1116 Glen Huntly Rd Glen Huntly, VIC 3163
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Phone||03 9569 2948|
"When I was a kid, I was a bad boy, I wouldn't go to school," confesses Kawee Phai , the Bangkok-born co-owner and chef of Yuu Yen. "So my mother made me learn how to cook instead."
Wise parenting move. What started as tough love in Bangkok has become killer traditional Thai street food in Glenhuntly, in Melbourne's south east.
Phai has made an educated ascension from his mother's kitchen to the kitchens of Melbourne restaurants like Cookie and, finally, to Yuu Yen, a small, tidy eatery glowing mustard gold behind a window that sports a pared-back self-portrait of the bespectacled chef.
It's a family affair, owned by Phai and his wife Nadia Wong, who has a Melbourne cafe background, with cousins helping in the kitchen and dispatching a stream of phone orders.
The restaurant bears the subtitle of "Thai Flavour Traders" and the paper placemats underline the intent with an educational rundown of the main herbs used in Thai cooking, providing a bit of "hmm, fancy that" ruminating on the use of peppercorns at various stages of ripeness or the sassily named herb, Chinese Keys.
These herbs take on a starring role on the compact menu of around 30 dishes. Phai likes to keep it manageable as everything is made in-house – and man, do those house-made sauces and curry pastes know how to pack a perfectly balanced punch.
Classic entrees include aromatic and homely vegetarian curry puffs, served with sweet chilli sauce, fish cakes studded with discs of string bean, and a lovely, flaky roti that doesn't leave you feeling like you downed a shot of oil.
Similarly, the Hat-Yai fried chicken isn't a grease-fest but a hit of crunch and sweetness – strips of free-range chicken are wrapped in a husky coat of crumbs, prinked with fried shallots, assembled on a swipe of chilli mayo and served with a bright cucumber and onion pickle.
But the zeitgeisty star of the entree parade has got to be the pulled pork shoulder spring roll, jammed with 12-hour, five-spice pork.
There are a couple of salads on the menu, including a warm and chunky chicken larb gai with mint, shallots and chilli, and a handful of curries, including a slow-cooked beef massaman, a sweet red curry with five-spiced duck, lychee and pineapple, and a winter warmer of a green vegetable curry, which is just the right mix of creamy heat, laced with fresh herbs and cubes of tofu bisected to soak up the sauce.
The wok summons up some cracking rice and noodle dishes, along with spicy fried proteins, but for herbal flavour on thrilling overdrive, order the char-fried fresh mixed herb – a hot tumble of tiger prawns with garlands of green peppercorns, red chillis, wild ginger and chilli jam.
And while Yuu Yen is busy, it never feels harried. There's an easy calm about the place – mellow cover versions play over the steam and clank of the woks in the kitchen, the service is switched on and sweet.
It's no surprise to find that Yuu Yen means "to be peaceful". Who knew tough love could have such tasty results?
Pro Tip: Takeaway orders include some tasty freebies.
Go-to Dish: Char-fried prawns with fresh mixed herbs.