Not many people have heard of Air Jantrakool. For more than 15 years she worked under big-name chef David Thompson of Sailor’s Thai. Now Jantrakool runs her own kitchen at restaurateur Michael Corrente’s new Balmain venue, Chon.
Corrente, who also owns nearby Blue Ginger, wanted to do something more casual and focused on the cuisines of each of Thailand’s four regions. “The Thai places around here are great, but it's not like being in Thailand.” he says. “I got Air on board to showcase the best food from each region.”
Jantrakool’s home is Chang Mai, the northern capital. Food there is less sweet, and sticky rice is eaten instead of the jasmine rice common further south. Jantrakool says the signature there is larb. “It's different from the larb in the north-east. There's different spices and it’s more sour. We put lime in.” This one has more texture, thanks to the pork crackling, crunchy onion bits and lettuce leaves.
From the south there’s a charred-banana-leaf package holding a soft, caramelised piece of barramundi soaked in red curry. It’s rich, savoury and with the southern-style coconut turmeric rice, sweet and herby. The north-east or Isan uses a lot of roasted rice powder: a nutty, herby spice that’s used in a fishy sauce with barbequed beef.
The central dishes are the more recognisable curries and noodle dishes common in most other Thai restaurants. That’s not to say Chon’s curries are generic, though – its green curry is fibrous, thick and packed with strands of chilli, apple eggplants and chunks of supple Wagyu beef cheeks.
It doesn’t look like an average Thai restaurant either. Matt Woods, the designer who built Devon on Danks, Beccafico and The Rabbit Hole, has created a space that implies sitting among bulbous clumps of cloud. The ceiling is covered in layers of spherical white lanterns, and the room is filled with pastel-blue and cream-coloured chairs and tabletops. “We wanted to make it a bit more fun but still clean looking and not cluttered,” says Corrente.