Hot Plates: Long Chim, Melbourne
Author: Michael Harden
Photography: Courtesy Long Chim Melbourne
12:00AM, Feb 14, 2017
They're not exaggerating about the heat. We're warned about it three times after we've ordered Long Chim's chicken Chiang Mai larp, the final time as the dish and its accompanying leaves of raw cabbage lands on the table. It's like a final check to make sure we know what we're getting ourselves into.
The dish is hot, enthusiastically so, with more chilli action than you'd find in the majority of Melbourne's Thai restaurants. But - and here's where we give thanks once again to chef David Thompson for finally gracing us with his presence - there's balance.
Chicken Chang Mai larp.
The chilli heat reaches a certain eye-watering level and then stays there, waving through other flavours - lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, the chicken itself, both mince and crisp skin pieces - to play their part against its spicy backbeat. With the pale, slightly chilled pieces of cabbage doing refreshing, cooling work, this Chiang Mai larp is everything you'd expect when one of the world's great interpreters of Thai cooking turns his hand to street food.
Stir-fried baby squid.
There are no small flavours here, no pandering to milquetoast palates that turn pale at the mention of bird's eye or sriracha. This is clip-over-the-ear authenticity, not always hot but always punchy and often rich. It's a good idea to come here with at least four people to give the menu a thorough, successful nudge.
The joyful exuberance of the food matches the '70s disco-rich soundtrack and the pop-leaning fit-out involving red metal stools and pale blue banquettes, illustrated Thai street scenes behind gold mesh and shelves artfully stacked with piles of plastic bowls and oversized mortars and pestles.
Deep-fried fish with three flavoured sauce.
It doesn't have the attractively scruffy atmosphere of the Sydney laneway version of Long Chim, but it's riverside and the opportunity to eat this kind of food on a large outdoor terrace is entirely fitting.
Beautifully textured beef skewers are topped with shreds of raw red onion and fragrant with cumin, coriander and turmeric, while chewy-sticky chive cakes are salty sweet with dark soy.
Crunchy prawns with herbs, shallots and chilli.
Don't miss the noodle dishes: thin, salty-lime-dressed rice noodles tossed with chicken, prawns, coriander and peanuts, say, or rich, salty beef noodles that come with a side of superb Koh Loy sriracha sauce (Thompson's favourite, made in Si Racha in Thailand).
Baked prawns with glass noodles.
There are good, sweet things, too, like a not-too-sugary grilled sticky rice with banana and an intense, orangey-brown Thai ice-cream topped with coconut and pistachio nuts. A list of Thai food- appropriate cocktails includes a particularly refreshing number called Or Tor Kor Mule #2, a blend of lime-leaf vodka, ginger beer and Thai bitters.
Melburnians could feel slighted that David Thompson has made us wait this long for his attentions. But now he's arrived and his delivery's so good, all is well and truly forgiven.
Long Chim, Riverside at Crown, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank, Vic, (03) 8582 3082, crownmelbourne.com.au/restaurants; open daily noon-2.30pm, Sun-Thu 5.30pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 5.30pm-11pm