If Chris Lucas ever worried about filling the enormous ground level of the Griffiths Tea Building, he needn’t have. No other restaurant this year has caused this much excitement before opening, and the queues on its first day (Monday October 2) backed it up.
The first thing you see is a hot-pink neon bunny – so bright in the dark entrance you see the outline flashing in your vision when you look away. Turn left for GoGo bar, serving Michael Chiem (of PS40)’s cocktails. His list is an exercise in taking big, bold flavours such as coriander and lardo (Hey Zeus) or green curry paste and lime (Green Curry Mary) and teasing out subtle, well-balanced combinations. The Dragonfruit – Bloody Shiraz gin, lemon, bitters, dragonfruit and sunflower kernel orgeat (a syrup) – lingers with a lip-smacking tanginess.
To your right is a grand space of marble tabletops, bentwood chairs in light-coloured wood and a palpable buzz. This is a good-time restaurant where you yell across the table and laugh loudly and order an extra round of wine on tap (there’s five to pick from, plus another 130 bottles). In terms of the menu, executive chef Benjamin Cooper sums it up: “We don’t view ourselves as purely a Thai restaurant. We’re an Australian restaurant cooking Asian food.”
You’ll likely over order, it’s hard not to with a 60-dish menu. Start with something light, a classic like the kingfish sashimi with lime, coconut and Thai basil and move into sticky-sweet territory with pad seuw with Wagyu beef. The “Scud City” jungle curry with grilled pork has a heat warning on the menu – don’t think they’re exaggerating just because you haven’t encountered any chilli yet. It creeps up on you after a few mouthfuls and leaves you dazed and perspiring but wanting more. “People are enjoying the spicy dishes a bit more than I expected,” says Cooper.
The event space, Chii Town, sounds the most fun – the team will create “a unique offering of dishes largely off the menu. We’re also going to have some awesome rotisserie items available downstairs, like whole suckling pig and mud crab. With a bit of notice guests dining in the main restaurant can organise to indulge in these too,” says Cooper.
For more than 30 years, the Griffiths Tea Building was static as the world moved around it. It’s a strangely bittersweet feeling seeing it awake. The sign has fresh lettering and techno pumps out onto the street. The relic is young again.