Cha­lawan

Time Out (Melbourne) - - INSIDE - Larissa Dubecki

Colling­wood’s Thai bar and restau­rant brings the cur­ries and the cock­tails

A CROCODILE GOD

with di­a­monds for teeth? There are worse themes on which to base your restau­rant con­cept than a pre­his­toric aquatic rep­tile with den­tal bling. It lends the per­fect ex­cuse to call your cock­tails croc­tails, for one, and for bonus points you can gussy the space up with fancy turquoise tiles ren­dered like scales. When so much in the restau­rant game is about stand­ing out from the crowd, Cha­lawan has more than its lurid green neon sign to rec­om­mend it. Mel­bourne is un­der­go­ing some­thing of a sec­ond Thai re­nais­sance at the mo­ment. David Thomp­son’s Long Chim just opened at Crown, and the crowds are champ­ing at the bit ahead of the open­ing of David Moyle’s Thai bar and grill Long­song. And then there’s Cha­lawan, opened in the sec­ond half of last year, aimed at drinkers as much as it is the din­ers. A white, mar­ble-topped bar dom­i­nates the nar­row room (the for­mer home of North­ern Light and Gi­gibaba); all the bet­ter for down­ing cock­tails with an Asian ac­cent thanks to in­gre­di­ents like Sriracha, soy sauce, fish sauce and pick­led brine (the house Bloody Mary) and lemon­grass, pan­dan and orange blos­som (in the vodka-based Tie Me Down). The menu is touted as mod Thai but treads a line some­where be­tween tra­di­tional and slightly outré. The cook­ing can be hit and miss. The son-in-law eggs are pale fac­sim­i­les of the punch-tas­tic Thai stan­dard: they have none of the golden brown crunchy ex­te­rior, the yolks have been hard-boiled, and the tamarind sauce is more of a dun-coloured cus­tard. Be­tel leaves are bet­ter, the wrapand-roll num­bers anointed with a mys­te­ri­ous caramel-sticky bo­lus that owes a great deal of its charms to toasted co­conut. The som tum, Thai cui­sine’s an­swer to the green salad, is a du­ti­ful ren­di­tion de­spite the ad­di­tion to the fatly shred­ded green pa­paya of pun­gent dried shrimp pow­der. The pad kra pao is Thai food at its most com­fort­ing: beef mince stir-fried with shal­lot, peanut and gar­lic, a fried egg (yolk bless­edly runny) splayed across the top with fresh basil leaves. The real fire­works come out with a curry known as gaeng poo – fat chunks of crab meat in a milky yel­low south­ern Thai-style curry pow­ered by a thrum­ming base­line of lemon­grass, turmeric, fine shreds of kaf­fir lime leaves and apri­cot. The chilli heat, fairly typ­i­cal of the broader Cha­lawan menu, bobs mod­estly around the five out of ten mark. Which sums up the en­tire Cha­lawan project: not a place to set the world on fire, but enough to gen­tly warm the lo­cal Thai scene.

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