Soi 38 review

The beef boat noodles with egg noodles served at  Soi 38.
The beef boat noodles with egg noodles served at Soi 38. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Mcilwraith Pl Melbourne, VIC 3000

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Opening hours Mon-Sat 11.30am-4pm
Features Cheap Eats
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Payments Cash Only
Phone 03 9042 4117

Traditionally, a brutalist poured concrete multi-storey city car park is part of the journey, not the destination. But this Thai noodle shop's bright presence inside Bourke Street's Wilson car park has changed the game. This hideaway Thai noodle shop smacks of the sort of place you'd find tucked away in Yaowarat, offering $10 bowls of tasty, pungent funk.  

True, it's an unlovely view of traffic rather than a bustling Bangkok street, but inside the glass-walled noodle shop, it's totally authentic with primary-red and blue-coated aluminium tables, low stools, and an actual food cart, which is where you go to order. On the cart counter, mini clipboards hold tick-a-box menus. Here's how to do it the way nature intended: first, choose your soup. 

The beef boat noodles are what you're here for. Confounded by how hard it was to find boat noodles in Melbourne, owners Andy Buchan and chef Top Kijphavee, were intent on bringing the everywhere-in-Thailand dish here. Then, like trying to choose a favourite child, other loved dishes crept in: tom yum with giant pork and prawn wonton, braised duck noodle soup, and Thai laksa. 

An authentic and cheerful take on Thai.
An authentic and cheerful take on Thai. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Next up, choose your noodles. There are six types, including rice and egg, in various widths, plus the option to go without noodles. Each noodle absorbs the broth differently, and lends a slippery or springy texture. Then choose your style. "Soup" is your standard model, or you can go half-soup (self-explanatory) or dry, without broth. Finally, write your table number. You'll see them sticky-taped in the corner of each tabletop.

The ultimate decision comes when your soup lands: fine-tuning flavour. On each table is a plastic caddy of condiments that can take your soup to the sweet (sugar), sour (pickle), salty (fish sauce) or spicy (dried chilli) side.

The black-coffee-coloured beef boat noodle broth is thin (not thickened with blood as it might be in Thailand) with a lingering back note. It's slightly sweet, so I enjoyed adding teeny spoons-full of pickled garlic, coriander root and green chilli. As well as firm egg noodles, the bowl holds thin slices of cooked-through rump steak, a house-made beef ball, curls of pork crackling (that crackle as they slowly sink into the broth) and bean shoots.

Soi 38's braised duck noodle soup.
Soi 38's braised duck noodle soup. Photo: Wayne Taylor

The glowing green Thai laksa is such a full-flavoured broth, heavy on the cardamom, that from the first taste my brain bolted, hardly finishing a spoonful before diving in for another. I had to fight myself to slow things down. A hit-parade of flavour, it needs no fine-tuning at - a fried tofu puff soaking in broth, followed by a tart pinch of pickled mustard greens, with herby high notes on its tail. Did I mention you can upsize? $5 extra. 

Imagine if only every car park had a Soi 38 - parking would actually be a joy. 

Pro Tip: When you start thinking, it can't be in here; go deeper, and follow your nose.

Go-to Dish: Boat noodles with beef.

http://www.soi38.com/p/home-page.html