17 Sep Chalawan, Collingwood
Northern Light has made way for the king. Chalawan, the crocodile king, to be exact. Chalawan isn’t the place for traditional Thai. It’s contemporary, and the menu has been adjusted to the Australian palate and our local produce.
It’s dark and cosy inside, the bar dominating the elongated space. Rib-like wooden framing brings the ceiling in, and makes it feel like we’re dining in the belly of a crocodile. Take a seat at the marble bar counter, or the tables on either end.
Cocktails have an Asian spin. The Tie Me Down is made with Eristoff Vodka, lemongrass, cucumber, citrus, pandan, and orange blossom. Their twist on the cobbler uses Plantation rum, Pavan, toddy palm, passionfruit, citrus, mango, and kaffir lime leaves.
Dinner begins with the little morsel that is the Tom Ka Hoy Shell. The intricate-looking dish has a pan-seared scallop hidden enticingly by a nest of crispy mushrooms, thinly sliced radishes, bits of lemongrass and pomegranate arils. The tom kha broth is wonderfully light and frothy, with a slight hint of spiciness. This textural dish is a good start to the meal.
We come to the Khai Loog Koey, or son-in-law eggs, but Chalawan’s are poached then deep-fried whole. Cutting into the golden treasure, we find, to our delight, that the whites still translucent despite being fried. Further crunch comes from the noodle-like cucumber, green papaya and peanut salad, and tamarind juice dressing adding a bit of zing.
Braised ox tongue is one of the specials today. The thick-cut O’Connor ox tongue is sourced from Meatsmith, and is meltingly gelatinous. Its seared periphery is lightly salted and punchy, with the turmeric injecting flavour and the chilli adding spice, but all mellowed out by coconut milk-braised cabbage.
It’s time to tuck into mains. The large dish section of the menu is largely composed of curries, where the protein stands on its own. Rather than being drowned in liquid, the curry sauces instead complement the main star of the dish. The Kanom Jeen Neua has 10-hour braised O’Connor beef cheek in a green curry that’s very spicy. Rambutan adds a gentle sweetness. Although the beef is beautifully tender, we find that the Thai rice noodles are a bit gluggy and we long for some crispiness to balance the softer textures.
Slow-roasted lamb shoulder is found in the Khao Soi Gae. Khao soi is a curry originating from the northern region of Thailand, but tradition is thrown out the window with the inclusion of black sticky rice tagliatelle. As with the Kanom Jeen Neua, the lamb itself is handled well, but here there are crunchy strips of wonton skin to satisfy our desire for crunch.
For desserts we try the Khanom Gluay. A quenelle of homemade caramelised banana ice cream sits on a carpet of chocolate and nut crumble, and surrounded by banana chips, sun-dried banana chunks and segments of banana with a brûlée crust. The ice cream is a bit of an adventure, with chilli and caramel notes throughout, and despite featuring banana in so many forms, the dessert doesn’t feel monotonous or overdone.
Come to Collingwood and meet Chalawan with his diamond-toothed smile, where the service from the all-Thai team is cheery, and the food is inventive and unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Disclaimer: I was invited to Chalawan as a guest, however, opinions expressed here are purely my own, and are based on my experience at the time
102 Smith St
Collingwood, VIC, 3066
(03) 9078 9532