Unlike its geographically explicit name Lower Mekong’s menu is not defined by borders. While it does reflect the cuisine of the Mekong River’s Vietnamese banks, with favourites such as pho bo and Hanoi spring rolls, chef Tiw Rakarin (ex-Mama’s Buoi) serves pan-Asian accents such as black-olive naan bread with his vegetable curry.
Lower Mekong is the first dedicated sit-down dining spot on the strip. A paging system is offered for those outdoors. Upper Mekong (on the second floor) is slated to open next month.
“Mekong obviously covers Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam,” says Marcus Chang, the CEO of the Kensington Street development and executive director of Greencliff property group. “Upper Mekong will be the best of each, on a rotating basis. Tiw has also come from a fine-dining, European background, so he’s bringing a little of that into his Thai cooking upstairs.”
Substantial bowls will set you back less than $15, but you can just as easily make a main meal out of the entrees. Celery and green apple cut through the bánh mì-inspired pork-belly sliders with pork-liver pâté. House-made chilli-jam sauce packs the pulled pork and prawn bánh xèo (crispy rice-flour pancakes) with a decent punch. Most condiments are made on-site.
Chris Wilks and Ed Kenney from Surry Hills’ Giant Design – the team behind venues such as Chef’s Gallery and Roll’d – have breathed new life into a space that was once a car park on the old brewery site. Giant has used floor-to-ceiling bamboo posts to lighten industrial copper elements. “It’s not supposed to be new and shiny,” Chang says. “Like the rest of the street, it’s well-worn; there’s a level of comfort.”
While a liquor licence is pending refreshments include Vietnamese coffee and lemongrass tea. “We’ll do a limited menu of Asian-inspired cocktails, Asian beers – like Singha, Tiger and Kingfisher – plus one or two whites and reds,” Chang says.
Milo Crème Caramel is one of two desserts that round out the upbeat, fusion menu.