Andrew Park and his Thai wife, Wasana, opened numerous Siam Sunset restaurants in the ‘burbs. They serve, like almost every Thai restaurant, the generic crowd-pleasers: spring rolls, prawn toasts, curry puffs and chicken satay. While admittedly tasty, this isn’t authentic Thai food. In fact, during a six-month stint in Bangkok, I found chicken satay once. It was on Khao San Road, the famous party street for foreigners (or farangs as the Thais like to say).
Instead of chicken satay, I found the fiery chopped meat dish called larb, and the shredded papaya salad called som tam. So when the Parks opened Jumbo – a Thai restaurant serving both of these authentic Thai dishes – I was excited.
Jumbo occupies a large light-filled space above ground level on Elizabeth Street. It’s filled with stunning artwork from Thailand, including one of a large bald Thai man on the back wall. I believe his name is Jumbo. As I take a seat I’m greeted with sawadee krap by a young Thai waiter, and I feel like I’m back in the land of smiles.
First to the table are little parcels of betel leaf filled with smoked trout, salted coconut caramel sauce and salmon roe ($16). While the dish is heavy on the caramel, the little pops of salty roe are enough to provide some balance.
The signature butterfly pea dumplings with sand crab ($14) are made with a surprising amount of coconut. They’re terrific, but I don’t detect crab.
Som tam with salted duck egg ($21) is textural and nicely balanced (sweet, salty and sour), though there’s no spice. It’s a shame because we ordered everything “Thai spicy” and we wanted a challenge.
The Chiang Mai pork larb packs more heat, but it’s not phed maak (very spicy). It’s a very good larb for Australian standards; there’s lots of kaffir lime leaves, crunchy dried whole chillis and even bits of yummy pork liver. Some more rice powder for texture, and a squeeze of fresh lime and grating of rind would lift it.
The Southern Thai yellow curry of crab ($42) should be the hottest dish on the menu, given this region is known for serving the spiciest food in the country. Sadly, it is not spicy at all. Still, there is a generous amount of sweet chunky crab, and the sauce is subtle enough to let the crab shine.
The drinks menu includes a refreshing pale ale from Thailand called Chao Siam, and some interesting wines including a Pieropan soave, Soumah pinot noir and an expensive Penfold’s.
Thai food in Australia is always going to fall flat for me now, but there’s a lot to like about Jumbo. I hope Brisbane people are adventurous enough to try (and like) the food at Jumbo. It’s much better than your mundane suburban Thai restaurant.