Some of Melbourne’s most exciting southern Thai food is being served at Nora Thai, a new 20-seat restaurant on a leafy street off South Yarra’s Toorak Road.

Friends Thunyaluk “Palmmy” Aninpukkanuntin and Duangdao “Kana” Bannakorn opened the casual joint this autumn. They both grew up in Surat Thani province on the Gulf of Thailand, but only met after moving to Australia, where they lived together as roommates. Their restaurant showcases southern Thai dishes they missed from home but struggled to find in Melbourne.

Aninpukkanuntin focuses on the business side of things, while Bannakorn (who previously worked as a commis chef at Asian fusion restaurants including Yakimono) leads the kitchen.

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The menu features spicy petai beans – sometimes called “stink beans” because of their gassy aroma – with prawn-and-pork mince, and a fiery dry red curry called kua kling, which blends turmeric, lemongrass and makrut lime leaves with pork mince. More highlights include the bai liang pad kai, a stir-fry of egg, malindjo greens and a sweet-savoury sauce with a heavy hit of garlic, and the sour fish curry, which uses shrimp paste to add deep umami flavours.

Staying true to its southern Thai roots, most dishes are spicy, but many can be made milder on request. Ensure a Thai milk tea is on hand when the burning sensation hits, or try the pink milk – an iced drink of sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and cow’s milk. It gets its rosy hue from sala syrup, which is made from salak, or snake fruit. You can also cool off with a taro-pearl dessert: taro bua loy, or Thai rice balls, cooked in coconut milk and sugar, and served with coconut ice-cream.

Aninpukkanuntin and Bannakorn make the most of the small space. Wooden furniture spills onto the footpath while a curtain divides the dining room from the kitchen. The restaurant is named after Nora, a traditional form of dance theatre with roots in Thai folk tales and Buddhist teachings. It’s known for sharp, expressive moves and towering golden headdresses, which have become a well-known image of south Thailand.

The restaurant joins a wave of new women-run Thai venues serving region-specific cuisine across Melbourne – including Boonruxsa Sangmanee and Masarat Bumrungpongsinchai’s Phuket-focused Pa Tong Thai on Flinders Lane, and Jirada Ponpetch and chef Saifon Wichian’s Isan-street-food-inspired Thai Baan at the top end of Bourke Street – all opening within months of each other.

Nora Thai
69 Davis Ave, South Yarra
(03) 9867 6444

Mon to Sat 11am–3pm; 5–10pm
Sun 5–10pm