You won't have to splurge when Chat Thai launches at Circular Quay's Gateway tomorrow. For opening weekend, there will be a half-priced menu. And given that (regular-priced) Chat Thai is already famous for its lines, you can already imagine the blockbuster queues that will welcome the new restaurant.
"It's always crazy when we open," says Palisa Anderson, one of Chat Thai's directors. Given her veteran - and eventful - experiences (there are now six Chat Thai outlets since her mother, Amy Chanta, started the family business in 1989), she's not too phased about what could happen at the new restaurant.
After all, when the Westfield Sydney branch launched six years ago, "I'd just had a baby," she says. And besides having a newborn child to attend to, there was a blackout when they opened.
"Customers didn't leave their tables for three hours. And there was still a line out [the restaurant]."
And when the flagship Thaitown eatery opened, things got so hectic that "I had a hot bowl of soup poured down my back [while] serving".
Hopefully there's less chance of soup disasters happening at the new venue, which joins Din Tai Fung, Burger Project and Gelato Messina at Gateway's Circular Quay complex. It's the biggest-ever Chat Thai to open - there's a noodle bar, two kitchens, 145 seats, plus an outdoor sitting area. And the menu is just as epic, with more than 100 dishes filling its pages.
"The menu is in English, Thai and Chinese – adapting to the times," says Anderson. It also has a strong vegetarian component, with many dishes available in a meat-free version.
The menu also showcases food that's been served to the crew at Noma. When the acclaimed Copenhagen restaurant (which was awarded the title of world's best restaurant four times) relocated to Barangaroo for its Australian pop-up, the Chat Thai team catered Noma's staff meal on the last day of Noma Australia's service.
"Pan sip – this is what we served the guys at Noma," says Anderson. Created with house-made snapper floss, it's encased in an incredibly light rice and tapioca pastry that's so snackable that portion control is hard to enforce. "This is my favourite. When you eat it, you keep on eating it."
It's one of many dishes that haven't ever been on a Chat Thai menu. Others include grilled fish cakes on skewers, chive dumplings filled with caramelised peanuts and a Thai dish that's like a merger between prawn toast and sugarcane prawns.
There are also sweets that hark back to traditional palace desserts - like the rae rai, which is a rainbow mix of fresh-dropped noodles making nice with fresh coconut, toasted sesame, sugar and coconut milk.
One of the standouts on the dessert menu is the som chun: an iced fruit dessert with finger limes, lychees, green mango, ginger, kaffir lime syrup and the surprising caramelly crunch of fried shallots. "It's weird, but it works somehow – really really well."
Another secret weapon in Chat Thai's arsenal is its booze. Sydney legend Charles Leong is in charge of the wine list. "So there's going to be an amazing natural wine list, as well as integrating what we already do. So we're adding more skin-contact and natural options." And the cocktails will be by the award-winning team from This Must Be The Place (Charles Ainsbury and Luke Ashton). But in the meantime, you'll have to stick to lemongrass lotus tea, butterfly pea with honey and lime ice tisane, as Chat Thai is still waiting for its licence.
"Hopefully that will come by next month, by Christmas time."
In the meantime, there's a fascinating menu for you to try out. Just join the line.
Open daily 11am-11pm
Gateway, 1 Macquarie Place, Sydney, 02 9247 3053, chatthai.com.au