35 South Wharf Road South Wharf, VIC 300603 9245 9800
|Opening hours||Mon–Tues noon–2.30pm; Wed-Sun noon-3pm; Sun-Tues 6–9pm; Wed–Sat 6–10pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Mastercard, Visa|
If ever a restaurant's name made its intentions clear, it's BangPop, a playful version of Bangkok. ''Bang'' because it's a noisy place that pushes a good time not a long time. Also, ''bang'' is Thai for a town on a river and BangPop is at South Wharf, a reinvented, promising Yarra bank village. ''Pop'' because the place is contemporary and light-hearted and a background bass beat is delivered with a punchy rhythm that's picked up by the food and service.
The food is nothing revolutionary if you've eaten at Cookie or Colonel Tan, but it's more spicy and frisky than some of Melbourne's dumbed-down Thai. The kitchen team includes Thai cooks and fine-dining-trained locals, making for fairly authentic flavours and presentation that's neat but not slick.
Snacky street food includes glossy slices of pork neck with rendered fat, a crackling glaze, sticky rice and chilli dipping sauce. Eat it with your fingers then clean up with the tea towels that serve as napkins.
My pick of the larger dishes is the duck leg, falling off the bone into a toasty red curry. The green papaya salad is a wet herby tangle with less fish sauce than I'd like but it's easy to adjust the flavour balance with the condiments on every table. Desserts taste fine but are samey, as though conjured in a MasterChef challenge where the contestants only had mangos and coconuts.
The design is poppy: vintage bikes rim the perimeter, the riverside terrace is mod-grassed, and the communal tables have peg holes to hold moveable partitions. These planks aren't high enough to offer privacy but at least they discourage adjacent diners from swiping your fish cakes.
The wine list is as sympathetic to the chilli as grapes know how to be. There's also a cracking cocktail list: the Gin Pop, with lemongrass and lime sorbet, is a jazzy joy, and the Tom Yam Siam mixes vodka and chilli-spiked va-va-voom.
BangPop is owned by zeitgeist-chaser Paul Mathis and it's where Sharing House briefly shone. The newcomer is fast and cheap and reminds me of Chocolate Buddha, the buzzy Japanesque joint Mathis opened at Federation Square 10 years ago. There, as here, he took an Asian cuisine and cleverly spun it into an experience. BangPop isn't a serious food destination but it could be a serious winner.
3.5 out of 5 stars