Thai restaurants, we miss you very much. Sure, we can knock up a pad Thai at home, but what we really miss is covering the table with your soups, salads, dips, curries, relishes and heaping helpings of fragrant herbs. Not to mention your craft, your culture, and the gentle grace with which you put it all together.
To make up for lost Thai, I decided to find out which home-delivered, multi-course, heat-and-eat banquet does it best. Chat Thai, or Chin Chin? Family-owned Chat Thai has been feeding Sydney since 1989, its offerings fortified by organic produce from Byron Bay's Boon Luck Farm. Melbourne's south-east Asian, Thai-lovin' Chin Chin opened in Surry Hills in 2017, an instant party mix of cocktails, curries, and charcoal grills. It's a take-no-prisoners battle to the end (of dinner).
Chin Chin's lockdown banquet offers interactive, hands-on fun. Photo: Supplied
Cocktail v cocktail
Chat Thai wins points for a lovely, oily Som Chum cocktail ($17) of lychee, makrut-infused rum, Brookie's gin and ginger, with the captivating addition of toasty fried shallots to scatter on top. But Chin Chin steals ahead by supplying a whole juicy lime to squeeze into its crisp, agave-sweetened Tommy's Margarita, and for its clean, deftly blended grapefruit negroni ($50 for pack of four).
Starter v starter
Cooking instructions for both banquets are clear, but I find the suggested timings are overly generous. After steaming, the wrappers slip off the delicate sweet meat of Chin Chin's three-cornered mud crab dumplings like shawls from a shoulder. Then I barbecue Chat Thai's mhu bhing pork skewers over too high a heat and almost incinerate them. In spite of my self-inflicted sabotage, it's all quite delicious, with Chat Thai's smoked chilli and tamarind sauce neck-and-neck with Chin Chin's bright, citrusy, house-made Sriracha.
Mud crab dumplings with chilli sauce from Chin Chin. Photo: Supplied
Som tum v som tum
Not much in this one; both green mango salads are fresh, crunchy and moreish. Chat Thai gives it character with dried shrimp, snake beans, crushed garlic, chilli and a great dressing. Chin Chin suggests bashing everything – including coriander stalks – in a mortar, which is hugely satisfying, and a zesty tamarind dressing adds punch.
Curry v curry
Chat Thai's gaeng keaw gai avoids all green chicken curry cliches by being herbal, garden-green light and saucy, with a lovely, nose-runny heat and no harshness. They give you the cooked curry sauce, with sliced chicken and apple eggplant to cook yourself, which is smart, and the high-grade rice is special.
Chin Chin's two Thai curries are thick, sweet and rich, especially the sweet potato, with its scattering of fried curry leaves. The turmeric-golden yellow curry of ling is better, with apple eggplant and lengths of green chilli giving it added clout. Again, excellent rice.
Chat Thai's duck with seasonal greens. Photo: Steve Woodburn
Duck v duck
There's five-spiced roasted duck ready to stir-fry with beautiful baby bok choy and gai laan from Chat Thai, with oyster sauce to finish, but it's a bit ho hum. Chin Chin's sous-vide duck has a strangely pasty rice flour coating, but it's more fun – just heat in the oven then shred into steamed mandarin pancakes with a great smoky, sweet chilli jam.
Dessert v dessert
Sticky rice and mango is a classic. Chat Thai's sweet rice and salty coconut cream would be enough on its own, but the mango is magnificent – huge, firm, ripe and over 500 grams worth (breakfast, here we come). Chin Chin goes rogue with a plastic tub of cheesecake topped with crimson dragon fruit. Pleasant, but more dramatic to look at than to taste.
Chat Thai's gaeng keaw gai avoids all green chicken curry cliches. Photo: Steve Woodburn
The winner Apart from me, you mean? Chat Thai has the edge because the curry was so good and because everything goes so well together, but Chin Chin makes for more interactive, hands-on fun. Once the prep and cooking is over with, they both end up delivering the cover-the-table Thai banquet hit that's missing from our lives.
How to order
Chin Chin Make Me Feed Me Weekend Feast Banquet ($150 feeds two but probably more) plus cocktail pack ($50 for 4). Delivery available across NSW Friday and Saturday, makemefeedme.com
Chat Thai Signature Banquet No.2 ($147 for three to four people), plus cocktail ($17). Delivery Thu-Sun. Click and collect, Wed-Sat 4pm-8pm from Circular Quay, sydney.providoor.com.au
Tip Fresh herbs don't survive the fairly aggressive refrigeration process, so BYO coriander and Thai basil.