $12.50 each which seems a little bit expensive to me. Not to mention there is also "CASH ONLY" policy at the premise, I have to go and get more cash out from the ATM at the pub next door to pay for the meal.
You better carry a stash if you are planning to have a feast here.
View House (Thai northeast street food) in a larger map
House (Thai northeast street food) 202 Elizabeth St
Surry Hills, 2010
P 02 9280 0364
Opening Times Daily 12 noon–2am
ATFT news update:
Since you all been a good loyal ATFT reader, I shall reward you with a sexy photo of Manu Feidel. This photo among other shots of famous chefs including Rosemary Shrager, Paul Rankin, Frank Camorra, Poh and Antonio Carluccio were taken at the Le Cordon Bleu award after party in South Australia. My shots of the chefs are published in the latest July issue of CREAM magazine along with personal interviews among all the chefs to talk about how 'design' influences their cooking and restaurant. Worth check it out.