A refurbished look for Thai street food connoisseurs Soi38 also comes with a new, refined menu.
I feel like I was late to the Soi38 party. Previously a yellow and black Thai joint near Hungry Jacks on Pulteney Street famed for its street food, Soi38 has recently gone through a transformation that helped progress this tiny diner from street food-centric to a fully-fledged Thai restaurant. The transformation included a physical refurbishment and a philosophical one. A move away from quick and easy dishes usually served by Thai street vendors, to a refined menu that captures the best of the six major culinary regions of its motherland.
I’m glad I waited.
My first Soi38 experience is an extended family affair with as many dietary requirements as there are people. The staff is used to such gatherings, handling special requests and offering options to suit. Most of the menu can be adapted for gluten-free needs or to accommodate the vegetarians or vegans amongst us. Not me though. After struggling to choose between delicious sounding dishes on the extensive menu I dive headlong into starters that offer small bites that walk a traditional line but with an element of flair.
Fresh lobster is worked into some very special spring rolls. The sweet white meat is wrapped in a flaky wrapper that is fried to the lightest shade of beige, ensuring a perfectly cooked interior that retains the delicate taste of the shredded lobster. Dipped in a house-made Sriracha mayonnaise, which takes these crispy delicacies to a whole new level, adding a creamy heat that complements rather than competes.
Pan-fried chive cakes are little green pillows of pleasure that are soaked in a aromatic dipping sauce. A simple delight with light onion flavour, nice seasoning and only a hint of grease. We are warned to slice the sago peanut dumplings in half before eating and it’s good advice as these slightly sweet, chewy morsels are certainly a mouthful. Coconut cream is the central flavour in another simple sample of Thai dishes that do not have to try too hard to please.
Just as pleasing as our starters is the service, which is up there with some of the best in town. Headed by front-of-house star (and passionate co-owner) Daisy Miller, she runs a seamless operation, which adds to the fantastic Soi38 experience. Another highlight is the wine list that has doubled in size since their overhaul and among some South Aussie staples, features a dedicated list of female winemaking favourites. Selecting this year’s Hot 100 Wines winner Charlotte Dalton and the label’s Love you, Love me Semillon is a no-brainer.
Our attention diverts back to the open kitchen at the rear of the venue where co-owner and chef Terry Intrarakhamhaeng whips up another round of dishes. Beef cheek massaman curry embraces pungency and depth with an undercurrent of palatable heat. Gelatinous meaty chunks swim in a wonderous sauce infused with five spice that are not hidden in the dish, but displayed proudly on top. Cinnamon quills and star anise pretty up the curry in preparation for Instagram-loving patrons. A blend of crushed peanuts tumbles from the peak into the orange and brown pool below adding colour and texture as well as flavour. A dash of coconut milk tames spice, while roughly-hewn potato segments soak up as much flavour as the meat itself and the dish sings harmoniously with every bite.
A spice warning is offered for our selected side dish and I prepare myself for a chilli-infused onslaught of the vegetarian variety. The traditional green papaya salad looks innocent enough but takes no prisoners and could indeed be a main course in itself. The finely shredded under-ripe fruit is a touch bitter but is sweetened with a mix of carrot, beans and cherry tomato halves. It is spicy, but the flavour shines through with a hint of salt offered by lightly roasted crunchy peanuts that also give texture to this otherwise silky salad. Solace from the spice is offered only by surrounding lettuce leaves that still manage to capture some of the zingy dressing.
We move on to a generous pile of pork ribs that are made for sharing, if you are willing to. The delicate protruding bones call for the use of fingers that are quickly coated in the delightful garlicy sticky sauce. The meat dissolves almost instantly with each mouthful and we greedily scoop up the residual liquid, shallots and spring onion blend once the bones are stripped, savouring every spoonful.
If you are indecisive, Soi38 will select dishes from their ‘feed me’ menu, a promised journey to showcase the best of each region. Or choose your own Thai adventure. Just make sure you visit. Either way, you’ll be welcomed at their party.
54 Pulteney Street