Tom Phat @ 184 Sydney Road, Brunswick
29 January 2011
We often find that restaurant menus either are entirely devoid of captivating items or have so few enticing items that our ultimate selections are mere formalities. Consequently, it is unusual to find a menu that perplexes by having an astounding array of palpably delectable options. Tom Phat presented us with such a menu – as we browsed it, we were confounded with sensational sounding dishes such as a green curry with chicken, sweet corn dumplings and kaffir lime; green mango kingfish poached in coconut with wok tossed bok choy and chilli jam; and beef rendang with green papaya relish. One could only hope that the actual dishes would meet the expectations generated by their respective descriptions.
The first dish of spiced chicken ribs spectacularly exceeded those expectations. The outstanding chicken ribs were nicely caramelised and crispy and were flavoured well by the decadently sweet chilli-tamarind sauce. It was a delicious starter and one that further stoked our already elevated hopes.
After the excellent chicken ribs, the second starter of “Sezchuan” chilli salt squid was hugely disappointing. Chewy and elastic ribbons of powdery calamari were served with a one dimensional green chilli soy sauce. The calamari was heavily over-seasoned with both salt and pepper and had few redeeming features. The accompanying sauce was pleasant only insofar as it masked the slight fishiness that lurked beneath the calamari’s batter. In all, it was an atrocious example of the classic South East Asian dish.
Unfortunately, the main courses were more akin to the calamari than to the chicken ribs. The first main course of Chiangmai curry noodles with chicken, snake beans and lime had an insipid and under-seasoned curry broth that possessed none of the customary punchy flavours exhibited by South East Asian curries generally The inclusion of dry, overcooked chicken breast pieces and a decidedly small amount of noodles did nothing to further the dish’s cause.
The second main course of chilli caramel pork belly was the crowning disappointment of the meal. It was a dish that promised a lot – we envisaged crispy skinned succulent pork belly, sticky chilli caramel sauce and an aromatic, fresh Thai salad. Instead, we were greeted by a dish containing few, very dry pork belly pieces, with chewy rather than crunchy skin, and an abundant but limp and lifeless Thai salad. The chilli caramel sauce was thin and bland and the chilli component was completely absent. Three pieces of seared scallops, included in the dish for unknown reasons, were under-seared, overly soft and completely overpowered by the sauce. It is difficult to imagine a more ill-conceived ingredient for a sweet dish of pork belly.
Tempting fate, we ordered a dessert of roti pancake to share. It turned out, mercifully, to be an excellent decision for the roti pancake was a simple dessert that amalgamated the best aspects of banana fritters and Pizza Espresso’s sticky date pizzetta. The roti pancake was folded over cooked pieces of banana and encased in a hard, crunchy toffee shell. The roti itself had a pleasant chewiness which contrasted nicely with the soft banana and the crisp caramel. The roti pancake was a very simple, but a truly superb, dessert.
To Tom Phat’s credit, its prices are very reasonable. For approximately $70, we were provided with an adequate amount of food – in that light, Tom Phat appears to be fairly good value. Further, given the inconsistent quality of the dishes that we had, it is conceivable that a more considered, and perhaps more researched, selection of dishes would yield an unwaveringly high quality dining experience. If Tom Phat is able to deliver such a hypothetical dining experience, its prices may be terrific value indeed.
Our experience at Tom Phat was sadly characterised by a stream of poorly executed and, in respect of the pork belly, poorly conceived dishes bookended by the superb chicken ribs and the fantastic roti pancake. With such inconsistency, I would suggest that Tom Phat is not a restaurant at which to play “lucky dip” with the menu; there appears to be a reasonable prospect that random selections may prove wholly unlucky.