Mekong is the latest venue to take residency at Chippendale‘s Kensington Street. Located above its sibling and casual eatery Lower Mekong, the venue exudes sophistication and style with a striking fitout that evokes memories of travels in South-East Asia.
Take the stairs up to Mekong and you’ll find yourself in an elegant venue transformed by Giant Design from a former warehouse into a space framed by illuminated bamboo with natural light through glass walls, murals in deep green, exposed light bulbs and installations by artist and floral sculptor Alison Coates with cane shoots and woven baskets of greenery.
The menu by Chef Tiw Rakarin (ex Mama’s Buoi, Bang Luck) is a journey along the Mekong River, passing by Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand with chefs travel experiences translating into his distinctive contemporary take South-East Asian cuisine.
The ink-wash printed menu is an exercise in lyricism, dubbed as “a travelling feast along the river” with snippets of poems introducing each section. Starters are referred to as Little Jetties, Enter are entrees, main courses become Enter Mainland, curry dishes are Curried Fields and River Sides are side dishes. Even the humble jasmine rice becomes a jasmine paddy field.
Aesthetics and poetry aside, the menu is a delight with inventive dishes and bold flavours in harmony that are result of a deft hand.
Carrot Lime Zest, Chilli Jam, Pork Glass
A little amuse arrives, baby carrots with lime zest, chilli jam and pork floss. It’s crispy and spicy and work well to stimulate the appetite.
From the Little Jetties, the Little Fish ($5) is a vibrant, zesty combination of Thai crisp anchovies, lime, lemongrass, chilli and peanuts. Presented salad style, the anchovies are fried, dried, deep fried then tossed in sugar while hot, restaurant manager, Ryan Christopherson explains. They are sweet and crispy without the overpowering fishy flavour. The dish lingers beautifully with heat and a touch of sweetness.
Squid Ink Dumplings
Enter Squid Ink Dumplings ($12 for 2), a mandatory dish on every visit. Rice flour, squid ink and water make up the batter which is rested for some time. The wrapper is then spread on a cheesecloth topped urn partially filled with water. The urn is then heated to boil the water inside and steams the dumpling. The wrapper is then filled with crabmeat, prawn orange zest and shallots and served with house made chilli jam, radish and a nasturtium petal.
The dish brings an element of theatre to the table. Broth is poured over the dumplings from a teapot and the result is a flavour explosion of silky smooth dumplings, almost slippery in texture, a burst of seafood and a rich chicken pho style broth worth sipping on its own.
Pig in a Betel Leaf
Pig in a Betel Leaf ($13) combines Thai grilled pork neck wrapped in betel leaf with house made tamarind sauce. Served warm, the sweet meat is accompanied by a simple yet zesty red cabbage salad.
The Lady of the Shallot
The Lady of the Shallot ($15 for 3) brings three plump grilled scallops in bacon oil with a coconut salad and shallot. The scallops are seared in bacon fat which impart a hint of smokiness and saltiness and the nuok cham style of dressing makes a good accompaniment. Young coconut sits on top of the scallops, bringing an unusual soft yet crunchy texture to the dish.
Moving to Enter Mainland, you’ll find the Full Moon ($28), the standout dish at Mekong. Steamed coconut is stuffed with tiger prawn, a whole egg cooked in coconut cream, basil and coconut milk. The dish starts in a wok then it is poured in coconut shell and steamed. A burnt cinnamon quill on the plate permeates the air with its spicy aromas. At this point, you’ll need your jasmine rice to soak up every drop of the liquid and once you’ve reached the bottom, you can scoop out soft ribbons of young coconut. This is a bold, spicy and hot curry that will bring you back again.
Sweet Lemon Rumdul
If you prefer a milder curry, the Sweet Lemon Rumdul ($28) from the Curried Fields combines tender and sweet Cambodian beef rib curry with sweet potato and lemongrass paste.
Sides are not to be forgotten particularly the Truffled Garden ($8) with char-grilled cabbage and sweet brown mushroom topped with soy sauce and truffle oil reduction – an umami hit at its best.
Bangkok Ice Cream Bowl
For dessert, our pick is the Bangkok Ice Cream Bowl ($10). Served in half a coconut, coconut ice cream is topped with sweet corn, pomegranate seeds, roast peanuts, palm seeds boiled in sugar syrup with sticky rice at the base with a dab of coconut milk.
Alternatively, the prettier Rosewater Lychee ($12) combines lychee with rosewater mousse, mango puree, meringue drops, toasted pine nuts, mango rum puree and black pepper cherries into a sweet almost Middle-Eastern flavoured dessert.
In addition to a la carte dining, Mekong offers an eight-course ‘River Shepherd’s Banquet’ complete with dessert of the day and BYO corkage.
At the time of visit, Mekong was awaiting its liquor license so your choice is either mocktails or BYO (corkage $8). Once licensed, remodelled classic cocktails with Asian twists will feature on the menu along with local wines and Vietnamese beer.
If your idea of Indochine cuisine is your local Thai takeaway joint, Mekong will take your taste buds on a south-east Asian journey and educate your palate. The dishes are beautifully presented and offer good value for money. The flavours and big, bold and beautifully balanced. This is a dining experience you will be telling your friends about.
Upper level, 14 Kensington Street, Chippendale
Phone: 02 9282 9079
Hours: Lunch 12 – 3pm, Thu – Sun, Dinner 6 – 10pm, Mon – Sun
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