Yes, that little Thai place…., is one of my favourite Thai joint in Melbourne. It is cosy and casual. There is nothing pretentious about this place. It is personable and being so small, the Chef is usually out at the front after finished cooking for the night. The place is little known as it is in an obscure quiet street, away from the main drag. The cafe is almost hidden by a big tree at the front. It is difficult to spot unless you are walking along the pavement, with a few outdoor tables and chairs underneath the tree.
So, where is this secret little Thai gem?
It is located in South Melbourne. If you have not guess it yet, I am talking about “Red Petite” owned by “Wing” the chef, and “Ing” the beautiful and charming Maitre d’.
“Wing and Ing” partners (I hope I have spell their nicknames correctly) or if I remember correctly, Ing jokingly told me to call them “Wining” ie Win+ing. I guess that was how I remember both their nicknames. And rightly so, as Red Petite is a “winning team”. There is something about this place that I really like, which I can narrow down to the freshness and quality of the food, intimacy of the dining room and the kitchen, the cleanliness of the place, and the hospitality of Win-Ing. Having said that, Red Petite is a quiet place and having been opened for two years, I am really surprise that there isn’t a long queue outside waiting for a table.
The only reason I knew about Red Petite is not that I have read about it in a food blogs or food critics in The Age newspaper. But, it was a Saturday night not long after I moved to Melbourne (before my partner joined me) that I went to see a cabaret show at The Butterfly Club. I was bored staying in my little 48 sqm one bedroom rented apartment that I had to go out and enjoy a good evening.
That was when I discovered the Red Petite. The staff at The Butterfly Club highly recommended that I tried the place as I hunger for a light snack before the show. I hurried over to the little cafe. I didn’t remember seeing Ing at the time. But, an equally charming young Maitre d recommended that I tried the tapas size “Crying Tiger”, which was grilled marinated beef served with a northeastern Thai “E-Sarn” dipping sauce for $10. I did not have any expectation when I first went to Red Petite since I knew nothing about the place.
When the grilled beef came, I could tell that it was going to be good. The dipping sauce with a light sprinkle of chili powder garnished with spring onion in a side sauce bowl, next to a stack of grilled beef and slices of cucumber made a perfect mouth watering first bite. And, it was delicious with a nice balance of saltiness, sweetness and spicyness.
I remember this dish well. However, at our most recent visit, which was last Saturday night, we took 2 of our friends visiting from Sydney to Red Petite. I recommended to them that they should try the “Crying Tiger”. It was the first dish that arrived being a tapas entree size. The dish looked exactly the same as the previous couple of times my partner and I had eaten there. It tasted the same with the same amount of saltiness, sweetness and spicyness from the marinated beef and the E-sarn dipping sauce. That is what I like most about this place – the consistency in the food, quality and presentation. The beef, however, was a bit tough and chewy. They were probably cooked a bit too long.
Our friends left it with me to order the dishes, and trusted that I knew what I was doing. The next dish that came was the prawn salad, “Pla Goong” for $16.
It was, once again, a very beautiful dish with the prawn nicely poached in coconut milk (I believed) served on top of a bed of fresh bean sprouts and iceberg cabbage cup and dressed in a creamy coconut sauce with chilies, mints and kaffir lime leaves. This dish was very good. The prawns were poached perfectly, firm and sweet. The creamy sauce was just right, not overly spicy or rich, with a nice fragrant and tangy flavour. The crunch of fresh bean sprout made this salad refreshing and light.
The third entree that I ordered was a Chicken Satay which comes in 4 skewers for $10.
The Thai style chicken satay is quite different from a Malaysian style chicken satay. Chicken breast is mostly used in the Thai version, whereas a Malaysian version will use the thigh meat, and in a Thai satay sauce it is mostly thick and creamy, whereas the Malaysian version adopted a spicier version with more chili paste in the sauce. Hence, a richer red colour, than a brownie creamy version of a Thai satay sauce. I have recently posted here on the best Malaysian chicken satay I have eaten at Mamak Melbourne.
The chicken satay at Red Petite was very good. The meat was chunky, sweet, tender and juicy. The sauce was nice, creamy, and sweet at the same time. The side roti was good for wiping up the remaining sauce. It was a wonderful dish.
Next up was the coconut rice, massaman beef curry and “sen mee moo yang” which is grilled pork with rice vermicelli and fresh salad.
The massaman beef curry was my partner’s all time favourite each time he eats at a Thai restaurant. I would have prefer either a Thai red or green curry. A massaman curry is a central Thai dish of Muslim origin. Each restaurant has their own version and interpretation. Win’s version is thick, rich and creamy with chunky beef, potatoes and carrots topped with dried shallots. The beef were tender and falls apart when pierced with a fork. The curry was accompanied well with the rich, fragrant coconut rice. Massaman beef for $15 and coconut rice was $4 a bowl.
“Sen Mee Moo Yang” is a rice vermicelli dish for $15. I have never had this type of noodle dish before in Thai cooking. It sounded interesting on the menu. Typically, I would have ordered either a “Pad Thai” or “Pad See Ewe”. I have tried Win’s Pad Thai on one of other visit, and Win’s Pad Thai was one of the best Pad Thai I had for a long time.
When Ing placed the Sen Mee Moo Yang on our table, I wasn’t sure what to think about the dish. I guess it was quite unexpected. So, I asked Ing how we should be eating this dish and whether I was meant to pour the bowl of sauce over the green salad and / or the noodle with pork.
Ing explained I should pour the sauce over the salad and noodle. She also explained that there was sweet chili at the bottom of the sauce. I was meant to stir the bowl with the mixture of sweet chili at the bottom. I later found out that this type of salad or seafood dressing is known as Nam-Jin, which was meant to be sweet, sour and spicy.
The sauce was mixed through. I then scooped a few spoonful of the dressing over the salad and noodle. I may have put too much dressing. It had an unusual flavour and taste which probably will take some time for me to take a liking towards this dish. The strong flavour of the Nam Jin dressing was garlicky and overly sweet. The sweet, sour and spicy flavour may suits some people, but the Nam Jin dressing was too strong for my liking.
Wing and Ing definitely has a win-ing formula at Red Petite. It only needs to be discovered by more people, not just those who lives around South Melbourne. This little cafe deserves to be noticed, and a perfect place to eat before a show at the wonderful, eclectic cabaret club next door.
After our dinner, we headed over to The Butterfly Club for some cocktails and wine. There was a cabaret show on, but we were too late for the show. So we sat in the main lounge room cluttered with unusual figurines, dollhouse, pictures from all sort of walk life. It was dimmed and moody inside and the fireplace roaring away to keep the cold night warm and cosy.