Monday, 29 April 2013

Thai Tiki Hut

571, High St, Northcote, VIC 3070

Thai Tiki Hut on Urbanspoon
Opened in early 2013, this place is still doing a roaring trade with its fun set up in a relatively small space. It is helping to provide new life to a couple of quiet Thornbury High Street blocks. While it is currently a relative unknown, I suspect it has the potential to become one of those famous suburban restaurants that people will travel to in the near future. It's of course, going to depend on how well Thai Tiki Hut caters to the wider audience in the medium to long run. This is a fully licensed restaurant.

The Place
Nice huh? I quite like it.
This is a fun set up with booths (set up like huts) to one side of the restaurant and moveable chairs and tables on the other side that can cater to groups of different sizes. It has a great atmosphere though I think eventually, they will have to turn the music down a little as the volume of the bustling crowd rises. The noise ventilation isn't great and it does get loud in here. One complaint I have is that the ration of plate size to table top size is not great. The tables are rather small at best but the big dinner and serving plates do not help the situation. Otherwise, I do like the space as there's a lot to see. Parking shouldn't be too bad in the evenings in this area, and there's always on street parking on Darebin Road too which is close by.

Things to do Nearby: While there's not a lot to see in this area of High Street, Thornbury - back tracking a couple of blocks back to Northcote will find you in the midst of the High Street shops of Northcote which are both charming and quaint.

The Food
The food is not bad but there are a few things that I think they are still adjusting to. Firsly, they served slightly overdone rice, and I am a firm believer that if you are a restaurant for which rice is a staple, you need to get this right and if this is wrong, you have to start again. I am hoping this is not a natural occurence and that it was a once off mistake. Otherwise, I am going to list here one highlight and one let down.


Pad Med Marmuang
 The highlight for me was the Pad Med Marmuang (Beef Stir Fry with Cashews) were better than average for a number of reasons. It's not overly sweet like some of the other places around town. The beef is really well marinated, fresh and tasty.  You can also tell from the picture to the left that tt was not greasy which is always good. It could do with a bit more black pepper and chilli but otherwise, it's pretty good.



The Larb (Warm Pork Salad) on the other hand was a let down. While the balance of flavours was there, the issue was that the meat was dry (as if it was pre-overcooked in stock/water) before being mixed in to the salad. Therefore, instead of juicy bits of mince, it was dry mince and this made for a less than ideal dish. If they can fix that, this would be a go-er.

The curry puffs here were not bad either here, served with the light peanut sauce, rather than the usual Sweet Thai Chilli Sauce.

The Service
Understated and polite service, this place works well when it is not too busy. However, I think they need more than 2 wait staff even on a busy Monday night when the restaurant was more than half full to take the pressure off. The area for improvement here is in the timing in which the dishes were served. At the moment, I think the kitchen is struggling to get the dishes out at the same time for each table. Ours was not the only table where one main came a good 7 - 10 minutes before the next. If you were sharing dishes, this would be fine but if you were not, then some are going to have to either wait a while or start first. They need to get all these kinks right to truly sustain its current wave of honeymoon popularity.

Overall
I liked this place and am looking forward to going again to try a range of other dishes. I look forward to it growing though I suspect I will be annoyed when I can no longer just walk in without a reservation on a weeknight when I feel like it. In the mean time, I have a hangy take away menu.
Cultural Moment
A Tiki Hut is a Polynesian inspired hut with the whole straw roof and outdoorsy feel. It became very popular in the 1950s and 1960s around the same time as that famous cocktail - Mai Tai (which has nothing to do with Thailand). I am not sure what the connection is between Thai culture and the Tiki - it seems to be a theme running through a few restaurants in Melbourne that combines Thai and Polynesian themes (usually Thai food with Tiki deco and cocktails).

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