NORTHBRIDGE on a Friday night.
James Street had its trademark mix of chaotic energy, excitement and sleazy danger, all neon-lit and ready to go off like a cheap firework.
For people of a certain vintage, like myself, it felt exhilarating and slightly disorientating, like a kamikaze pilot pushing forward on his stick and preparing for the final descent.
Along with my wife and another couple, we walked up to Northbridge piazza, where we remembered a nice Italian restaurant, but it had long since closed and it was mostly Asian eateries, fast food and the odd sex shop.
I imagine the old-school leisurely Italian meal is still popular in the burbs, but in the CBD more exotic, quick-fire cuisine is en vogue.
After walking back towards William Street, we ended up going to Bangkok Brothers, which seemed to strike a nice balance between fast food and formal dining.
The name sounds like a dodgy comedy act from the 1970s, but it’s actually a sprawling venue with a swish bar, funky murals, live music and plenty of tables and booths.
I liked the setup – it was modern and airy with plenty of room and you didn’t feel hemmed in. There was a nice buzz and it felt like a fun spot to have a few drinks and a casual meal on a Friday night.
My heart sank when I saw the menu was one of those gaudy jobs with photos of the food.
It’s always a bit of a red flag and reminds me of that Bill Hicks’ sketch about the waitress at a truckers stop in the deep south of America – “We got ourselves a reader!”
There was a huge array of Thai dishes including entree, soups, salads, vegan dishes, noodles, rice and curry, as well as somtum, khao neow and whole fish dishes like steamed barramundi.
Basically it had all the bases covered and putting aside my menu snobbery, the photos actually looked very appetising and helped you visualise some of the unfamiliar dishes.
Bangkok Brothers were big on automation – you ordered using a QR code and I spotted at least one robot waiter on wheels delivering food. With staggering advancements in AI, it made me ponder how long before chefs are replaced by robots that can cook and dynamically adjust the heat of the pan and level of seasoning. A sort of cross between R2-D2 and Gordon Ramsay.
It wasn’t long before the waitress (human) was along with my chicken massaman ($22.90).
The star of the dish was the sauce: thick and creamy with that classic mix of coconut milk and Thai spices. It was punctuated with potato, baby carrot and a smattering of cashew nuts and fried onion. It was so tasty I could have just eaten that on its own.
The Maryland chicken didn’t quite reach the same heights: it was very enjoyable but could have been a bit more tender to raise the dish to the next level.
It was a similar story with my wife’s Thai Green curry ($19.90) with the sauce – green chilli paste, coconut milk, kaffir lime leave, red chilli and basil – being the standout.
“The thick, moreish sauce is amazing and just the right spice level, but the chicken is a wee bit over and could have been more tender.”
The portion sizes were big and great value for money.
My friend Alan got the slow cooked wagyu beef version of the massaman curry ($24.90) and this time the meat was spot on and super tender.
We all shared a Thai fried rice ($19.90 vegetable) which had some refreshing sliced cucumber and cherry tomatoes with a subtle oyster sauce dressing.
The only big letdown was the wings zap entree (four for $11.90): desiccated and too spicy, the fried marinated chicken did nothing for me.
If you’re on a night out in Northbridge and fancy a fun, well-priced and very enjoyable Thai meal, then Bangkok Brothers is a great shout.
91 James St, Northbridge
by STEPHEN POLLOCK