At their new restaurant Pa Tong Thai on Flinders Lane, owners Boonruxsa Sangmanee and Masarat Bumrungpongsinchai – who go by Milky and Hally respectively – are showcasing popular Thai dishes alongside lesser-known Phuket delicacies.
The pair met in their home province of Chumphon, just over 300 kilometres north of Phuket on the Gulf of Thailand, and reconnected after they had both immigrated to Melbourne. Together they also run Pinto Thai Food, a boat noodle restaurant on Exhibition Street.
Diners entering the restaurant are greeted by Sino-Portuguese interiors – an architectural style blending Chinese and Portuguese design elements commonly seen in Phuket. Cobalt blue walls are adorned with baroque photo frames and vintage plates while chandeliers with tangerine-coloured tassels hang from the ceiling. Dishes are served on vintage crockery, adding to the homely feel of the restaurant.
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The menu is a journey through the regional dishes of Thailand’s southern tip, with a blend of childhood favourites and bold flavours that encapsulate the duo’s heritage. Guests are encouraged to order a range of dishes and embrace the communal spirit of Thai dining.
Bumrungpongsinchai leads the kitchen (as she does at Pinto), and her curry paste stars in dishes including spicy sour yellow curry with pickled lotus stems and barramundi and snail coconut southern curry. The chef makes multiple curry pastes for both venues, and the secret to the citrus-tinged sweetness of many of her dishes is the pulverised galangal she uses.
Pa Tong favourites include whole deep-fried mackerel served with fresh long beans, cucumber and cumquat for freshness and crunch, as well as skewers made from tender threads of marinated pork neck topped with vinegar-soaked shallots and chillis. (Pro tip: order the skewers with house-made peanut sauce for an extra layer of flavour.) If you’re after something extra spicy, try the jungle curry with capelin, a smelt-like fish that’s fried-to-crisp and doused in yellow gravy.
Dishes more commonly found in Melbourne, including pad thai, pad see ew and tom yum, are also on the menu. And if you feel like upping the stakes, top your tom yum with what they call “Melbourne-style” fried chicken – salty-sweet fried chicken thighs sliced into batons and topped with crisp shallots.
The childhood friends plan to open a third spot called Thong Thai just across from CBD diner Thai Baan in spring. It will focus on hoy tod omelettes, a crisp egg dish often served with oysters in a sizzling pan, and further establish the top end of Bourke Street as a thriving hotspot for regional Thai cuisine.