Khao Pla is a casual, buzzy place. Photo: Fiona Morris
As a fan of the hot stuff, imagine my surprise when, one course in at Khao Pla, I'm feeling the burn to the point of being uncomfortable. My dining companion says she's fine - cue tinge of embarrassment - but the stabbing sensation in my bottom lip is so distracting it starts to hinder my ability to converse in full sentences.
The culprit is easy to spot. It's the bird's eye chillies in the pra hoy dib, a scallop sashimi dish from the raw bar at this recently opened Thai eatery. Slices of scallop and cucumber are topped with fresh herbs, fried shallots, finely diced lemongrass and a sweet but oh-so-fiery dressing of lime juice, palm sugar, garlic and fish sauce. Oh, and those chillies. It's a cracker of a dish, beautifully balanced with great flavour and texture, as long as you like it spicy.
Khao Pla opened in the heart of Chatswood's shopping district in July. Chef Pla Rojratanavichai comes with some serious credentials, having worked in the kitchen of Spice I Am for five years, then for Dan Hong at his restaurants Mr Wong and Ms.G's.
The appropriately named Yum mango salad. Photo: Fiona Morris
Hailing from Bangkok, he says his menu is a reflection of the regional melting pot of Thailand's capital city, where people from all around the country head for work, bringing the dishes from their homes and tweaking them to suit local ingredients.
Branching out on his own, Rojratanavichai has delivered a casual, buzzy place at which to dine. Eat in and there's table service - prompt, friendly and informative - but takeaway and home delivery are available, too. It's the kind of place you could stop by for dinner after a few hours at the shops or cinema and feel like you're making a night of it. But given the standard of the food, it's worth a visit on its own merit, too, perhaps for a quick, low-key Saturday night out.
Lips cooled by a few sips of tannin-rich cold Thai milk tea, we move on to the excellent hor mok yang - grilled banana leaves housing parcels of fish mousse with the fragrant aroma and taste of kaffir lime. The appropriately named Yum mango is another highlight, a substantial and satisfying salad of diced green mango with crispy snapper pieces fried in a light batter. Diced shallots, sprigs of coriander, fried peanuts and a citrus burst from the lime juice send this dish into flavour and texture overdrive.
A green chicken curry is the only let down. Served with bamboo shoots and Thai eggplant, it's a far cry from the coconut milk-heavy curries commonly found in takeaway land, but the flavour is a bit one note.
Dessert puts things back on track. The black sticky rice with fragrant jasmine tapioca is comfort in a bowl. It's sweet, but not overly so, with warm and cold elements including a scoop of Thai milk tea ice-cream that would have come in handy after those scallops. Not that I'm complaining, I'd eat them again in a heartbeat, but avoid too much chilli, or cop the pain (it didn't last long).
Rojratanavichai sources his bird's eye chillies carefully because of the variance in the heat between suppliers. As I can attest, he's done a pretty good job. Those scuds have firepower.
Thai food with a modern twist plus popular classics.
Grilled fish curry in banana leaf, scallop sashimi, crispy fish and green mango salad, black sticky rice and jasmine tapioca.
Four stars (out of five)
- 02 9412 4978
- Cuisine - Thai
- Prices - Small bites $2.50-$9, raw bar $10-$14, salads $12-$16, grilled and fried dishes $12-$19, curry and soup $13-$16, rice and noodles $12, dessert $6-$10.
- Features - BYO, Accepts bookings, Cheap and cheerful, Family friendly
- Chef(s) - Pla Rojratanavichai
- Opening Hours - Mon-Sun, 11am to 10pm
- Author - Sarah McInerney