20 West Row, Melbourne Building Canberra, ACT 260102 6257 0700
|Opening hours||Lunch Wednesday, to Friday from noon, dinner Monday, Tuesday, Friday, Saturday 5pm-9.30pm.|
|Features||BYO, Cheap Eats, Family friendly, Licensed, Outdoor seating, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Seats||70 inside, 24 outside|
|Payments||AMEX, Cash, eftpos, Mastercard, Visa|
Thirst burst on to the Canberra dining scene with youthful vigour and the assertive flavours of Thai street food more than three years ago. It replaced the more formal Anise, run by Jeff Piper, who is now chef and owner at Thirst, and this is an altogether funkier prospect.
With clean and punchy food, decor to match and a team that clearly loves the food with a passion, it has gathered a firm band of followers.
A few years down the track, the early vim might have dimmed a little, but this place still runs on a winning formula – feisty Thai food, in a wine bar atmosphere, without a hint of stuffiness.
The menu hasn't changed much over the years, but there is a frequently changing list of daily specials, and choosing is never easy. Taking a good-sized group helps considerably, keeping in mind that servings are a little larger than in a standard Thai restaurant.
All the curry bases and sauces are made in-house and you can tell. There's a vibrancy to the food – the flavours and textures, as well as the colours – that you simply don't get unless everything is made from scratch.
Fish cakes ($13.90) are just that bit better that the usual, with a sauce heightened by a perfect sweet and hot combination. Slices of fresh chilli mean you can take your pick of hotter or sweeter.
A seriously smoky charred Thai sausage ($14.90) is slightly dry inside, but zingy with red curry and coriander root, and again a great sauce really gives it an edge.
Corn fritters are thick and juicy with corn, and well-matched with the sweet sauce, with peanuts and chilli.
Most were in for dinner the night we visited and it is clear that Thirst is a wine bar with serious food. The snack menu is substantial and it is unusual to see drinkers without at least one plate of edibles.
This kind of flexibility enlivens the dining scene, and is to be applauded.
The staff are enthusiastic and charming and mostly well-informed, if a little uncertain occasionally.
A good wine list is well supplied with options that work well with the food, which can be difficult. The options range across a well-priced house riesling ($26 a bottle) made in conjunction with a young Canberra wine maker, to many lighter reds and solid whites from across Australia and Europe. We chose the night's special, a German Gunderloch Fritz riesling ($12 a glass), which is a pleasure to drink. It had real substance and enough sweetness to combat red curry. A specials list of cocktails are also available by the jug.
The signature dish of trout dumplings ($24.90) is a standout, the wonderfully soft, pink torpedoes, sweet with the subtle flavour of the elegant fish, and with a sauce and green vegetables that really packed a punch. Surprisingly the fish is not overpowered by all the other flavours, and washed down with a decent glass of riesling, this is a great meal.
Deep-fried pork belly with tamarind ($24.90) is a very pretty dish. The pork is deeply flavoured and dark with tangy tamarind and falls apart tender; it comes with a lovely array of accompaniments, including plain noodles, bean sprouts and coriander.
A special of Penang curry is complex and rich with coconut milk, a nice milder contrast to other dishes.
It is good to see small options for dessert, and individual scoops of ice cream ($2.90) are available in some great flavours, including the interesting and slightly crumbly coconut. If you are up for a full dessert, the banana pancake with passionfruit ice cream and palm-sugar caramel ($11.90), is exactly as it sounds, a lovely mix of flavours and textures, with good caramel to unify the dish.
Thirst is a great place to eat and drink. It is vibrant and fun, and, unlike many Thai eateries, it does real justice to the truly great culinary heritage of our near neighbour.
Catriona Jackson is chief executive of peak lobby group Science and Technology Australia and a food writer.