Jinda ThaiDecember 7, 2014
7 Ferguson Street, Abbotsford
Mr N and I had been trying to eat at Jinda Thai for some weeks. It would often be the case that, at home and not in the mood to cook, we’d turn our minds to various cheap places we like to eat at, before one of us exclaimed, ‘Jinda Thai!’ In the car we’d go, walking eagerly into the restaurant only to find there was a wait time of over an hour. Admittedly, if we’d gotten our acts together and booked, we wouldn’t have had this problem. Nonetheless, I always wondered why a Thai place (which Melbourne is not known for) on a side street in Richmond was so popular. Having finally succeeded in eating there (with a booking – such a genius idea!), I can see why.
Firstly, Jinda Thai is a warm place to eat. The spacious restaurant is filled with white tables and chairs, each with alternating green and orange seat cushions. Exposed bricks walls are lit up with the warm glow of Thai lanterns, and the occasional black and white portrait. Despite the close quarters and noise level, it’s a friendly, welcoming environment. It makes you glad for friends and food and conversation.
Secondly, the menu is extensive, extremely well priced, and it all sounds delicious! Honestly, I could have easily picked two dozen dishes to eat. Alas, as we were a mere table of four, we had the difficult task of limiting our choices down to a few. Here’s what we ate.
We began with a couple of entrees to share (the menu is meant for sharing, but a small number of dishes – such as their well-known soup-based boat noodles – are quite difficult to share between more than two). First to arrive was a plate of the ‘Fish cake, squish cake’. Adorable name aside, these were a fantastic rendition of a Thai classic: light, aromatic and slightly spicy. They were especially good drenched in sweet chilli sauce.
Also great were the Gai Hor Bai Toey, marinated chicken wrapped in pandan leaves and chargrilled, presented on a cute little wooden pedestal. A favourite dish of mine whenever I eat at the Isthmus of Kra, these were lovely and tender, with a slight charring at the edges. Also a great one for kids because of their mild flavour and interactive nature.
Being the good blogger that I am and having done my research, it was patently obvious that the Som Tum (papaya salad) with soft shell crab was the dish to order. Appearing with the requisite cherry tomatoes, green beans, dried shrimp and fresh chilli, this did not disappoint. H and S, who have spent some time eating authentic Thai food in Thailand, and who are generally harsh food critics, said it was a very good version, although not nearly as spicy as the ones they had in Thailand.
This seems to be a common criticism of Jinda Thai, that they dial down the spice level too much to the point where it’s not authentic. We found overall that there were quite a few heated dishes, but I can see how perhaps those heat levels nonetheless aren’t fully reflective of heat levels in Thailand. I suppose this is a case of the kitchen catering for their audience. Anyway, I loved the som tum here – for me it was the perfect balance of hot, sour, sweet and salt.
The only dish from the evening that we wouldn’t order again was the Larb with minced chicken. Larb is a Thai dish that originated in Laos. It’s made by hand roasting and then grinding rice, along with crushed dry chilli, mint, coriander, red onion, and mince of some sort. When done well, it’s a great mixture of textures and refreshing flavours. Unfortunately, this was the low point of our meal. It had a very strange aftertaste that I can’t put my finger on, but it wasn’t enjoyable.
In contrast, the roasted red duck curry was fabulous. I am a complete sucker for Thai curries – I’d take them over any other kind of curry or stew any day. This red curry was on the sweeter side but had a strong chilli hit, and was generally wonderful. I could have happily had the whole bowl myself!
Mr N and I insisted, as per our tradition when eating Thai, that we get a serve of Pad Thai. I know, I know there are better dishes out there, and it’s a waste of stomach space to spend it on rice noodles, and I would be better off trying a more adventurous dish. Quiet, food snobs! Nothing is quite as comforting as a plate of noodles, and these were delicious and lemony, just as I like it!
Finally, a dish of Pad Gra Pow with beef was knockout good. Basically a chilli and basil stir fry, there was a generous amount of meat, although a few more veggies wouldn’t have gone astray. An intensely hot and delicious dish, this had me reaching for my beer more than once. Funnily, we were all carefully avoiding what we thought were tiny green chillies until S realised they were just green beans that had been cut into tiny pieces! How sneaky of them / silly of us!
There isn’t much by way of desserts here, but Jinda’s crepe cakes sure are doing the rounds on social media! Everyone seems to want a piece of these delicately layered concoctions. The waitress recited the available flavours: thai milk tea; taro; pandan; matcha; coconut. Overwhelmed by choice, I asked her which were the most popular. Tongue firmly in cheek, she said, ‘For you, coconut and matcha. For us, thai milk tea and pandan’. ‘Pandan!’ I ordered, defiant. I’ll be damned if I’ll be told what I will and won’t like!
The rest of the table was a touch apprehensive when the green cake arrived, covered in a thick sauce and two scoops of coconut ice cream on the side. Despite this, I’m pleased to say we all really enjoyed our shared dessert! Crazy-thin crepes are layered with a pandan flavoured cream, and then covered in a green Pandan custard. It’s really delicious.
Overall, Jinda Thai is definitely a place to revisit. The table next to us had an incredible looking whole fried fish delivered to their table, and from my memory of the menu, even that was reasonably priced. Great prices, great flavours and great company – what more could you want?
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