I can sometimes be a bit of a Thai food snob. It may be a combination of how often I have been to Thailand especially when I was younger, due to its proximity to Malaysia, and also because five out of my six years in Sydney were spent living with one of my closest friends, Natalie, who is Thai. It seems a bit ridiculous but the proof is in the pudding. Thai food that I had always known growing up was not pad thai or pad see ew, especially not the overly sweetened variety here in Australia. Yep, my first pad thai, and I think the first pad thais of many Malaysians, was sampled right here on Australian soil. I’m used to the complexity of Thai spices, of heat meeting sour meeting savoury. I’m not strictly ‘hating’ on the AusThai cuisine, but there’s a time and place for everything. And having already tried Surry Hills Eating House (SHEH) with mom and VK last month, I knew it would be the perfect place to have a catch up with Natalie over some seriously authentic Thai food.
Gai Pad Khraung Sra ($18) – Phuket style dry curry chicken thigh fillet served with masala spice and roasted coconut.
Surry Hills Eating House is the latest addition to Chef Sujet Saenkham’s string of restaurants around Sydney that you might know under the name Spice I Am (Balmain, Darlinghurst and Surry Hills) and also House (Surry Hills). I would say Spice I Am is about as authentic as you can get while still incorporating Sydney’s much loved dishes. House is food of the Northern variety and also home (geddit) to the famous BTS aka Better Than Sex dessert. Surry Hills Eating House is an all new playing field showcasing country and Southern Thai food, food which even Nat is not all too familiar with.
Disclaimer: my allegiance to Thai food ends strictly at the taste. I cannot even fathom how to pronounce most of these words, let alone actually know what each individual ingredient is used. So while I know what ‘real’ Thai food should taste like I have no idea how to make it so it’s awesome to have Nat here to do the ordering for us and educate me as she always does in the cuisine. She picks this curry chicken which sounds like a pretty common combination, but is actually far from it. Something about the balance of spices gives this dish so much more dimension, you know that it wasn’t put together hastily with some store-bought curry paste.
Yum Sam Grob ($16) – Spicy salad of crispy cuttle fish, fried fish maw, roasted cashew nut, brown onion, cherry tomatoes and Chinese celery.
This was one of my favourites, you’d see me taking helpings upon helpings of this as the night continued. Very flavoursome, the cuttle fish and fish maw might deter the unadventurous but it wasn’t overpowering at all. I would definitely order this again, I love salads with textures.
Kanom Jeen Set ($16) – Thai fermented rice noodle, fresh green vegetable, served with southern smooth curry fish (nam ya phuket) and smooth mung bean and sweet and sour curry (nam Prik).
I ordered this previously with mom and VK, it was VK who insisted after fond memories of eating it on a trip to Thailand and honestly I could kiss her for introducing kanom jeen to me. I usually try to avoid indulging myself in carbs unless it’s amazing and both these times that I have had it, I have put a significant dent into the dish. It’s SO GOOD. I don’t know what about it makes it amazing, whether it’s the slippery white noodles, the deliciousness of both curries separately and together, or my recent acquired taste for banana flowers (still won’t touch cucumbers though). Absolutely fantastic, join me in coercing Nat into making this at home for me.
‘So much food for just two of you???’ – Mom
I sent a photo of our spread at dinner to mom. The sheer number of plates in the photo is a tad misleading but as it turns out mothers are always right. Halfway through dinner both of us admitted that we were full about 15 minutes ago but just couldn’t stop eating because everything was so darn delicious.
Gai Pae Sa ($18) – Chinese Phuket steamed chicken, steamed fresh water spinach, ginger rice wine sauce an chilli ginger dipping sauce.
Just when we thought we had conquered the mountain of food, a waitress brings this out, compliments from the chef. Nat tells me that this is a Thai interpretation of Hainanese chicken. The chicken was so soft, I couldn’t believe it. It almost had the texture of fish, as I told Sujet who came out to join us later. I usually have a tad bit more composure when meeting new people but it’s hard when you’re mid-stuffing your face and mid-blowing your nose every two minutes because your nasal passage is now sufficiently cleared from how spicy everything is.
If you’re a fan of Thai food you need to do yourself a service and check out Surry Hills Eating House. It’s very different to most Thai places around Sydney and once you’ve had this you’d be hard pressed to call the usual pad thai places ‘Thai’. I don’t see making a distinction a bad thing. I mean as much as I love authentic sushi, Australian-esque sushi like chicken teriyaki and avocado rolls, have a place in my life as well. But places like SHEH successfully debunk the myth that Thai food = greasy take-out food. Thai cuisine as I’ve seen from living with Nat is also laborious, routine work of crouching on the kitchen floor with a pestle and mortar, a culmination of herbs and spices you couldn’t begin to identify, boiling down to a simple hot meal shared between the people you love.