Mai Ake gets back to ba­sics

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - TASTE - Graeme Phillips Price guide

FOR 15 years, Gunny Daengdej ran the very suc­cess­ful Mai Ake Thai restau­rant in North Ho­bart, one of the early eater­ies that helped pop­u­larise the vi­brant spici­ness of Thai food in the area.

Six months ago, he sold it and took on the lease of the Old Blue Skies premises on the water­front with the in­ten­tion, he says, of mov­ing the food be­yond curry puffs, sa­tays and spring rolls to de­liv­er­ing a more so­phis­ti­cated and au­then­tic Thai din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in Ho­bart.

Sadly, it hasn’t worked out that way and, for Gunny and his chef, David Phodee, who Gunny brought here from work­ing with TV’s Luke Nguyen at Syd­ney’s Red Lan­tern, it’s been a very long and frus­trat­ing six months.

“Curry puffs and spring rolls are all peo­ple want,” he says.

“Cus­tomers who ate mas­saman curry for 15 years with me at North Ho­bart, come here and still only want to or­der Mas­saman curry.”

“On one oc­ca­sion, David pre­pared a dozen cray­fish for a clas­sic Thai salad at din­ner and didn’t sell one. The same with a beau­ti­ful dish of blue eye in tamarind sauce. It didn’t sell, so we’ve taken it off.”

“This is a large space, I’ve got to fill it and I’ve got to pay the rent.”

So, a cou­ple of months ago, curry puffs, spring rolls, fried rice with pineap­ple and Mas­saman curry plus other sta­ples such as veg­e­tar­ian Tom Yum, some­thing you’d never see in Thai­land ac­cord­ing to Gunny, went onto the main menu with what he calls the “more au­then­tic” dishes now fea­tured as spe­cials.

It was a neat so­lu­tion to giv­ing peo­ple what they wanted with­out com­pro­mis­ing too much and, he says, busi­ness is pick­ing up.

Leav­ing aside ques­tions of authen­tic­ity and just how much we ex­pect our eth­nic eater­ies to com­pro­mise in both their cook­ing and pric­ing to meet our tastes, we chose at a re­cent lunch to try a few of the menu’s spe­cials – an egg­plant and tofu salad and the blue eye in tamarind sauce – that he said he couldn’t sell – as well as a beef salad and a stir fry duck from the main menu.

The first thing I’d men­tion is that the menu’s dry, mat­ter- of- fact de­scrip­tion of many of the dishes doesn’t do a lot to help sell them or to juice up the taste buds. Or do the dishes them­selves jus­tice. The menu’s “Grilled egg­plant, tofu, mixed salad in Thai dress­ing” was a de­li­ciously bal­anced and spiced com­bi­na­tion,

ac­com­pa­nied on the side by a won­der­fully pun­gent sauce com­posed of pounded toasted rice, pla raa, le­mon grass [ I think] and plenty of chilli.

It was a new sauce for me and the most in­ter­est­ing part of the dish and yet the menu didn’t men­tion it.

Much the same could be said of the stir fry duck with “gar­lic, chilli, zuc­chini, as­para­gus, cherry toma­toes, cap­sicum and fresh basil.”

Not much Thai yum­mi­ness in that shop­pinglist de­scrip­tion.

But the duck was ten­der and the dish it­self nicely spicy, salty and very en­joy­able. And, while the Thai beef salad fell well short of what we’ve come to ex­pect from com­pa­ra­ble places around town, the mild and tan­ta­lis­ingly spiced tamarind sauce with the blue eye made that the most sat­is­fy­ing dish of the lunch. So it’s good news busi­ness is pick­ing up. By spic­ing up the menu de­scrip­tions and some of the dishes a lit­tle more and do­ing some­thing about the lack of Asian- Thai dé­cor and at­mos­phere, the restau­rant might yet come to ap­proach the pop­u­lar suc­cess of its Mai Ake orig­i­nal.

Mean­while, the Tas­ma­nian and in­ter­na­tional wine list is a good one and well- priced, the ser­vice very pleas­ant and the views of the har­bour un­beat­able. Soups and en­trees $ 15-$ 18; noo­dles and fried rices $ 25-$ 29; cur­ries and stir frys $ 26-$ 32; Chef’s spe­cials to $ 47; 21 wines by the glass $ 7.50-$ 10.50.

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