There’s a minor occupational hazard that comes with being a Broadsheet editor: in every casual conversation I’ve had in the last year, someone has asked me to name my favourite restaurant in Sydney. For most of my colleagues it’s a tricky question, having to run through fancy new openings and old local favourites and weigh the balance of each. For me, it’s simple: Joe’s Table.
For anyone who has ever met Joe Kitsana, this statement needs no explanation. Kitsana has been on the Sydney hospo scene for more than 20 years, notably at Longrain (where he worked from its opening in 1999 until 2006) as well as neighbourhood mainstays Sailors Thai and Phamish, where he led teams of chefs.
In June 2016, he took over the lease of neighbourhood cafe Kings Lane Sandwiches, eventually turning it into a Thai restaurant that he ran entirely on his own. Front of house, waiter, dishwasher, head chef: it’s just Joe. On paper it’s an insane choice, but Kitsana pulls it off with astonishing calmness.
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“It depends on the night but usually I start prepping at 10am, and then lunch starts at 12.30 and I start cooking,” Kitsana tells Broadsheet. “I close at three and then start prepping for dinner. Then I cook all the way through and when the final customers leave at around 11pm, I start cleaning up. I finish my day at about 2.30 in the morning.” It's a schedule that most of us would baulk at, but Kitsana has it down to a science.
When it came time to relocate and reopen his restaurant in a bigger space, Kitsana managed it all in a couple of weeks, announcing the move on Instagram in mid-July and welcoming his first diners on Tuesday August 29. If Joe had been a character on the second season of The Bear, they’d have only needed one episode.
The new space – just 500 metres away from the original location, on the corner of Bourke and William streets – has twice the capacity and could conceivably seat 40 people. “I won’t typically do a whole sitting of 40, I’d maybe just do 25 or 30 guests max for each sitting,” says Kitsana, in a rare admission of limits. “I just want this place to feel like home – like coming to my living room.”
Just like at his original Kings Lane restaurant, the new location will have two dinner sittings each night and an à la carte menu that’s indicative of Kitsana’s years of experience and attention to detail. A starter of chunky Hanoi-style crispy chicken spring rolls served with punchy nuoc cham and fragrant fresh herbs is an absolute must, as is the plate of soft, doughy dumplings with an unusual (but delicious) garlic and chive filling that come swimming in a chilli, ginger and soy sauce. Kitsana is also bringing back old favourites: crispy stir-fried slow-braised pork hock and a perfected crispy lemon chicken. Dishes are served on eclectically mismatched floral plates and the restaurant offers BYO for $4.50 per person.
And in news that will reassure dedicated regular diners, Kitsana concludes his chat with Broadsheet by promising, “I’m not changing anything. Just a new space and old Joe.”