10 14 Martin Pl Sydney, NSW 2000
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed, Groups|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9223 7999|
There's nothing quite like the distress caused by a Thai bird's eye chilli. The man at the next table sits staring into space, silent, unmoving; beads of sweat rolling down his nose. A girl flutters her hands ineffectively in front of her face. Others blow noses, pink-cheeked.
Yes folks, David Thompson is back in town.
But it's not sadism that ensures much of the menu at his new street-inspired Thai restaurant is hot; it's integrity. This isn't Thompson-hot, it's just Thai-hot.
Long Chim is his first Sydney restaurant since leaving for London in 2000 to open the Michelin star-winning Nahm, coming in after Long Chim Singapore and Perth. Like them, it's a vast, dark, shadowy, industrial space with a street-market feel and striking wall art from Bangkok-based artist, Sath, with plenty of smoke issuing from the long, central kitchen.
Not for Mr Thompson the dumbed-down 1, 2, 3 red chilli symbols to denote heat, so here's the low-down, chilli freaks. Go for the green curry of chicken and Thai eggplant; the baby squid with chillies, green peppercorns and Thai basil; and the Chiang Mai larp, a fiery chicken mince with kaffir lime and lemongrass ($20).
It takes five seconds for the heat to sneak up on you, followed by a minute or two of trauma, but then you break through, and start registering the deep-seated, fruity flavours that had been there all along.
If that sounds scary, try the gaeng gati gung ($38), a turmeric-tinted, Southern Thai coconut milk curry of mashed prawns that's compulsively, aromatically irresistible. My spoon keeps going back of its own accord for more of its sweet, prawny, galangal, lemongrass, shrimp paste and wild ginger creaminess.
Or try the sludgy green beef curry (geng gwio warn neua jim roti) with holy basil ($38) and crisped roti for dipping; or the mossy, mucky, stir-fried Siamese watercress, pak bung fai dtaeng, wilted down in a bog of garlicky, garum-like, fermented yellow bean sauce ($18).
The ubiquitous pad Thai ($34) noodles are seasoned by the kitchen rather than at the table, the sweetness only just balanced by sourness. Just-cooked baby squid is the star in transparent glass noodles (yam wun sen) tossed with minced pork and prawn ($26), and there's a sweet snack of sugary banana roti ($18) that's likely to be Sydney's new drug of dependency.
Floor staff beam with pride when you clearly like something, although bar/wine service lags behind in charm. Prices are high for Thai, but not for Western food of equivalent quality, and sensibly, there are plenty of lighter, fruit-driven varietals on the list, as well as a supple 2014 La Ficelle gamay/pinot noir blend ($70) from Saint Pourcain.
The best thing, however, is being able to cover the table with different dishes – wet, dry, sizzling, steamy, crunchy and soft – around a big bowl of rice, dipping and swooping over small deep-fried prawns captured in crunchy batter ($20) or salt-grilled whole silver perch ($40), the flesh just set on the bone.
With chefs Annita Potter and Matthew Albert in the kitchen, Thompson shakes us out of our comfort zone with the smoke and sizzle of the streets – not so much re-writing Thai dining, as restoring it.
Best bit: Ridgy-didge Thai street food.
Worst bit: Garlic breath, a small price to pay.
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.
Go-to Dish: Mashed prawn curry, $38.