Siam Samrarn Review
Hey y’all. I have given myself a little Christmas present and have taken a few days off. I love being chained to my computer as much as the next nerd, but it’s good to mix it up. Here’s Derek, who’s giving a special guest review about Thai food, AKA a commonly found food crumb in my keyboard. Enjoy!
Maeve O’Meara, the host of the wildly popular Food Safari show on SBS, once commented during the Thai episode that green curry is almost Australia’s national dish. What, you say? Thai food has an equal if not better claim then Sunday roast, Fish & Chips, Pavlova, Vegemite and even the good old Aussie Meat Pie? But look around you. Every suburb has at least one or two Thai restaurants and takeaways these days. Many self-respecting pubs, bars or Mod Oz dining joints in town feature at least one Thai-inspired dish on their menu, be it a curry, beef salad or Pad Thai noodles. And most of us are cooking something Thai at home on a rather frequent basis, thanks to the variety of options available to us in the form of pre-prepared Thai spice pastes and ingredients from the supermarkets.
There is a problem, of course. Even as the popularity of Thai food in Australia soared over the past two decades, and as Thai cuisine establishes its reputation as a world class cuisine here thanks to the likes of David Thompson and Martin Boetz of Longrain, it is also very easy to end up with bad Thai chow. Generic suburban Thai restaurants of indifferent quality are already beginning to replace their Chinese counterparts from previous generations. Sure, the Thai takeaway food from around the corner from you could be tasty, and perhaps it’s not a big deal if it doesn’t taste exactly like what one might actually get on the streets of Thailand. But what does it say about Brisbane’s food scene?
To say that Siam Samrarn is not only a breath of fresh air, but also the total package as far as Thai restaurants in Brisbane go is an understatement. First off, the restaurant’s décor shows the benefit of being in the same premises previously occupied by two swanky dining joints. I had dined with both of its former tenants before, so with the exception of a few furnishing touches here and there, Siam Samrarn is just as good looking as its predecessors but with the prices of a typical mid-range suburban restaurant.
The service, considering the type of venue it is, could not have been better. The waitstaff were all friendly, efficient, and genuinely interested in taking your orders, tending to your table needs, or making any recommendations when the need arises. We wanted to try a whole fish as one of our mains, but we couldn’t decide on how to have it cooked, or what sauce to serve it with. The Thai girl waiting on our table was grinning from ear to ear as she began to describe to us the dish she recommended: sour fish curry. She was passionate about the restaurant’s food and she knew exactly what she was talking about. A major plus in my book.
True Thai food aims to straddle between the taste sensations of sweet (i.e. palm sugar), savoury (i.e. fish sauce), spicy (that is, the bite of chilli heat beloved by many Thais), sour (i.e. tamarinds and limes) and sometimes even a hint of bitterness (i.e. certain herbs and roots), to produce a heady mix of sensual delight…a true feast for all the senses. The food here is authentic, not weighed down with copious amounts of coconut milk and sugar like so many of its competitors in town (definitely a plus for the waistline) so you can actually taste the more delicate herbal notes in some of the food, and the flavours are clean and quite well-balanced. Okay, except for the chilli heat which I prefer to have more of in my Thai food, but it is a matter of personal taste anyway.
The sour fish curry was delightful. It was a massive deep fried fish topped with tamarind-soured curry sauce (at its most basic, a blend of garlic, chillies, eschallots and fingerroot, also known as “lesser galangal” and an ingredient that is not readily available here in Brisbane) and vegetables. A gentle tart flavour enveloped the rich sweetness of pounded garlic and eschallots, with a hint of chilli heat and the piquant flavour of the exotic root in question, paired with the crunchy outer layer that contrasted beautifully with the juicy fish flesh hidden underneath. No hint of greasiness or old frying oil, and for $19.90 each (big enough for two), an absolute bargain! The veggies also came in generous portions, so I didn’t need to order a separate dish of greens just to satiate my veggie quota of the night.
But just to make sure we had enough to eat (and variety to sample), we also ordered one of their Meal-on-Rice menu specials (for only $11.90, $13.90 for seafood), which included an option from a variety of curries, stews, stir fries and even Thai omelettes served on rice. I have eaten at Siam Samrarn before this visit, but it was always either for lunch or a quick meal late at night (we walked in at 9 PM on a Wednesday night and they still had a sizeable dinner crowd). Previously I tried the green curry, which had a nice consistency without being watery or thick as sludge, and is a great example of how an authentic Thai curry should taste like. The pork leg stew had a deliciously gelatinous quality, bursting with subtle sweet and tangy flavours. The Thai omelette with minced meat is a fluffy delight you don’t usually see on a Thai takeaway menu, and is something different that is definitely worth trying for sure.
This time, we went for the beef massaman curry, which came as hunks of stewed brisket simmered in the curry sauce: richly fragrant, meltingly tender, and again beautifully balanced flavours. The curry was rich, sweet, savoury, and spicy without venturing into superlative extremes that could prove to be unpleasant to the palate, and it had the gutsy meatiness that comes from stewing a tough but flavoursome cut of meat.
An extra bowl of rice and two cups of Thai iced milk tea (addictive tonics they are, especially during this summer heat. You have been warned!) rounded up our meal of fish and curry, and the total bill came down to a very reasonable $40. Perhaps the Thai food scene in Brisbane doesn’t measure up to that of Sydney or even Melbourne, but there are a few worthy contenders in this town. Siam Samrarn, in my opinion, is easily one of them. I guess the two separate groups of Thai expats and students sitting a few tables away from me would agree with me too. If you’re looking for a well-priced restaurant with gorgeous surrounds and capable staff serving quality food that is authentically Thai, what are you waiting for?
1/79 Boundary St
(07) 3844 9091
Image courtesy of the Siam Samrarn website