It's a bitterly cold, wet evening when Broadsheet visits Soi 38's long-anticipated new Pirie Street site. But inside it's heating up. It could be the growing crowd of diners filling out the room or the glowing flames in chef Terry Intarakhamhaeng’s kitchen. The new iteration of Soi 38 feels like the restaurant it was always meant to be.
There’s a sense of familiarity. The long, narrow room running alongside a laneway mirrors the Pulteney Street original. The staff is the same friendly, at-ease team. And Intarakhamhaeng’s killer regional Thai cooking remains. But there’s a new level of sophistication and maturity that’s come from years of steady evolution.
“We opened as a stall at Womad and then we started doing Fork on the Road and we were thinking of being a food truck and then we found a bricks and mortar business,” says Daisy Miller, who opened the restaurant with Intarakhamhaeng in 2014. “Then the service changed and the food got better and all of a sudden being a street food restaurant wasn’t really what we were doing anymore. And when we elevated the restaurant at Pulteney Street, we kind of rose to meet it and then exceeded it, so this is the next progression.”
The former Subway, on the corner of Pirie Street and Coromandel Place, has been transformed by architect firm Walter Brooke into a warm, inviting space enhanced by a striking barrel vault ceiling flanked by curtains inspired by Thai prayer flags. (Before his cheffing days Intarakhamhaeng was a Buddhist monk).
“Originally the curved ceiling was going to be a slightly different shape – it was meant to be mimicking the roof of a temple, so it was meant to be more triangular,” says Miller. “But it looks quite beautiful. And it gives a nice flow and direction – it makes you aware of the kitchen being the centre of everything, because it all draws down to that space.”
The new open kitchen lets guests sit ringside and peer into the fire-fuelled theatre of Intarakhamhaeng and head chef (and new business partner) Pui Kannika.
“It’s the showcase of the restaurant,” says Miller. “We built it where we built it so that when they throw the woks and the fire goes up it reflects in all the windows … so the idea is that even if you’ve got your back to the kitchen you’ll still be able to see what’s going on.
“That’s also why the room is reasonably muted – compared to Pulteney Street where it had that big terracotta bar and plants everywhere and things hanging from the ceiling and a wall of posters – we chose to do a very minimal [fit-out]. The idea is that the action is coming from the kitchen and the bar.”
Despite the relative minimalism, plenty of thought and care has gone into the fit-out, aided by a crew of local makers. The tables, chairs and steel bar tops are by Remington Matters; the brown bar stools come from Jam Factory; and the bar itself – with its rammed-earth aesthetic – is by Love Concrete.
Speaking of the bar, the new element allows guests to perch pre or post dinner. “It’s nice to be able to move people to the front bar, it’s another layer of hospitality to what we had before,” says Miller. “A place to wait, a place to finish dessert, a place to have a chat with the bar staff. It’s a nice place for single diners as well. Given the Hyatt’s going up over the road I think we’ll see a return of the single patron again.”
The new site, which doubles capacity to 78 people (when at 100 per cent capacity), is part of a two-pronged change for Soi 38. The partners have held onto the Pulteney Street site, which has reopened as a bricks and mortar space for the brand’s festival pop-up Fire X Soi 38.
The split has freed up the team at Pirie Street to rejig its restaurant menu to an offering that’s “more sophisticated and refined and interesting,” Intarakhamhaeng told Broadsheet earlier this year. “More adventurous, more offal, more funky.”
The new menu delves deeper into the regional foods of southern and western Thailand (and the country’s ethnic minority groups). There’s also a new grilled section, which draws from northern and north-eastern Thailand. “I think people think of Thai food and think of woks and curries but there’s a whole section of Thailand where it’s different again,” says Miller.
The menu makes use of game meats such as venison (grilled and served with nam jim and tomato paste) and wild buffalo (served as tartare), which is supplied by Something Wild. Intarakhamhaeng and his team also draw from the local landscape with kangaroo tail (in a Penang red curry), marron (served with pork belly and vermicelli) and pipis (with chilli crab oil).
Other new dishes include smoky slices of kingfish, rolled and torched and served in spicy salsa; crab legs with Asian celery, curry powder and chilli jam; roasted eggplant with chicken larb and nam jim; and crunchy sago crackers carting shredded duck with lime and ginger. Loyalists will be pleased to know Soi 38’s pan-fried chive cakes, sago peanut dumplings and crispy pork belly remain.
The drinks menu has also levelled up, thanks to Miller’s brother Oscar, who joined the team last year after the pandemic brought him back home to Adelaide. (He’d previously been working around Europe, including at wine bar Vino Teca in London and winery Bruno Rocca in Italy.)
“I think a lot of people’s expectation [with Thai food] is you just order Singha,” Oscar told Broadsheet in March. “It’s the amount of effort, consideration, balance and time that goes into the food going into the list. I don’t want to pour something that’s going to make the food taste bitter or too sweet when I know the care and attention that’s been put into it.”
74 Pirie Street, Adelaide
Mon to Thu 11.30am–2.30pm, 5pm–9.30pm
Fri 11.30am–2.30pm, 5pm–10.30pm