Tuesday 1 April 2014

Green Pepper Thai

343 High Street, Northcote, VIC 3070
Green Pepper Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon
This is the 6th Thai restaurant now along High Street between Northcote and Thornbury (all within 7 - 10 minutes drive of each other). In terms of all the Thai restaurants along this stretch, Green Pepper Thai is probably the most cafe style with a strong take-away vibe in terms of its set up. Of course, I encourage healthy competition but I think each of these Thai restaurants will find their own niche in the area.

The Place
It does have a strong take away vibe with the basic tile flooring and simple decorations. The open kitchen is situated within the dining space as well, which therefore, relies heavily on the industrial gas hoods to do their work effectively. If you are sitting facing the kitchen, you get to watch the chefs at work which might be interesting for some. When it does get busy, it will get pretty loud as there is no real sound insulation here.

What I really like about the set up is the fact that they do not cramp diners in really closely to each other. There's plenty of space and you don't feel like sardines!

Things to do Nearby: The shops of High Street, Northcote are blooming and upgrading with the continued gentrification of the area.

The Food
The food here is not bad but Melbournians are pretty spoilt for choice in terms of Thai food. It is not strictly authentic and is pretty watered down in terms of intensity. That doesn't mean it is not nice. In fact, I think it works quite well if you are looking at catering for diners who can't take really spicy or hot dishes. The dishes tend towards sugar and sweetness. I tend to prefer more tang in my Thai dishes but I have lots of friends who would love the sweetness to lighten the intensity of flavours.

So, what were the highlights for me? I liked the Tom Yum Soup above all the other dishes I ordered. Why? Because it was clearly not concocted from a commercial soup base and had been done from scratch with lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves and enough Assam (Tamarind) and they didn't hold back on the chillies either but it wasn't overly greasy like how they tend to serve it in Bangkok. Nice clear hot and sour soup.
Really nice tangy hot Tom Yum Soup
The other dishes were also all freshly made which I really appreciated and although the balance of flavours tended towards sweetness, I did enjoy most of them. The one dish I was disappointed with was the Larb which again was sweet rather than sour (perhaps I would have like more lime or fish sauce - but that's just me). They also love using long beans in all their dishes... most of the dishes we ordered had these :).
Green Papaya Salad with Yummy Crisps

Pad Met Marmuang - Beef with Cashews

The Service
It is rare to ever get bad service at a Thai restaurant. This is no exception. They were attentive, timely and friendly. It's what you would expect from a good suburban restaurant and I really like the down to earthiness of the service. The food came out in a timely manner and even when it got busier and when there was takeaway orders, they still paid us enough attention where needed.

This is a good place for a quick week night meal without being overly fancy. I would likely go again to try more dishes and try more of their curries.

Cultural Moment
I want to talk SOUPS. In many parts of Asia - soups are a whole table event. One soup is ordered and everyone shares it. It very much a collective experience. When I was growing up, we even all drank from the same bowl - dipping our spoons into the central bowl. It had been this way for hundreds of years (no I am not a hundred years old - I am talking about the practice - rude!).

With modern day health consciousness and sensibilities, this practice of double-triple dipping with personal spoons into a central bowl has changed for the most part in many countries (but not all). However, the practice of the whole family or table having the same soup hasn't changed. In many restaurants in Asia, they still bring out a central bowl and then smaller bowls for individuals and a large ladle - makes a lot of sense and lots of restaurants have done this for a long time. This practice is starting to spread to homes so that it's become the norm. There are some things you can't change - and the practice of sharing soup (the modern way) continues to thrive. This sort of sharing collective dining is a practice to be celebrated.

In Australia, our more individualistic dining habits have led to individual serves of soup so you can decide what you want and there is no need for collective negotiation. It's just the way it is. So, when one travels to Asia and Southeast Asia - when you order soup - be aware - it might be a BIG BOWL meant for sharing - not one of those tiny individual bowls. I know this because I sometimes forget this when I am travelling - like the time I had a BIG bowl of Tom Yum with my main in Bangkok and that other time when I had a BIG CLAYPOT filled with Szechuan Hot and Sour Soup in Hong Kong, with my fried noodles. DUH!


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