Weekend Foodtrail at the Ivory Cafe

After a long week of packing, moving and unpacking, and managing our contractors to finish our home renovation, we had to go out for a meal. Actually we have been going out for dinner since we have moved to Hobart a week ago. A compromise we chose – convenience, close to work and entertainment over the village tranquility and serenity of the Huon estuary and rolling hills.

Last night, Friday 17 December 2010, my partner Reb of Gutter Trash blog and I had the pleasure of dining out with our friend from Rita’s Bite blog. You can read her review on Ivory Cafe on her blog as well. Rita suggested to me after my partner and I had a sad meal at the Thai Garden earlier in the week that there is a newish small cafe in Hobart city on Elizabeth Street. I was surprised that I have not heard of the place before. Probably because I seldom walk or drive through that street of the city.

I booked a table for three on Thursday afternoon for dinner at 6:45 pm on a Friday evening. She was friendly and asked the correct questions – “can I have your name and contact number please”. Believe me. There are several occasion that I rang a place and they didn’t bother to even asked for name or contact number.

We rushed to get ready. Now that we live in the city fringe, we thought we could take our time – it should only takes us five to ten minutes to get there. But we were five minutes late because it took us longer to get ready without a bathroom to shower. We had to wash up in the kitchen sink!

To eat out in Hobart is so easy. It is easy to get a parking space in front or near to the place. That is you are not eating out in North Hobart main eating street or Salamanca Place. But, nothing is ever far away to walk. That is the beauty of living in Hobart. So convenient and so easy to find a parking spot. We parked a street light away from the cafe, not knowing the exact location except it is on 112 Elizabeth Street, Hobart.

The front of the cafe is hard to notice. There is no big sign and there is a middle frosted glass so you can’t even notice it is a cafe inside if you walk or drive past the place too fast. I like it. It means you have to know the place to find it, which makes it a bit special. And, the signage is so high up above the glass that you have to look up to see it. I like the red and yellow greenish dotted logo. Again, that does not tell me that it is a Thai cafe. Both Rita and I agree the name, Ivory, does not strict us as a name for a Thai cafe or restaurant. We forgot to ask the hostess, Donna or the chef, Khun Piya (nickname “Gummy”) why they named the place, Ivory. I wonder if there is any symbolic reference to elephants in Thailand.

When we opened the door, there was lot of buzz and noise – loud music, a big table of six/eight, another table of three and our table of three . It is a small and compact cafe but nicely set up. We sat at the first table nearest to the door. It was exciting. I like all the noise in a cafe. But, the music may be a bit too loud. The customers have to talk on top of their voices to be heard. And, we had to speak out loud to hear each other, as the other bigger table were even louder than us. I didn’t mind this at all. It has the ambience of a busy cafe in King Street, Newtown, Sydney where we used to live nearby.

We looked through the menu. At the front of the Dinner menu, it said in small print “Authentic Thai”. When we opened to read the menu on the inside two pages, it had homemade dim sum, dumplings for entree and even a Moroccan Lamb for main. Not something you will see in a Thai restaurant’s menu. But, we later found out that the Chef Khun Piya has adjusted his menu to suit his customers (mostly regular). We, of course, went for the more traditional Thai choices. That was the reason of going there.

We ordered a mixed entree platter and some chicken curry puffs. The mixed entree came with spring rolls, Thai beef jerky, Thai shredded carrot salad and Thai beef salad with lots of mints. Chef Khun Piya gave us a complimentary pork jerky to sample as well.

First, the homemade Thai style chicken curry puffs. It came with a homemade sweet vinegary dipping sauce of cucumber, shallots and carrots. The puff pastry was perfect with a nice soft crunch. It was perfectly shaped with a nice mildly flavoured chicken curry fillings. I could eat half a dozen of this puffs. They were so good.

Next was the mixed entree platter and complimentary pork jerky. Donna was kind enough to give us an extra complimentary spring roll since there was three of us.

The four types of entree on the platter were all very good. The jerky came with sticky rice. Traditionally, you will use the hand to pick the sticky rice and then the beef jecky and dip in to a sweet, sour and spicy dipping sauce. The pork jerky was not in the photo. It came in a separate small plate. The jerky was coated with freshly grounded cumin seeds. Lots of flavour. Both the salad were refreshing. The only comment I had to make was the mint on the beef salad. It was overly powering. The beef was tender but unfortunately it was overwhelmed by the mints. Everything on this plate tasted very fresh.

For the main, we ordered Pad Thai with King Prawns, Massaman Beef Curry and Stir Fry Pork with Ginger, Chili Sauce and Kaffir Lime leafs to share.

First the Phat Thai. It was very nice. A bit different from the one I had at Suwan Thai. But both were good in their own rights. This version was toned down with less sugar and fish sauce. It was less oily. Chef Khun Piya explained to us at the end of our meal that he is conscious on cooking a healthier meal with less sugar, salt and oil. This explains the freshness of his dishes – fresh and sophisticated. The other thing I like about this place is that it is small with a fast turnover of customers, which means his produces will turnaround quicker and remains fresh. The only missing ingredient on this dish was fresh, crunchy bean sprouts and Asian garlic chives to give that bit of tangy flavour. I like mine a bit spicier as well. As usual in a good Thai cafe, they offer some small jars on the side – sugar, fish sauce, dried chilies and vinegar with cut green or red chilies – for you to add to meet your taste buds. 

Next the pork and vegetable stir fried in a mild chili paste with lots of fresh julianne gingers and kaffir lime leaves. This dish had plentiful of mixed Thai flavours. It had a sophisticated mild flavour – not overly sweet, salty or spicy. But with a nice gingery and kaffir lime flavour and an after taste of bite to the tongue from the chili paste. The dish had lots of bamboo shoots that gave it an interesting tangy flavour as well.

Lastly, the beef massaman. The curry was thick and aromatic. It was very good. The beef was cooked for several hours to make the meat fall apart when you eat it. It was one of the best massaman curry I ever had for a very long time. My partner loves this dish so much that I am certain that the next time we either dine in or takeaway (yes, they do takeaway) we got to have this dish.

Ivory Cafe is a hidden gem in Hobart. It is a rare find for a good Thai eating place. It is small but it is friendly and sophisticated in every sense that came out from the kitchen. I have not tried the other dishes, but this will not be the last. There will be many more to come to sample as many dishes that put out by Chef Khun Piya. Aside from Suwan Thai, this tops my list for a good Thai food. It is different from Suwan Thai. You will have to try both places to judge for yourself. Like in Thailand, they love the phrase “Meng Khan” meaning “same same but different”.

Chef Khun Piya and his partner, “Donna”

and, their menu on the wall specially made and delivered from Melbourne with a backlit lighting.

17 responses to “Weekend Foodtrail at the Ivory Cafe

  1. Thanks for the informative review Victor…. I’m still a bit too nervous to pay out good money for “Hobart Thai” food…..but this does looks tempting. (Wow, have you totaled up your last weeks dining bills)

    • Ivory is not that expensive. Reasonable.
      Am a bit too nervous to check my credit card bill for all the meals! But will start cooking at home again from next week. Things are settling down a bit now. 🙂

  2. I really enjoyed it. The food and service were excellent.

    Gummy explained that he tailors his dishes to suit the tastes of his regular customers, so I imagine if you want your meal a little less sweet, or more spicey, he will be able to accommodate your tastes.

    The Phat Thai looks very popular. A quick glance around the restaurant and everyone seemed to eating it!

    The Massaman curry, curry puffs and the surprising beef and pork jery were standouts for me.

    Overall it was excellent and definitely worth trying. I’ll be back!

  3. Must try it…I’ve been walking round with blinkers on too!
    Thai Garden bit tired. Staff/owners tired as well ;-‘)

    • Oh, yes you must Mary. There is no comparison. Ivory is up there. Thai Garden is not Thai at all. It is an insult to Thai people.

  4. This sounds wonderful V. Prof & I had an awful dinner at Mai ake not so long ago so can’t wait to try ivory. Your pics look great.

    • Thanks, C. I never like Mai Ake. Been there once a few years ago. Never been back. Too Australianised. That’s the problem with some of the Asian restaurants here in Hobart. They don’t change with time. But then this is Tasmania with a small population with 2 distinctive groups of diners – people that go out to eat to fill their tummies regardless of authenticity of the food – quantity over quality, and the other group who loves food, appreciate the real thing and cultural experience. Seems like the former is the majority thus the Asian restaurants/chefs here still happy to serve mediocre meals with localised flavour. I hope this will change.

  5. Looks great, I will have to try it soon!

    Have you tried Royal Thai? (it is a couple of blocks up Eliz St)
    It’s quite expensive (but aims to be somewhat ‘silver service’ so the prices are probably justified) but they have some fantastic dishes. Their massaman curry is my favourite in Hobart. The red duck curry is amazing too.

    • Bri – I went there with my partner when they first opened. That was a long time ago. I couldn’t remember what we have ordered, but they were just like Mai Ake’s style at the time. Not sure if that has changed or not. We have never been back since. Maybe it is time to try the place again.

  6. I’d be curious to hear what you think if you do head there.
    They aren’t perfect – the entrees/appetisers seem to be a bit hit and miss, and the stir-fry style mains aren’t terribly exciting. But their curries are definitely worth it. Good pad thai too 🙂

  7. Hi victor & reb, have a lovely Christmas-cheers Steve

  8. A bit late I know Victor, but I tried the Ivory yesterday. Everything you sent was spot on.
    Most Thaiish food I’ve had in Tassie. The dried beef was the best I’ve had (better than Sydney or even Thailand), all it needed was a hot green mango salad to be perfect. We’ll go for dinner next week.

    Thanks for your recommendations again.

    Dillon

    • Phew! Glad you agree on this one. LOL.
      Did you speak to the Chef? He is very nice. Go to the toilet next time. You will walk past his kitchen – small and clean. Very clean actually – a good sign for Chef who cares and passionate about his food and customers.

  9. If their toilet isn’t up to scratch, you’ll hear from me.lol:)
    I spoke to his wife. SHe seems a strong woman who has strong ambitions to give Tassie great Thai food. Hooray!
    Now about this Viet place you were talking about……

    • Yes, Dillon. I met up with Duang, the owner of Sapa Rose yesterday. Had a tour of his premise. It is a big restaurant. Big investment. The place will open soon. They are now doing the final touchup. Furniture all imported from VN. Lunch and dinner menu. Hope it does well.

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