Kam McManamey has his chef’s face on. He’s all focus and concentration, even though it’s still early evening and a ‘soft opening’ of BangPop, the new Thai street food-styled eatery on South Wharf, replacing the erstwhile Sharing House.
But the head chef and the other nine cooks under his direction are bracing for a late-night surge. Veteran Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young is playing next door at The Plenary and post-show crowds are expected to spill onto the waterside restaurant strip. What’s more, boss Paul Mathis is on the prowl, keeping a watchful eye over proceedings.
With 18 years as a chef – including stints at Ice in Prahran, Canvas in Hawthorn and, most recently, Geoff Lindsay’s smart Vietnamese diner, Dandelion, in Elwood – the Sydney-born chef is eagerly looking forward to his latest gig, creating authentic hawker-styled dishes for the city’s hungry hordes.
He took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to talk with Broadsheet.
Paul Best: What’s on the menu at BangPop?
Kam McManamey: It’s literally the stuff you buy on the streets in Thailand. Fishcakes, grilled pork neck, grilled beef, curries. Som tum, the Issan green papaya salad, larb kai, which is a salad of chicken mince, lime and fish sauce. And classics like pad Thai.
We’ve broken the menu into seven sections: small plates, large plates, salads, curries, noodles, rice and desserts.
PB: Have you put a modern twist on the food?
KM: The flavours and tastes are very much authentic Thai, but we’ve refined things. We’ve cranked the presentation up a notch. It’s a bit more polished than what you get on the streets of Bangkok. The garnishes are a bit nicer, the way we cut is a bit more refined, the processes are a little more consistent – more restaurant quality.
We’ve had my 2IC, Pim [Pimporn Wangweerawong], who’s Thai, and our restaurant project manager’s mother-in-law [a Thai Street food stall owner for 40 years] help with menu development.
PB: What kind of place is BangPop?
KM: It’s fun, vibrant, busy. Really share-oriented, like the hawker eating houses and holes you get in Southeast Asia. Everything comes out thick and fast and is a lot more casual, a lot more fun.
I think it’s something that South Wharf and Melbourne needs.
PB: Has there been much change to the decor in its building’s reincarnation from The Sharing House to BangPop?
KM: We have some new communal tables, beautiful wooden tables, which are hawker-style. Once again it’s about sharing. It's been geared towards that kind of food. We’ve got some really cool bikes on the outside and Astroturf.
PB: Have you had a longstanding interest in Asian food?
KM: I've been through the Asian region a fair bit and love the food. Previously, I’ve done a fair bit of modern Australian, leaning towards Southeast Asian flavours.
Asian cooking is what I want to be doing. I've done modern Asian previously, but Dandelion was the first time where it was exclusively Asian as opposed to being part of a broader menu.
PB: Where did you cut your teeth as a chef?
KM: I started in Melbourne at a place called Halcyon on Malvern Road in Toorak more than 18 years ago and Rolo’s, an Italian joint in Toorak Road, South Yarra and Cafe Antico. Most of the (modern Australian cooking) I did was at Goodine Bistro in Adelaide.
35 Dukes Walk, South Wharf
(03) 9245 9800
Daily noon–3pm, 6pm–10.30pm