We’ve been warned about the legendary dinner queue at Chat Thai. A couple of Sydney locals even suggest turning up for dinner well after 10pm.
For me, two things come to mind.
First, in Perth at 10pm, many kitchens are closed, if not the restaurants. I remember on my graduation night on a Wednesday, how hard it was to find somewhere afterwards in the city where we could grab a bite to eat. On most evenings, I’d prefer to have eaten dinner long before 10pm anyway – my growling stomach would have eaten itself long before that – but on the occasions I’ve found myself searching for food options beyond 9pm it’s generally been a frustrating experience. I’m sure many Perth readers know the feeling of turning up at a restaurant around 9pm in the hope of a getting a feed and finding staff stacking the chairs and sending out pointed “Go away” vibes. I do understand Sydney’s higher population means there is greater demand at peak dining times and it’s more economically viable (essential, in fact) to keep kitchens open for longer, compared to Perth, where the few customers who may walk in for a late meal aren’t enough to warrant keeping a kitchen or restaurant open.
Second, I can’t see Perth diners readily accepting queueing as a standard part of dining out, especially if the comments at this Perth Now article are any indication: Two-hour queues for ritzy meals – well, I’d queue for a meal, but not for two hours. Jac has an extremely low tolerance for queueing and in most cases would simply go elsewhere.
EDIT: Oh, but having said that, where in Perth do I consistently see long queues? At Sizzler.
Perhaps it’s because we’re on holiday that Juji, Jay and I are willing to take on the Chat Thai dinner queue challenge. In fact, this is the first of a number of restaurant queues we join on this trip, lured by the promise of a great meal.
At Chat Thai, you add your name to the list by the door and take a number. Some people scribble their mobile numbers on the list too, but there’s no need. When a table becomes free and your number’s called, if you don’t respond promptly, the staff do not hesitate to move onto the next number on the list – they don’t waste time making phone calls as there will be no shortage of other takers for the table.
After wandering around the Chinatown Night Market and snacking on Emperor’s puffs we’re still pretty hungry and arrive at Chat Thai Thaitown a little after 9pm where people are queueing patiently on the footpath.
We add our name to the list but we don’t wait with the hungry crowd; our serviced apartments (Meriton Campbell Street) are just a few shops down. We return to our rooms to wait in air-conditioned comfort. Yes, I know that’s cheating.
By the time we return to join the queue, 45 minutes have passed, and it takes another 15 minutes before our number is called. We are ravenous by this time.
These are views from upstairs – of the floor, front counter and entrance of Chat Thai (the people you can see just outside the door are still queueing, and the line continues along the footpath). It looks like this when we first sit down and much the same when we leave with much rounder bellies. Sydney’s appetite for Chat Thai seems insatiable.
Chat Thai’s menu comes in the form of a hardcover book with mouthwatering pictures of selected dishes and gorgeous images of Thailand. It’s a lovely book to flick through and would be fantastic on any foodie’s coffee table. I wonder how many of the menus are lost through theft?
It’s another muggy night and we’re thankful for the jug of cold water and three ornate cups on our table.
There are lots of sweet cold drinks on the menu. I order Nahm Lum Yai (iced longan cordial AU$4), sweet and dark with the caramelly flavour of palm sugar and longans bobbing among the ice cubes. Jay orders Lodt Shong Singapore (AU$4.50), which reminds us of cendol, made with glutinous noodles and coconut milk. Juji chooses Cha Nohm Yen (iced red milk tea AU$4), a traditional iced tea with condensed milk. Over the next week or so that we’re in Sydney, Juji returns repeatedly for takeaway Cha Nohm Yen.
We order ourselves a Thai feast starting with Padt Thai (AU$13). The noodles are loaded with chicken, dried shrimps and chives all stir-fried in a tasty sauce flavoured with tamarind and palm sugar, garnished with crunchy fresh bean sprouts and sprigs of coriander.
The Gaeng Keaw Gai, green chicken curry (AU$14) is one of my favourites, tender chicken pieces and tiny apple eggplants in spicy gravy rich with coconut milk.
The Padt Paak, stir-fried vegetables (AU$11) is such a simple dish, but so tasty and fresh-tasting – crunchy Chinese greens, crinkle-cut carrots, broccoli and juicy mushrooms cooked with oyster sauce in a hot charry wok.
The Gai Yaang (AU$13) consists of slices of char grilled turmeric and lemongrass marinated chicken served with a spicy smoked chilli and tamarind sauce. By the time this dish arrives we realise we’ve been somewhat over-ambitious (or greedy) with our order. A groan escapes my lips as I realise there is yet another dish to come.
The goong yang, char grilled king prawns (AU$19) are in an upright arrangement, posed almost like a monument, beady eyes gleaming. The garlic sauce is surprisingly bitey and would scare off vampires for weeks. This is the dish to order if you like sucking on prawn heads.
And of course we order steamed rice to soak up all the spice and gravy.
It’s a glutton’s paradise.
When the prawns arrive, some reorganisation is required to fit everything on the table. This may well be the embarrassing result of that long wait to get into the restaurant.
Despite all we’ve eaten, Juji and I can’t resist sharing a dessert of sticky rice with durian (AU$8). This is a durian lover’s delight. The slightly salty glutinous rice sits in a pool of durian custard streaked with coconut cream. On top, soft durian flesh, in all its beautiful, stinky glory. It’s one of my favourite desserts of the entire trip.
I’m still not a fan of the hardcore queueing but dinner at Chat Thai was superb. What’s your favourite Thai dish?
And going back to the original points raised at the start of this post, are you willing to queue to get into a restaurant? What’s the cut-off point at which you walk away and go somewhere else?
Chat Thai Thaitown
20 Campbell St
Haymarket, NSW 2000
Telephone: (02) 9211 1808
Chat Thai is also at Westfield Sydney, The Galeries, Manly and Randwick. I’ve been told the Westfield Sydney restaurant specialises in Thai desserts.
Read Juji’s post Dinner at Chat Thai, Haymarket
In the lead up to Christmas, check my other blog The LEGO woman as a new LEGO City Advent Calendar item is revealed each day.