“I want people to feel cosy and warm,” Alex Kaew tells Broadsheet of her new restaurant, Charlong. “Like you’ve come to eat at my grandmother’s house – because the inspiration came from her cooking.”

Kaew, who has previously worked as head chef at Longsong, Rice Paper Scissors and Hochi Mama, opened her first restaurant earlier this year in St Kilda with partner Sara Pimsamarn.

The chef-owner grew up in Chanthaburi in eastern Thailand with her grandmother, who ran a food stall where Kaew would often help. Her grandmother’s recipes, crafted around charcoal and wok cooking, were a major influence when designing the menu for Charlong, which is a portmanteau of “charcoal” and “prolong”. But Kaew has also folded in her love for combining Thai and Western ingredients and techniques.

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The menu changes with the seasons, but one dish Kaew is currently excited about is betel leaves topped with a poached prawn, punchy chicken mince and caramel coconut. Another standout is the braised Wagyu krapow kai dow (Thai basil stir-fry with a crisp egg) made with chilli, Thai basil and a fried quail egg.

But the dish that epitomises Kaew’s passion for Thai and Western cuisines is the king prawn dumplings, transformed into prawn-filled ravioli and served in a tom yum coconut bisque with squid ink caviar.

A special family highlight from the signature mains is the massaman lamb shank, braised overnight for 12 hours and rubbed with a secret spice marinade, using an original recipe from Kaew’s grandmother. There are also staples like pad see ew, green papaya salad and green curry.

The celebration of Kaew’s heritage and family can be seen in the design, too. Warm green walls and wooden finishings give a relaxing, homey feel. A mural by Melbourne graffiti artist ERA1DOG shows a contemporary take on traditional Thai motifs including an elephant with a raised trunk and a Muay Thai fighter. This laid-back feel is designed to offset the beautiful food, says Kaew. “I love this combination,” she says. “The food looks luscious, but I want people to feel that it’s accessible, like they can have it every day.”

Charlong
2/124 Carlisle Street, St Kilda
0423261555

Hours:
Sun to Tue 5pm–9pm
Thu 5pm–9pm
Sat & Sun 5pm–10pm

@charlongmelb
charlong.com.au