Rice Paper Scissors
Where 19 Liverpool Street, Melbourne 9663 9890 ricepaperscissors.com.au
Open Mon–Sat noon–3pm & 6–10pm
Cards AE MC V eftpos
Cuisine South-east Asian
Do ... Nick next-door to Double Happiness if there's a wait until the text comes to say your table's ready.
Don't ... Do wait-lists? Don't come after 7pm Friday or Saturday.
Dish ... Thai ceviche
Vibe ... Tropical warmth in the concrete jungle
Prices ... Dishes $10-$13; salads $14-$20; desserts $10; 5 dishes for $55 a head
Usually, for an eatery to be called "authentic" it must import rare ingredients from its heritage-country of origin, then weave them into closely guarded recipes that have passed down generations. But Rice Paper Scissors is more your dinkum heart-on-sleeve kind of authentic. It's with-it without affectation, practical and effortlessly personable.
It's a small space, so small that the most obvious features of its interior are the clusters of bodies arched over one of the few high, solid wooden benches and along the bar. If you come on a rare quiet day, you might notice the bicycle mounted on one of the exposed-brick walls. A dozen outdoor perches around box-crate tables on the front patio take the seating total to 45. It's small enough, and popular enough, for there to be wait-lists Friday and Saturday.
The food is feisty Thai, with a smattering of Vietnamese, in refined one- or two-bite serves. It's redolent with lime, lemongrass, chilli, coriander and funky fish sauce – inherently hot-weather flavours that are neatly answered with drinks like the Mekhong whisky-based One Inch Punch with ruby red grapefruit juice, and non-alcoholic slushies of mango, coconut and mint. You could dip into dishes individually, or order as a group, choosing five dishes for $55 a head – good for you (to sample a breadth of dishes), good for the tiny kitchen.
"This one you snap in half, then bite into." Friendly advice – part of the casual, considerate service – accompanied by charades-like hand-gestures take any guesswork out of eating the mini Vietnamese pancake. Too small to rip apart as you would the massive banh xeo served in Vietnamese restaurants around town and served open rather than folded, snapping the crisp coconut-milk wafer in half and folding it on to itself is the only way to keep the prawn atop slightly sweet pork mince together (rather than down your front).
It's hands-on eating. "This one: wrap it up and put the whole thing in your mouth." The instruction is for a hand-formed ball of salad (mango, Thai sausage, threads of cucumber and torn herbs) on a smoked scallop on a betel leaf. It's a busy mouthful. There are a few cutlery concessions: a teaspoon to load just-tossed lime-cured kingfish ceviche on to a sesame cracker, and, for dessert, a bowl of coconut ice-cream piled with shaved kaffir-lime ice – the nicest Splice I've tasted.
It's hands-on management, too; the owners, both Sydney-born chefs who've travelled in south-east Asia, work the floor and the pans. The genuine intent for everything to be as good as it can be translates to a dependably good, no-bull place to eat.