Melbourne’s CBD – specifically Bourke Street – isn’t short of excellent Thai restaurants, or demand for them. When Thai Baan owner Jirada Ponpetch and chef Saifon Wichian opened in 2023, the pair quickly became accustomed to lines down the street.
A big reason for the queues is the casual restaurant’s Ayutthaya noodles, or boat noodles. Ponpetch learned the recipe growing up in Isan, in north-eastern Thailand, where her family ran an Ayutthaya noodle stall for 30 years. At Thai Baan, as in Thailand, blood is a key ingredient in the Ayutthaya noodle stock.
Similarly, Wichian (also originally from Isan) learnt how to cook at her mother’s restaurant in Bangkok. Her mum was known for her pok pok noodles, which are served in a clear, slightly sweet broth, and nam tok, or “waterfall” salad, and served here with grilled pork cheek or beef brisket in a dressing of ground rice powder, onion, shallots, lime juice and Thai herbs.
Most of the menu takes inspiration from Isan street eats. You’ll find dishes such as fermented lotus root salad; salmon with century egg; and som tum pu plara, a green papaya salad with fermented fish and pickled crab.
Thai Baan dishes are spicy – although most can be made mild, or at least with slightly less chilli. And the spice can be tamed with drinks like Chang and Leo beer from Thailand, apple soju and Thai milk tea. Desserts like ruam mit and coconut ice-cream also help counter the heat levels.
Perhaps the only thing more joyful than the desserts is the Thai temple-inspired décor. Brightly coloured bunting hangs from the ceiling, and a mural embellished with LED fireworks adds to the bustling energy of the space.
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