Melbourne CBD’s expanding Thai food scene has just grown bigger still with the opening of Rong Cha. The Lonsdale Street spot is run by four friends and hospo lifers with collective experience that includes past roles as baristas and chefs.

While many Thai spots in the city are lunch and dinner options – perfect if you’re craving boat noodles or fiery curries – Rong Cha is distinct in that it focuses on breakfast, coffee and dessert.

“We wanted to do something that would bring us back to our childhood or our hometown”, co-founder Chanathorn (Eve) Mankasetkit tells Broadsheet.

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She, along with Nichapat (Nisha) Lerdwiwattada, Danusorn (Ko) Onsong and Korawat (Pom) Visavacheewinanan, grew up in the south of Thailand and the group (who all met in Melbourne) were inspired by local coffee shops in the south as well as in nearby Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, when conceiving Rong Cha. (Visavacheewinanan is a chef at Salted Egg in the Quincy Hotel; Lerdwiwattada works front-of-house at restaurants; Onsong has experience as a chef at several Thai restaurants; and Mankasetkit is a former cafe manager).

On the menu is a mix of Thai coffee shop and street food dishes. There’s moo ping – grilled pork skewers usually marinated in a sweet-and-savoury sauce that combines fish, soy and oyster sauces, palm sugar, garlic and coriander root, served at Rong Cha with a side of fragrant sticky rice. There’s also khao tom haeng, a Phuket-style dry rice porridge, served here topped with a soft-boiled egg and a side of southern-style soup.

On the sweeter side, a standout dessert is the Rong Cha signature toast. It’s a take on burnt-butter toast, a dish popular in Phuket, that involves coating a thick slice of fluffy bread in brown butter, burning it just enough for extra crunch and texture. Here the toast usually comes with caramel sauce, a generous scoop of vanilla ice-cream and Biscoff crumbs, but the team also offers the occasional special including ube cream, pandan and Thai tea toasts.

Filter coffees rather than espresso are the focus of the drinks menu, and the cafe uses exclusively Thai coffee beans in its brews. Rong Cha’s signature coffee drink sees black coffee mixed with coconut water and a layer of aerated coconut cream foam dolloped on top which floats above the rest of the drink and can be mixed in for a smooth and creamy consistency.

The interiors, which were designed by Lerdwiwattada and Mankasetkit, feature sage green tiled walls, old-school Thai calendars and a perfectly stacked display of the condensed milk and evaporated milk tins used in many of the shop’s desserts. The team hopes that this will help evoke a similar sense of nostalgia among customers to that channelled in Rong Cha’s food and drink offering.

Rong Cha Melbourne
18 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
No phone

Hours:
Mon to Sat 11am–10pm
Sun 3pm–9pm

@rongcha.kopi