Joe Kitsana is an impressive one-man show. He moves gracefully from affable host to server to bartender to chef. He’s unruffled, always smiling and calm. It’s obvious he’s done this before.
“I’ve been in hospitality for over 20 years. I was at Longrain, then Sailors Thai,” says Kitsana. “I love Asian food. I cook from all over; it doesn’t have to be just Thai.”
Kitsana opened Republic Sandwiches and Salads for lunch in June last year. The sandwiches are still there, but now he’s added a dinner service and renamed the restaurant to Joe’s Table.
The first rule of dining there should be: eat the smoked coconut ice-cream first.
“In Thailand, we’ve been using this smoking candle for hundreds of years,” he says. “It looks like a curved cigar with wicks at both ends. When extinguished it smokes abundantly and smells of herbs and incense.
“I smoke coconut milk under a cover with the candle overnight, then churn it into ice-cream in the morning,” says Kitsana. The service is dramatic. The ice-cream arrives enveloped in smoke under a glass dome. It’s topped with tender young-coconut shavings, sesame seeds and a pinch of sea salt.
Kitsana puts just as much care into his mains. Making the stir-fried pork hock is an overnight job as well.
“I braise the pork hock for four hours, take it off the bone and then press it under something very heavy overnight,” he says. “It takes time to get it nice and soft and take out some of the fat.” The result is succulent pieces of meat tossed in sticky chilli jam finished with slivers of kaffir lime.
The fit-out hasn’t changed. The same long mirror creates the illusion of size in the narrow room and the walls are decorated with charming floral enamel plates that match the ones on the tables.
Kitsana cooks in the kitchen space between the courtyard and indoor dining, so he can observe the rhythms of dinner and respond when he’s needed. “I love talking to people and being in the kitchen. I tell them what we’re cooking, and often they tell me, ‘Joe, just send anything you like’.”
1/28 Kings Lane, Darlinghurst
(02) 8385 7110
Tue to Sat 11am–3pm, 6pm–10pm