The massive warehouse dining room features elegant lanterns. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui
Surprises aren't always welcome when it comes to eating out. It's not ideal, for example, to be surprised by a hair in your curry or the beefiness of a vegetarian pastie. But the surprises at Jinda Thai are happy ones. There's the initial unexpected delight of the massive warehouse dining room, tucked down an alley at the city end of Victoria Street. The exposed brick, the portrait of grandmother Jinda, the elegant lanterns, even the pretty sinks with decorative taps are all evocative and open-hearted.
The happy surprises keep rolling through the large menu, which includes authentic hawker dishes (boat noodles!), safe standards like stir-fried chicken and cashews, and modern interpretations of classics (larb gai salad with crispy chicken fillets instead of mince). Some dishes astonish with freshness, like the rice paper rolls with spicy caramelised peanut sauce, others with a seductive complexity of flavour, like duck red curry with pineapple. Everything I ate was balanced and delicious.
The restaurant opened in July and is owned by the Tanpapat family, who also own Krua Thai in Richmond and St Kilda. The older restaurants are honest suburban joints. Jinda is more ambitious, encompassing the experience of the older generation and the canny contemporary eye of their kids. It's an incredibly appealing mix.
Unexpected delights: Beef boat noodles. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui
Back to the boat noodles, called such because they were traditionally served from Bangkok riverboats, but cooked with flair by these landlubbers in Melbourne. A rich broth (choose from beef or pork) is boosted with a choice of noodles. I ate a beef and rice stick noodle version with pork crackling strips and swooned my way to the bottom of the bowl. It's curative and comforting so don't freak out that the soups are thickened with pig's blood. Long-marinated moo ping pork skewers come with sticky rice hidden in a woven basket - another cute surprise. The preserved pork (like a Thai terrine, slippery and succulent) with crunchy rice noodle cake is an addictive cold dish with stealthy chilli creep.
There's a concise list of alcoholic drinks but I love the iced milk tea in a jar and the pinky milky, which catapulted me back to the Quik days of childhood. Jinda Thai is a winner, so fun and tasty that the only sad surprise you might encounter here is ''Sorry, we're full.''
Rating: Four stars (out of five)
*Cash only at lunch.
- 03 9419 5899
- Cuisine - Thai
- Prices - Small $7-$15; large $15-$25; sweet $6-$8
- Features - Licensed, BYO, Cheap and cheerful
- Owners - The Tanpapat family
- Cards accepted - Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Daily 11am-10pm
- Other Branches - Krua Thai, Richmond, Krua Thai, St Kilda
- Author - Dani Valent