Aja | Paladarr Thai Isaan
In this post, I visit a couple of Asian places with flavours leaning towards the ‘mild / fusiony’ side of things. Rather than cull these venues on this blog, I’ve decided to just write ‘em up anyway and perhaps have a healthy discussion about it.
A Journey To Asia (aja)
132 Bridport St
Albert Park, VIC 3206
03 9645 8388
I caught up with Shing and her partner for dinner here one Sunday night. It felt like I was intruding on their date night, but Shing assured me that wasn’t the case. They chose the place and I tagged along happily.
Aja is just a stone’s throw away from the ever-so-delicous Andrew’s Hamburgers. The interior is dark and cosy modern, shrouded in lantern red lighting (a nightmare for food photography) with surprisingly soft and comfy rattan chairs. Incidentally, on the night that we dined there, my boss was there too and he sat at the table right next to us! Slightly awkward… haha!
Salad and noodle rolls 10.00 | Fried calamari in spice salt 18.00
Shing’s partner (Jeremy) is pescetarian, so many of our dish choices revolved around the non-meat side of things. It was a good thing, since lately, I myself have become rather fond of veggies. Jeremy tucked into the vegetarian noodle roll happily and we shared a delightful entree of deep fried calamari which was wok-tossed with five spice salt and basil.
Chicken spare ribs 14.00 | Steamed mix grain rice 9.00
I wanted the chicken ribs on the menu and was glad we tried it… nice and crisp yet very tender inside with a tasty sweet-vinegary sauce. We also ordered a serve of mixed rice (black rice, brown rice, red rice and corn) to go with our main dishes later.
Humble tofu in mala sauce (vegetarian) 14.00 | Buddha’s Delight 21.80
Here are our vegetarian main dishes. The mala tofu borrowed elements of Sichuan mapo tofu, sans mince meat. While the dish overall only had a mild kick from the mala spices, I’ll have to say it had a very fragrant sauce.
The buddha’s delight was made from stir fried fresh tofu with mixed mushrooms, black fungus, lotus root and buk choy. The sauce came thickish with hints of Chinese herbs such as dang gui – angelica sinesis. Probably my favourite dish for the night, with interesting flavours and textures.
Singapore noodle 21.80 | Duck with tamarind sauce 33.80
We filled up further with a vegetarian serve of Singapore noodles, a dish that actually doesn’t exist in Singapore (don’t get me started). This dish turned out to be Jeremy’s favourite dish. And finally, Shing was pretty keen on trying the tamarind duck, which was crisp fried then smeared with tamarind sauce on top. The duck was Shing’s favourite dish while I wasn’t as keen on the tangy-sweet sauce which had a fair amount of cumin in it.
Overall, Aja dishes up gentle but good flavours and I think this restaurant can serve as a fair introduction to Asian cuisine and probably will suit this region of Melbourne pretty well. All that said, I personally thought that the prices were on the steep side for the amount of food served. Fortunately, we dined there as part of an Urbanspoon (or Dimmi?) deal where all main dishes were discounted by 50%, so we didn’t feel the pinch on our wallets that much.
Paladarr Thai Isaan
7 Rowe St
Alphington, VIC 3078
1300 725 232
Speaking of deals, Fakegf and I dined at Paladaar Thai Isaan a week later, this time using a group social voucher where a five course meal at this restaurant is nicely priced at $59 for two persons. For some reason, we’re quite budget conscious this year. The restaurant has been on my wishlist for many years, so we pounced on the opportunity to sample its dishes without breaking our wallets.
The restaurant resides in a standalone building snug within a secluded part of Alphington, we carpooled there on an incredibly rainy night in Melbourne. The interior is quite formal, with big leather chairs, muted colours and dark woods.
Issan dish of minced chicken with coriander, spring onion, mint, chilli, lemon juice, fish sauce & ground parched rice
Seared prawns with ginger, lemongrass, coriander, spring onion, lemon juice & fish sauce
The photo above shows you how my eating style has changed in the past year. I now have this urge to have wine even when I’m dining on Asian fare! It’s just something I’d do these days in Australia, and I wonder whether I’d do that when I’m travelling in Asia.
The first course was essentially larb gai, a spicy-tangy minced chicken salad that I’m quite familiar with. It was pretty enjoyable… confidently limey, not too sweet and with a mild creeping heat. The seared prawns were okay, served on a betel leaf with a sauce that reminded Fakegf of tom yum paste. We would’ve preferred if they were served warmer.
Seared beef slices in a ‘Kaprow’ sauce of Thai basil, ground chilli & garlic
Chicken in traditional green curry with Thai basil, baby eggplant & seasonal vegetables
Steamed jasmine rice came with course three and four. Both dishes can be found in most Thai restaurants, and within the context of Melbourne, they do a decent rendition of it here with nice flavoursome sauces and gravy. I enjoyed the presence of okra in the beef dish and liked the surprise pieces bamboo shoots in the green curry intermingled with the fragrance from fresh Thai basil leaves.
All that said, the green curry leant towards the sweet and creamy side. In Thailand, green curry is usually more soupy and normally it’s also one of the spiciest curries around. On this front, this green curry wasn’t all that ‘traditional’. The spice levels creeps up on you slowly but remained relatively mild. Both main dishes also contained somewhat Western ingredients such as celery, capsicum and zucchini. This aspect, plus the lack of a confident punch of spice and chilli-hotness, caused Fakegf to be rather unimpressed with the food here.
Rickets Point ice cream
The dessert course consisted of sweets that were not Thai at all – raspberry sorbet and French vanilla ice cream.
I have mixed feelings about Paladaar Thai Isaan. It feels as if the dishes have been tweaked and toned down to suit the palates of locals in Melbourne (of which I’m fast becoming one myself). And having raspberry sorbet and vanilla ice cream for dessert was disappointing. All that said, it was still essentially good cooking that can be quite easily enjoyed.
Looking at both restaurants covered in this post, I’m personally unlikely to return to either because of its price point and milder offerings, but I think they both will quite comfortably stand their ground within the context of Melbourne.