“Pok Pok” that is a Thai word for the sound of a pestle pounding the different herbs and spices in a mortar into a nice, thick paste. A common sound that can be heard on the streets of Bangkok. The sounds and smell of the spices have made its way to a local cafe in Docklands.
I came across this small cafe with an elevated polished concrete floor as I was walking towards a local supermarket. It is located at 801 – 803 Bourke Street in Docklands. Newly opened a few weeks ago their emphasis is on street food of Thailand.
Last Friday night, my partner and I went there for dinner which was a short 5 minutes walk from our place. There was an article in the local Docklands News featuring the cafe, which only increase my interest and curiosity of the food at Pok Pok.
We arrived there early about 6:30 PM. There were already a few tables of customers. One large table of office colleagues who have just finished work still in their office suits. We entered the cafe through the front door which has a glass front long counter with their espresso coffee machine. I guess this is where they serve takeaway coffees for the office workers in the day time. There is nothing spectacular about the front as we entered the cafe. But, once we make our way up a flight of polished concrete steps to an elevated dining area with a long open kitchen, it was a different ambiance altogether. It looks industrial with stainless steel long open kitchen and concrete polished floor, floor to ceiling black and white photo prints of Bangkok streets and food scenes, high stainless steel bench top with pink metal bar stools, a row of “S. trifasciata laurentii” or mother-in law’s tongue plants dividing the high long tables from the small tables for some privacy and space. The music was groovy and loud but the very high ceiling helps by softening the noise level.
It was a small menu, which can only mean one thing. That each of the dishes will be specialised. I was even surprised to see a Hainanese Chicken Rice – Khao Mun Gai in the menu, and a Chiang Mai Curry Noodle – Kao Soi which I have never come across in any Thai restaurant that I have ever been in Australia. The menu definitely sounds interesting, and most of the dishes come with rice. That means, the order will be for one person serve, like eating in the street of Bangkok seating on a small colourful plastic stool or tiny wooden stool with a low table.
We ordered 3 dishes – a Massaman Lamb Curry with Roti for $14.50, Kao Soi for $13.50 and a Crisp Barramundi with Green Apple salad (because they didn’t have green mango) for $16.50.
The food was good. Actually very good but all three dishes were a touched too sweet for both of us. I love the Kao Soi which was 100 % authentic and true to the flavour of Thailand. It was rich and creamy, salty, spicy and sweet with crisp, crunchy flat egg noodles garnishing on top, chunky chicken maryland meat with skin on, some mustard greens and fresh slices of red onions to finish the bowl of egg noodles. It was delicious and nothing I have ever tried in Australia. This is a must for anyone who really like to know if there is anything other than the traditional and more common “Pad Thai” and “Pad See Ewe”.
The massaman curry was different from other massaman curry I have ever eaten in a Thai restaurant in Australia. Most places will serve massaman beef curry, but at Pok Pok, they use a whole lamb shank. It was a great idea. The meal itself is large with potatoes and lots of roasted cashew nuts. The lamb was tender and falls off the bone. It was very good, but overly sweet at the same time. The accompanied roti was soft, fluffy and like a soft sponge soaking up the gravy of the massaman. This, I was told by Michael – our waiter, was the top seller of the restaurant. I can understand why. It looks good and tastes good.
Our least favourite among the 3 dishes was the barramundi salad. The deep fried barramundi fillet came in one big piece at the bottom of the dish and garnished on top with big leaves of aromatic mint herbs, a few pieces of baby spinach leaves, lots of sliced red onions and toasted cashew nuts. The fish itself was good, but the overall dish was very sweet and salty with too much sugar and fish sauce, and the chef forgot one key important ingredient for the salad which was in the description of the menu – green apples. I pointed out to the owner, Ethan as he walked past our table. He gave us a surprise look, was not apologetic and took the plate away to be brought back by our waiter with a few slices of green apples on top.
It was a shame that Ethan had a less than a caring or believing attitude when I told him that our barramundi green apple salad had missing green apple in the dish. It would otherwise had been a great experience eating at Pok Pok. The overall service was far from the top notch service at the Nine Elephants and Red Petite.
The other impression I got from Pok Pok was that they have a “no top up drinking water” policy. It was hard to get their attention to top up our little Thai aluminum cup. It was a small cup, probably one or two mouth full only. Rather than putting a bottle of drinking water on the table, they prefer you to ask for more water. We had a a bottle of beer for $7 , a glass of house red $8 and a fresh coconut juice for $3.80. The coconut juice was served in a glass. I would have preferred for the authenticity and experience of eating at a Thai street food cafe (which, Pok Pok promotes itself as a “street cafe”) that the fresh coconut juice comes as a whole coconut.
Comparing to the food at Nine Elephant, Pok Pok is more of a street cafe than a restaurant with rustic roadside food with individual serve. However, Red Petite is still our preferred and favourite local Thai restaurant for the personal, home cooked and comfort food.
Pok Pok is in an ideal location for office workers doing excellent lunch time business and night time takeaway business. They opened at the right time, as there is not many good and affordable Asian eating places in the south side of Docklands area.