Photo: Fiona Morris
For some, the allure of a restaurant lies in its looks. Others are drawn instinctively to water views or ambitious menus. For the party set, it could be the exclusive setting or rocking vibe.
But there are those who can overlook all that, preferring the scent and flavour of savoury dishes. They're the kind who favour heady, pungent fare over trendy fit-outs, food fads and shouty crowds.
If they follow their nose far enough, they might end up among a jumble of businesses along a strip of highway in Enfield.
Behind a petite purple shopfront, they will find Buddha Raksa - a small, intimate eatery that has developed a name for satisfying Thai comfort food. After nearly two decades in the same spot, the owner, Tep, plans to open a large temple-style restaurant next door - so consider the next 12 months your last to try Buddha Raksa 1.0.
On a wintry night, the sweet smell of fresh herbs and spices drifting out the door is incredibly inviting. On weekends it's wise to book ahead, so we've secured a nook down the back. The space feels warm and cosy without being crowded, while the canary-yellow walls and gold-embroidered tablecloths are charming.
Two waitresses clad in blue and pink traditional dress welcome clusters of friends and families of assorted ages and backgrounds, including a slightly incongruous gathering of goths. The staff are friendly and enthusiastic, greeting every customer eagerly.
Early arrivals are already nibbling at small skewers of meat, spooning slowly from bowls of delicate-looking soups and crunching crispy rolls. All the while, plump takeaway bags stream out the door.
The menu mixes crowd-pleasing curries and stir-fries with noodles, seafood and salads. While some of the prices seem a little steep for a small suburban outpost, what's on offer is done well. We start with ka nom jeeb - potent pockets of steamed minced chicken and prawns wrapped in slippery wrinkles of wonton pastry. They taste sweet with a lick of garlic but it's the sticky dipping sauce that really makes the dish.
The most unusual name of the night goes to shining yellow stones - a hearty, glistening heap of sweet, soft pumpkin, flecks of pork and white-and-yellow curls of egg. The disparate flavours work together surprisingly well, combining in a way that wouldn't be out of place on a cafe breakfast menu.
Next arrives gang kaa gae - tender lamb shanks cooked in a rich, fragrant sauce we can't resist spooning over rice and scooping into our mouths. Less handsome is the green curry chicken but the sauce is among the thickest and tastiest we've tried.
Yum goong is a pretty, colourful serve of fat boiled prawns in chilli, fish sauce, kaffir lime, lemon juice and lemongrass with a fresh garden salad. It proves a light, tangy counterweight to the heavier dishes. To finish, we try a purplish mound of sticky rice, which comes with a lovely granular egg custard, and a couple of scoops of brightly coloured taro and green-tea gelato.
For such a long-running operation, the place is showing few signs of flagging. Mark one it may be but this early model still has plenty of puff.
BUDDHA RAKSA THAI RESTAURANT
141a Liverpool Road,
Enfield, 9747 5608
Seven days, dinner
Good: starters $7.50-$12.90, mains $18.60-$28.90, desserts $7.90-$8.90.
Ka nom jeeb, gang kaa gae, green curry chicken.
- (02) 9747 5608
- Cuisine - Thai
- Prices - About $70 for two including three courses, About $70 for two including three courses
- Opening Hours - Dinner seven days
- Author - Megan Johnston