Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Sailor's Thai Restaurant, Sydney

As I've mentioned several times now, during our time in Sydney, we were determined to eat as much Thai food as possible since Thai food in San Francisco is mediocre at best, and Thai food in Sydney is fantastic.

A few nights prior, we went to Sailor's Thai Canteen, a casual Thai restaurant that we have visited many times throughout the past few years, and always our favorite.  But Sailor's Thai also has a formal restaurant in the lower floor of the same building.  We were eager to finally make it to the restaurant, and finally got our act together to make a booking (rather essential).

Overall, yes, it was a very different dining experience than the casual Canteen.  The food was more refined, the flavors more developed, and I did prefer it, but the service was really quite poor, and the prices were far too high for what it was.

I'd return, but I did have a number of complaints.  Ojan still liked the Canteen far better.
Interior. 
When I read about Sailor's Thai Restaurant, I imagined that it was far more formal, particularly when I saw the menu prices.  Yes, this is obviously more formal than the Canteen, since it has regular tables rather than a single communal table, proper table service, and more refined menu.

But the decor wasn't *that* formal.  There were white cloth tablecloths, but they were covered by pieces of brown paper.  The walls were green.  There wasn't anything to add ambiance, no flowers, no artwork, not candles.  We were eating in the basement, and it felt like it.  I wonder why they didn't put the casual canteen down here, and the more formal restaurant upstairs for natural light?

The service was quite poor.  Our server was disinterested and fairly neglectful.  He provided no more information than absolutely necessary, a contrast to the other server in the room who would warn groups when they ordered an item that had say 3 pieces for a group of 4.  When my wine glass ran empty, and another diner finished his cocktail, no offer of a next drink was offered (until the other server noticed and took care of us!)  Our water glasses ran empty as well.  It took a very long time to get his attention to ask for the bill, and even once we did, it took at least 15 minutes for him to finally bring it to us.

Dishes were brought out by another staff member, who just delivered them without description.  My main dish, which was actually a starter from the menu, arrived almost 10 minutes after everyone else's, with no apology or notice given.

These things would matter less if it wasn't for the price.  They charged the prices of fine dining, but absolutely did not deliver the experience.
2012 Patrick Piuze Petit Chablis, Burgundy, France. $16.
I was ordering primarily light dishes, so I opted for a white wine.  The wine list was fairly extensive for a restaurant this size, and in particular, there were quite a few choices by the glass.

I enjoyed the chablis quite a bit, but the pour was a bit on the small side - this was my full glass.  For my second glass, I asked for a recommendation from the other server, and was given a chardonnay that I did not like as much.

One dining companion ordered a delightful cocktail to start, a glass of whiskey halfway through, and a fabulous port with dessert, and he was quite happy with his choices.  I tried a sip of the port, and I must admit, it was wonderful.
Appetizer: Chor Muang. $18.
"Steamed dumplings of sweet radish and caramelised peanuts."

The menu is broken up into appetizers, starters, mains, sides, and desserts.  I wasn't really sure what the difference between an "appetizer" and "starter" was.  In my mind, they are synonyms.  I think we determined that appetizers are small individual bites, and starters are just small plates?

Given that description, you can guess that this was an appetizer.  We had no real idea what to expect with this dish, but I assure you, it was still radically different from anything I anticipated.

The presentation was quite stunning.  The dumplings were a vibrant purple!  And they were very elaborate, shaped like flowers, perched atop a lettuce leaf each, sprinkled with peanuts.

The wrapper had a nice chew, wasn't slimy, and was much better than the dumpling wrappers we had at Home Thai.  The filling was chopped peanuts, super crunchy, a bit hearty.  I didn't actually taste radish, but the flavor was complex enough that I'm not certain I would have been able to make it out.  It was sweeter than I expected, but also a bit spicy.

I appreciated this bite for the interesting textures, including the chew of the wrapper and the crunch of the filling, and the layers of complexity I experienced in savoring the flavor.  A really unique dish, and I'm glad I tried it.  It was the favorite appetizer of one diner.  Ojan wasn't impressed though, the only positive thing he had to say was "well, at least it was pretty".

$18 for 4 vegetarian dumplings did seem a bit high however.
Appetizer: Ma Hor. $12.
"Queensland pineapple with candied minced pork, prawn and peanuts."

Next, another appetizer.

I'll admit, I picked this only because it said "candied minced pork", and at Sailor's Thai Canteen {LINK}, the delicious dishes things were the candied pork alongside the papaya salad and the candied pork belly.  Mmm, candied pork!

Again, I wasn't quite sure what to expect, and again, the dish that showed up is not at all what I was imagining.  First, it was a cold dish, which I really didn't expect.

The pineapple was cut like a little scoop, another intricate presentation.  On top was a tiny little ball ... of candied minced pork, prawn, and peanut.  It was beyond fascinating.

The pineapple was too sweet, and the proportion was wrong, as it totally overwhelmed the bite.  This was so unfortunate, because the pork/prawn/peanut ball was downright delicious.  It had a sweetness from the "candied" element, a slight fishiness from the prawn, and a crunch from the peanuts.  I would have gladly eaten a skewer full of these just as cocktail meatballs.

Mine and one other's favorite of the appetizers.  I really liked the little balls!

Other appetizers that we skipped included grilled scallops served in their shells, betel leaves, and some crazy looking crispy vermicelli noodles topped with prawns.  Other tables nearby ordered all of these items, and they all looked quite tempting.

We also skipped all the starters, which included fish cakes, scampi, grilled barramundi, and a banana leaf salad.  Interestingly, I didn't see any of these make their way towards other tables either.
Main: Pad Krapow Nua. $32.
"Wagyu beef stir fried with holy basil and chilli."

One diner went for the beef stir fry.  I didn't try it, but it looked like tender beef strips.  Ojan tried a bite, and said it was fairly salty.  It was topped with a mound of crispy basil.
Main: Massaman Nua. $35.
"Wagyu beef in a southern style massaman curry with potatoes and onion."

Another went for the other beef choice, massaman curry, again featuring wagyu.  I don't generally like massaman curry, and I had the wagyu stew meat a few days earlier in the green curry upstairs, so I mostly skipped this dish, only trying a bite of tender onion, and a few spoonfuls of sauce.  It was really well spiced, and the depth of flavor was evident, just not my style.  Just like in the green curry, the beef was easily fork separable, quite tender.

Like the starters, I thought the $35 price tag was a touch high, although the wagyu curry in the canteen was $29.
Main: Pla Snapper Sam Rod. $48.
"Whole New Zealand snapper flash fried with our three-flavour sour, sweet and spicy sauce."

Ojan went for the whole fried snapper, another stunning presentation.  The pieces of fried fish were placed back inside the curved fried body.

I tried a piece while I waited for my choice.  The fish was delivered hot and fresh.  The exterior was crispy, skin on, still moist inside.  The sauce reminded me of sweet chili sauce.  Like the stir fried beef dish, it was topped with crispy basil, that I thought looked great, but just tasted like oil.

This was an ok dish, but it didn't wow me.  Ojan said it was his favorite of the dishes (he is the only one who tried everything).  And it was impressive looking, but at $48 it was really quite pricey.

The other mains we skipped were a chicken red curry, stir fried duck and eggplant, tom yum soup, and caramelized pork hock.
Starter: Yum Pla Muk Mamuang Sod. $28.
"Sashimi grade squid, grilled and served with chilli, lime and a green mango salad."

My choice was the squid salad, listed as a starter (ok, so I lied when I said we skipped all the starters).  Even though it was a salad, and a cold dish, it somehow took much longer than everyone else's main dishes.  It arrived at least 10 minutes, perhaps 15, after everyone else's food.  I was convinced that it had been forgotten, or mistaken, since I was ordering a non-main as a main.  I would have asked about it, except, that would have required our server to pay any attention whatsover.

Anyway, it finally arrived.  It caught my eye because I was really into squid on this trip, having had it the night before as salt and pepper calamari in the Sheraton on the Park executive lounge and as BBQ calamari at Ms. G's.

The squid was nicely grilled, with a bit of smokiness to it.  Some pieces were a bit slimy however.

The salad was shredded green mango, a bit tart, plus mint and cilantro, garnished with what I'm guessing were trout roe.

I wanted to like this, as it was all things I like, and I was in the mood for a light, refreshing meal.  But ... I thought it was way overdressed and way too sweet.  All I could taste was sweetness.  Interestingly, I complained about this, and my dining companions totally disagreed, saying it wasn't too sweet, and that it was spicy.  I didn't detect any spice!

I really don't understand why my tastebuds seemed so different from the others.  It really was overwhelmingly sweet to me, and I didn't like it at all.  I ate some squid just to make sure I had enough protein to move on to dessert, but I didn't want it, and $28 for a starter again is high.
Dessert: Ka Nom Hua Lan. $14.
"Caramelised coconut dumplings in pandanus pastry with cream ."

And speaking of dessert.  You know me and dessert.  I was looking forward to this part of the meal, particularly as I had read so many reviews raving about the dessert dumplings.  People said this was WHY they come to Sailor's Thai, and, the best I can tell, this dish has been on the menu for ages (and was on the menu at the other Sailor's Thai restaurants that have since closed).

I really liked the pandan wrappers.  They were a pretty green color, and the flavor was nice.  I also thought the texture of the wrapper was just perfect, a bit glutinous, but that is what I wanted.

However, I didn't like the filling of caramelized coconut.  Like my salad, I found it way too sweet.  And of course, everyone else didn't think it was too sweet.  What was wrong with me?

The dumplings were served in a thick coconut milk cream, that was also quite sweet (everyone agreed on this point), that I liked more than the coconut milk creams from desserts at Chat Thai.

The filling ruined these for me, but I gladly ate all the remaining wrappers dunked in the cream, and just discarded the filling.  And then ... I used a spoon to drink all the coconut cream.

I managed to really enjoyed this, but it would have been much better if I actually liked the filling.
Dessert: Kong Wan. $21.
"Baked mung bean and coconut pudding with crispy eschallots, white sticky rice with custard apple, durian ice cream."

We also ordered the dessert sampler platter.  The other items on the dessert menu were mango and sticky rice, which we almost got but decided against because we wanted to be more interesting, and a mung bean pudding, which we almost got just because it sounded fascinating, but then we realized that the sampler platter had that, plus two other items, so we could hedge our bets if the mung bean thing was too weird, and try two other desserts.  Plus, after our first brush with durian a few days prior at Chat Thai, we wanted to try it again.

The server warned us that the platter would have some of the dumplings on it.  We were a little stumped, because the description said it was the mung bean pudding, the rice with apple custard, and the durian ice cream, no mention of dumplings, but we assumed it must be a 4th item, not listed for some reason, as he didn't say the dumplings were replacing something else.

And then this arrived.

Where was the sticky rice and apple custard?  There was sticky rice, but ... with mango.  Not that we were upset by this, since we wanted to order the mango and sticky rice anyway, but ... uh, he could have told us this.

And ... where was the durian ice cream?  No where.  In its place was the dumplings.  Again, he told us there would be dumplings, but he neglected to tell us that the durian ice cream would not exist.  Sigh.  The service.

Anyway, the dumplings were the same as our full size order, and the reason we had so many (and extra sauce!).  They were the first pick of one diner for favorite dessert.

The mung bean and coconut pudding was just as strange as we imagined.  It was a bit pasty and cake-like, served cold.  And yes, there were shallots on top.  I'm all for mixing savory and sweet, salty and desserts, etc, but this totally didn't work for me.  I liked nothing about this.  Mine, and everyone else's, least favorite.

The mango and sticky rice was just classic mango and sticky rice, but the mango was very ripe and fresh, the sticky rice perfectly sticky, and the coconut cream just as tasty with in the dumplings.  It was much, much better than the mango and sticky rice at Home Thai and we easily polished this off.  The favorite dessert for myself, Ojan, and one other diner.
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