Of all the restaurant openings in the recently refurbished State Buildings, none has been as highly anticipated and hyped as Long Chim. And with good reason - it has been 20 years since Australian born Chef David Thompson last had a restaurant in Australia. During those 2 decades, Thompson has gone from strength to strength - his Nahm in London became the first Thai restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star. Although the London branch is now closed, Nahm in Bangkok was ranked the #1 restaurant in Asia on the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants List in 2014, and continues to be highly placed. Additionally, Thompson's uncompromising authenticity and encyclopedic knowledge of Thai cuisine has made him an international authority on Thai cooking; his book Thai Food is the Larousse Gastronomique of this most complex of Asian cuisines. Throw in his much loved SBS food series Thai Street Food and its beautiful companion book, and its easy to understand why the fact Thompson chose Perth for the location of his next restaurant is such a big deal. Having dined at Nahm late last year and being massive fans of his cookbooks, Alissa and I invited my parents Alan and Maya to join us for dinner to see if Long Chim lived up to our lofty expectations.
Unlike Nahm's fine dining menu, Long Chim specialises in Thai Street Food. Thompson has repeatedly said there will never be another Nahm due to the locavore nature of much of Thailand's high cuisine - many of Nahm's dishes would be very difficult to replicate well outside of the country due to the specificity of the ingredients. With much of Thai Street Food being much more easily reproducible 'Siamised' Chinese food, the Long Chim model then is one that can work in cities outside of Thailand, hence the opening of Long Chims in Singapore and Perth. Not that Thompson is prepared to compromise of course - Coconut Cream is made in-house, with hard to find ingredients still brought in from Thailand in spite of what must be considerable customs headaches.
Located in the basement of the State Buildings, Long Chim is a beautifully designed and on-trend eatery with a much more casual feel than Nahm. The pseudo-open kitchen is filled with jars of pickles with counter seating allowing patrons to watch on.
The main dining spaces feature striking street art commissioned by Thai artists...
... with the the Long Chim courtyard's mural featuring a light show animating the painting visible from Petition Wine Bar and the corridor that connects it to Petition Beer Corner.
To begin I ordered a cocktail. Usually, I would probably prefer a nice Riesling or a Gewürztraminer with Thai food, however Long Chim's cocktail menu is particularly special. Run by award winning Perth bartender James Connolly and featuring a menu created by the famous 28 Hong Kong Street in Singapore, this is a real coup for Perth. My first drink however did not do a lot for me. Consisting of Coriander Leaf, Cocchi Americano and Gin, the 555 (Ha Ha Ha) was okay, having a nice enough flavour but it tasted too much like a fairly regular gin-based libation with little to distinguish it as a truly great cocktail recipe. I really wanted the Coriander to shine more strongly to give it more of an Asian kick, but sadly the herb didn't make that much an impact in the drinks flavour profile.
The Golden Leg on the other hand was exactly what I was looking for. Made from a Kaffir Lime Leaf, Lemongrass, Pineapple, Cognac and Chartreuse, it was a pretty amazing cocktail. With its tropical flavours it had a slight tiki-esque charm, and the herbaceousness of the Chartreuse mixed with the Kaffir Lime and Lemongrass was a perfect combination. The drink was sweet without being cloying and balanced by nice acidity from the Pineapple juice and herbs, while the Cognac gave the drink a great richness of flavour. This drink is definitely worth an order.
Being chilli fiends, being warned that the Chiang Mai Larp of Chicken was going to be hot did little to dissuade us from trying it. Having ordered the Larp of Guinea Fowl at Nahm, Alissa and I knew what to expect. It was hot alright, but if anything it was not quite as intense as the Nahm version, and a perfectly balanced example of this dish.
The heat came from the pan roasted dried Birds Eye Chillis, however there was a lot more going on in the dish that just burning. The pungency of the Garlic really shone through without being overwhelming, backed up by Shallot served both fried and raw. While definitely milder in flavour than Guinea Fowl, I found the dish to be very umami, although Alissa and my Mum both felt it was not particularly chickeny. With the Cabbage providing freshness and crunch, this was perfect start to the meal, and a Larp that was just as good as what we had eaten in Bangkok.
The mains were brought out all at once and served family style as is the Thai custom.
While Thai Green Curry is undoubtedly the most popular Thai dish in the west, my family all agree that Red Curry is the superior dish. For this reason, we had to order the Red Curry of Roast Duck. The curry itself was absolutely perfect, having a nice chilli heat to it to balance out the creaminess. What's more, the use of freshly made Coconut Cream made all the difference, allowing for the cracked Coconut Cream to be used to fry off the curry paste. The result was a flavour more aromatic, richer and more complex than what could be achieved from canned Coconut Cream. This was an absolute revelation, and was a better Red Curry than what we had in Bangkok! The only criticism that could be made was that the amount of Duck served was rather meagre compared to the generous amount of curry. Those used to western size serves of meat will probably be disappointed, but it is in keeping with the serving sizes of street food in Thailand. It reminded Alissa and I of the Chicken Green Curry we had at Err Rustic Thai in Bangkok - a restaurant with a similarly street aesthetic that used all sorts of odd cuts of Chicken in their curry and jokingly referred to it as 'the best bits'.
Growing up, Sala Thai in Fremantle was a regular haunt for birthday occasions, and Deep Fried Fish with Three Flavoured Sauce was my all-time favourite Thai dish. Long Chim's version was the best version any of us had tried - again, even compared to what we had in Thailand. As with the curry, the serve was relatively small, but everything was done perfectly. Often Three Flavoured Sauce can be a bit gluggy and seemingly cornflour thickened in lesser restaurants, but here it seemed reduced instead and resulted in a richer and thicker sauce. The Tamarind flavour was a highlight, with its sourness supported by Lemongrass. Though not a particularly meaty piece of fish, it was exceptionally well fried and perfectly crispy. The serving size said street, but it was executed so perfectly that it was of a very high restaurant standard.
Our final main of Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam) was unfortunately the weakest of the three. It did its job of balancing out the richness of the other two dishes, but all four of us agreed that we had eaten better Som Tam elsewhere. Alissa and I both felt it was surprisingly mild considering it had a chilli heat warning, especially compared to the excellent but insanely hot versions we had at Som Tam Nua in Bangkok that actually made my eyes water. This was still a decent enough dish, it just didn't hold up compared to the best in class level of the two other dishes, and other Papaya Salads we have tried.
At this point, we realised that the smaller serving sizes meant we probably could have gone for one more main - perhaps a soup to break up the meal in a traditional Thai style. The good thing was this meant we definitely had a lot of room to sample three of the desserts.
The Palm Sugar Pudding reminded my Father of the Nyonya dessert Pulu Tatal due to its creamy and salty-sweet caramel flavour. The pudding itself was also very similar to the Dodol my parents ate growing up in Singapore, but so much better than most Dodol you can get today. Being made fresh, it was beautifully fine, smooth and soft when compared to the gummy, chewy commercial versions. Again, the use of Coconut Cream made from scratch served the dish well, with the strands of Coconut on top adding freshness and additional sweetness.
The Coconut Cake was equally delicious, and tasted like a cross between Carrot Cake and the Nyonya cake Kueh Bengka which is made from Tapioca. I'm not a cake person as I find most baked cakes dry. Being steamed, this was beautifully moist, yet still had a nice crunchy texture thanks to the Coconut within, and the fresh strands grated on top. Served on a fresh Banana Leaf, I wouldn't be surprised if it was steamed on Banana Leaves as well.
Still, as excellent as the two other desserts were, the Banana Roti was easily the most exceptional of the three dishes - and quite possibly the highlight of the entire night. Made with Bananas of the perfectly ripeness (neither overly ripe or under), these had the perfect sweetness to starchiness ratio. The flakiness of the roti pastry was just incredible - a very thin layer of roti encased the banana and was fried in a pan with caramelised sugar. The pastry was so light, flaky and crispy, you'd be hard pressed to find a version of this dish as refined as this anywhere else. My Mum - who has a non-Coeliac allergy to gluten and fructose, and inevitably was sick the next day - said it was totally worth getting sick for, and would definitely eat it again even knowing the consequences. Yep, it is that good.
The Verdict: Exceptional
It is early days at Long Chim Perth, with the shorter opening menu about to expand to match the size of the Long Chim in Singapore. Even still, Long Chim already impressed us, and has jumped to the front of the pack as the best Thai restaurant in Perth. For those expecting Nahm in Perth, Long Chim is decidedly more casual than Nahm or many of the more high end Thai restaurants in town, but the kitchen is commendably putting out food to the same exacting standard we experienced at Thompson's flagship restaurant in Bangkok (albeit at a less fine dining level). It is that authenticity and perfectionism that made the Red Curry, Deep Fried Fish with Three Flavoured Sauce and Banana Roti benchmark-setting dishes. The smaller serves might put some people off, but I see this as an opportunity to try more dishes as a result, with the prices being very competitive and affordable. With excellent, friendly service to sweeten the deal, we were all thoroughly impressed and are already making plans to make a return visit. Nahm is still the best Thai meal Alissa and I have had the pleasure of eating, but we are incredibly lucky to have Long Chim in our home town as the next best thing. I cannot recommend this restaurant more highly.