Penne Cole's thoughts on food, travel and more
What do you get when you combine a Thai grocery store and a cafe? Awesome Thai-inspired deliciousness in the form of Boon Cafe and Jarern Chai.
Boon Cafe and Jarern Chai are part of the Chat Thai group of restaurants. What makes it different from its famous sister? Fusion food for breakfast and lunch (think baked eggs with smoked fish sausage for breakfast and spicy Thai fillings for your lunchtime sandwich), with emphasis on healthy food (cold pressed juices, brown rice bowls, etc.). And of course, traditional Isaan (northern Thai) food for dinner.
Shortlisted as one of four finalists for the Sydney Morning Herald’s best cheap eats guide for 2017, Boon Cafe has been on my must-visit cheap eats hit list for some time. I’d stopped by once before to check out the Jarern Chai grocery store – I was on the lookout for fresh durian, and the shop does not disappoint! – but at the time, I wasn’t aware of the awesome food they served, to my great regret.
We arrive before the lunchtime rush and are seated immediately. The menu is scattered with mouthwatering pictures of exotically named foods, including kai gatah (baked eggs with smoked fish sausage and other goodies), and som dtum gai todt (fried chicken with papaya salad sandwich). There were so many delicious-looking options that it took us an unusually long time to decide.
The Good Food Guide top pick is the dtum pha, a green papaya salad with pickled field crabs, fermented fish, snail and other delicacies. My stomach wasn’t quite up to that challenge, so I settled for the nahm prik ong (spicy pork mince, tomato relish, herbs, cucumber and pickled salad) brown rice bowl instead. It was very refreshing with all the herbs and vegetables, and the pork crackling gave it a delightful crunch, but I would have liked to see a little more of the spicy pork mince.
Our next pick was the khao dtom sen (fresh rice noodles with pork short ribs and clear pork broth). It arrives in two bowls, reminiscent of pho, with the vegetables separate (add them to the hot broth to blanch as you eat). The waitress warns us that the accompanying chilli sauce is very spicy and while it doesn’t blow my socks off, it certainly doesn’t cater to the typical Western palette. The broth is clear and light and just what the doctor ordered to ward off a cold. The ribs are so tender they melt in my mouth. Overall, a great light meal and reasonably priced ar $13.
We finished with sweets – the pandan custard toast is deliciously decadent although not too sweet. There’s so much of it piled on the toast that the bread is almost instantly soggy, but at $4 a serve, this is cheap eats indeed.
Drinks are also a big thing at Boon Cafe, and we choose their fresh cold pressed juice ($6) with a shot of turmeric to share (+$2). We taste notes of cucumber, lime and mint, with just a hint of turmeric. Really nice and refreshing.
The verdict? Great fusion food, with a heavy Thai twist. Definitely looking forward to more, and with breakfast, lunch and dinner on offer, there’s always something new to try. I’ll also be back for the pre-packaged take home meals!
425 Pitt St
Haymarket NSW 2000
Open daily 8am to midnight.
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