Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sailor's Thai Restaurant: Updated Format

You may recall that on my last visit to Sydney, my favorite thai adventures took place at Sailor's Thai, both the casual Canteen and the formal Restaurant. When making plans this time around, a co-worker had one request only: he wanted to go to Sailor's Thai.  I looked at the website out of curiosity, just to see if there were any new menu additions or changes, and was very confused. Why was there only one menu now, rather than one for the Canteen, and one for the restaurant? And why did it seem to be a hybrid of the two previous menus?  I asked the restaurant and was told that they have changed their concept, serving a new menu format, in both locations.   Hmm.  I wonder if their business wasn't going well?  Anyway, this made it easy to decide where to go.  If the menu was the same, we'd go to the restaurant, since we had a group of six, and the Canteen doesn't take reservations.

I was amused by the fact that for all dishes that remained on the menu from before, the Thai names were replaced with English equivalents, aka, gone was "ka nom hua lan" and in its place was "caramelized coconut dumplings".   I guess the thai names were too hard for people?

As for our visit ... not so successful.  The food was poorly executed and the service was horrible.  It was incredibly awkward throughout.  The server came to take our drink order within seconds of us sitting down, but after that, I had to flag him down to order anything.  Our water ran out and was never refilled.  Our wine glasses went empty and no offer of more wine was made.  Dishes we ordered to share were brought without any share plates or even cutlery for the individuals, let alone for serving.   Getting the bill took absolutely forever.   We had to flag someone down to ask for it, but even once we had it, getting someone to come take the credit card was actually incredibly difficult, and again, took physically getting up from our seats to get attention.  They never looked our way again after delivering the bill.

I didn't take a photo, but I had a glass of chablis, since I remembered liking the one I had last time.  It was again a tiny pour.  It was warm.  It was clearly not the same wine, and had an awful acidic finish.   Since the server ignored us the rest of the meal, I wasn't ever able to order something different.

I think Sailor's Thai may have gone the way of Bill's for me.   It remains a great Sydney memory, but, I'm not eager to return.

Starters

When we visited the Canteen before, the menu had only three choices for starters, all very simple, including the spring rolls that we didn't like, plus chicken satay and curry puffs.  The Restaurant had both "appetizers" and "starters" on the menu, all far more complex, like the intricate flower shaped dumplings, that we also sadly didn't really like.

Now the merged menu has 7 starters, all somewhere in-between the simple offerings from the Canteen and the fancier offerings from the restaurant, including scaled back versions of the crispy vermicelli noodles, betel leafs (now with prawn instead of salmon), and grilled scallops.  The dumplings and pineapple bites that we got last time are gone, as are all of the selections from the "starters" menu.
Starter: Prawn cakes w/ plum sauce. $10.
The restaurant had fish cakes on the menu before, but now offers up a cheaper alternative: prawn cakes.  You can tell they are trying to arrive at a menu that is not only a hybrid in terms of the presentation style, but also the price.

The cakes were crispy and hot, clearly freshly fried, but incredibly oily. They didn't seemed to have been drained at all.  Inside the cakes was big chunks of prawn plus a lot of filler that I couldn't identify.

The sauce on the side was light and sweet, and actually tasty, but, I wanted something more like an aioli to go along with the fried food.  The $10 price was reasonable for the portion.
Starter: Chiang mai pork sausage w/ green chili relish. $20.
One diner wanted the sausage. Not something I'd normally pick, but, I do like sausage from time to time, so I wasn't opposed.

The sausage was served a room temperature rather than hot.  It had a really bitter skin.   I didn't like it.

On the side was a huge pile of cilantro.   What were we supposed to do with that?  And slices of cucumber, which were refreshing and a nice compliment the heat from other components.

The heat I speak of came from the green chili relish, which was really quite spicy.   I actually really liked it and found it quite flavorful.  I ate it by the spoonful at one point, since I didn't really have anything else to add it to.

My least favorite dish, and it seemed pricey for $20.

Mains

The main dish menu is broken into Salads, "From the Grill", "Stir Fries", and "Curries".   We got at least one from each category.

For the new menu, none of the mains from the restaurant remained, I guess they were all deemed too fancy, so most of the menu for mains came directly from the Canteen, plus a few new additions.

Dishes were delivered as they were ready, which was appreciated since they were hot and fresh, but it was a bit strange to get our salad so late into the meal.   I guess I'm used to salads as more of a starter, and less of a main?

We also ordered rice, which is served per person.   We had six people, and I didn't want rice, so I ordered rice for five.   When our first dish came, the server also had a big bowl of steaming rice, and he then proceeded to walk around serving it to each person.  This made no sense to me.  Why not leave it on the table?  Once he scooped out a little bit for each person, he left with it, so when our later dishes arrived, we couldn't pair them with rice.   No further offer of more rice was made.  I wonder if we could have asked for more?  Of course, that would have required someone noticing us.   It was also annoying because it took him a long time to serve each person, and our precious first dish got cold while we waited.  Grumble.
Crispy Pork Belly. $26.
"in a sticky sweet and sour sauce."

We started with a selection from the "Stir Fries" section, the crispy pork belly.  It was the dish I was most excited for.  On our last visit to the Canteen  it was my hands down favorite.  I adored the sweet sauce and the perfectly chewy crispy pork.

This time it was ... fine.  The sauce was ok, but not as sticky, nor as sweet, as I remembered.  The pork belly didn't seem as well prepared; the edges were super chewy, almost too chewy, and the interior was just fat that didn't render out.  I don't know enough about cooking to understand this, but it seems like it wasn't done at the right temperature?

This was quite the disappointment.  I found that I didn't even want to bother soaking up the sauce, which, last time, I ended up dipping anything I could find into the sauce to get more of it.  Still, my second favorite dish of the night, which, might give you an idea the direction this review is going.
Crying Tiger. $29.
"Marinated wagyu beef served with a tamarind and chilli sauce."

This was our selection "From the Grill" (the other option was spatchcock).  I would normally just skip the grill section, since for me Thai cuisine is all about the spicing in the sauces and curries, but, one diner wanted this.

The beef was fine, obviously decent quality, nicely grilled, but certainly cooked well done.  We weren't given an option, perhaps we could have asked for it less cooked?  It seems like such a shame to cook wagyu well done.

It was served with a huge chunk of cabbage on the side.  It sounds silly, but I adore the cabbage at Sailor's Thai (normally with the papaya salad, more on that below).  It is always so fresh and crispy, and the perfect compliment to cleanse the palette and tone down the heat from the spicy dishes.

As you might expect, I did actually really like the tamarind and chilli sauce, and dunked my cabbage in it.  Eventually I just ate it by the spoonful.  I have no shame.  It had excellent flavor.

Neither Ojan nor I would get this again, but I did enjoy the sauce.  The portion wasn't huge, but the $29 price didn't seem too high for quality wagyu.
Green curry of slow cooked wagyu beef w/ roti. $29.
Next, moving on to a curry selection, we opted for the green curry.  Other options were red curry of chicken or jungle curry of barramundi.
I don't really care for green curry, but I wanted this dish for one reason: the roti!  Last time, I fell in love with the roti.  I ate more than half of it.  We even managed to order a second serving of just the roti, even though it is not on the menu, because we loved it that much.

This time, the roti wasn't very good.  It wasn't hot.  It wasn't crispy.  It was just thin and greasy.  Meh.  I slathered it in sauces, and even then, I didn't want it.  I was a bit heartbroken, since I really loved it so much on my previous visit.

The curry sauce was ok, but, as I said last time, not really my thing.  The beef was really tender and flaked apart easily, and this was Ojan's favorite dish of the night, and he said he'd still return to Sailor's Thai for this.
Som dtam. $24.
"Green papaya salad with peanuts, dried shrimp, spicy & sour dressing and sweet pork."

This was the only dish that still had its Thai name.  Guess papaya salad is just that well known.

It came from the salad portion of the menu, one of three choices, and always our number one order from Sailor's Thai Canteen.  It was this dish that made us become repeat customers in the first place, so I was glad that it remained on the merged menu (the banana blossom salad from the restaurant also remains).

And while I say it was weird to get our salad at this point in the meal, as you can tell, like always, this is not a skimpy little salad.  Served on one side was a bit of steamed rice with crispy bits on top.  I don't really eat rice so I could care less about this, but it did nicely soak up all the juices from the salad.

The salad is served atop a huge chunk of cabbage that Ojan used to always devour.  The first time I saw him do this, I made fun of him, until I realized how awesome it was.  The papaya salad has so much heat that you need something refreshing to cool your mouth.  The cabbage is crispy, fresh, and delicious.  And if you can handle the spice, the layer that gets soaked in the salad dressing is my absolute favorite.

And then ... the magic.  On the side is the sweet pork.  Pork candy.  Sweet chunks of chewy, delicious pork.  I absolutely adore this stuff.  On our last visit, I wasn't quite as great previous visits, but, I did love it again this time.  It just has the perfect level of chew and sweetness to it.  So good.

Honestly, I could do without the papaya salad, and just take the candy pork.
Som Dtam: Close Up.
Speaking of the papaya salad itself.

The execution wasn't great, which seemed to be the theme of the meal.

The base was standard shredded green papaya, and that was fine.  The green beans weren't properly cooked, too crispy, and not in a good way.  Bits of peanut are bits of peanut, unremarkable.

But ... take a look at the little shrimp here.  They were gross looking, with really, really visible poop tracks.  Now, cleaning little shrimps is rare, but these looked particularly bad.  I had a few of the nicer looking ones, but they tasted really fishy, really old, really off putting.  The description says they were dried, but, they really didn't seem it.  Either way, they were really quite nasty.

And, look at the cabbage.  See the black on there?  While I loved the cabbage, it didn't seem washed.  There was a lot of dirt and grit on it.

The sauce was good though, great flavor from the fish sauce, and spicy enough.  The bits of pork from this salad were my favorite bites of the evening, but the rest of it I could do without.
Spicy Minced Chicken.  $26.
"With chilli, garlic, lemongrass and wild ginger."

Our final selection was another from the Stir Fries section, ordered by one of my fellow dinners.  It is not a dish I would normally order, since I don't like chicken.  I was full, so I didn't bother try it.  It was only about half finished, which could have been because it came last, or because it just wasn't great.  I didn't get a good read off my fellow diners to find out.

The $26 price tag seemed pretty high for a chicken dish.

Desserts

The Canteen never really had much of a dessert menu, just coconut ice cream and sorbet of the day.  The new merged menu kept these, and kept just one dessert from the restaurant menu.
Caramelized Coconut Dumplings. $14.
"in pandanus pastry with cream."

I didn't care for these last time, and I didn't want the ice cream or sorbet, but others seemed a bit unsatisfied and wanted dessert, so we got it.  No drink menu was provided at dessert time, otherwise I'm sure some after dinner drinks would have been ordered, perhaps some dessert wines or tea/coffee.  We probably could have specifically asked, but, we were pretty defeated at this point, and just didn't bother.

I also didn't bother try a dumpling, since I knew I didn't like them before, even when the rest of the meal was better.  Everyone else split them in half.  No one liked them.  No one wanted the final one, and it went unfinished.  Even me, the girl who loves dessert, and hates for food to go waste, still didn't bother.

The dumplings took a long time to arrive, so I think they were freshly made, since they were served warm.  I lapped up the coconut cream, but even that wasn't good  Seriously, how do you make coconut cream not taste awesome?  I certainly wouldn't get this again.
Sailors Thai Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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