Despite what the vast number of Thai restaurants around Sydney might suggest, there's rocket surgery and brain science involved in pulling off a good one. Tapioca, Cremorne's latest restaurant edition, is brought to you by ex-Sailors Thai chefs Phacharin Jantrakool (you can call her ‘air') and Krongthong Akkachitto (she likes ‘Krung' for short), along with front-of-houseman, Bancha Moolsuwa (he's ‘Bancha' to you). And while they haven't exactly split the atom, they're coming a damn site closer than 90 percent of their competition.
It's a nice looking restaurant - polished floors, thick white linen on the tables and big designer incandescent globes hanging from the ceiling – but oh boy, is it L.O.U.D. This is not convivial dinner noise, but noise fatigue-inducing hell – they really need to look at getting some waffling in there.
Take your mind off the noise with some steamed chicken dumplings – the prettiest dumplings in town. Plump, glutenous and lilac coloured, they look like deep-sea creatures filled with chicken mince, topped with fried shallots and served with a rich, piquant black vinegar and chilli sauce. So does the deep-fried quail's egg, nestled in prawn that's been minced down to a smooth paste then covered with deep-fried egg noodles and topped with coriander leaves and a fine julienne of fresh chilli. These little beauties, a bit like a Thai Scotch egg, sit in a little puddle of sweet tamarind sauce.
You'll recognise quite a few dishes from Sailors Thai, such as the green curry of wagyu beef with roti - a very mild, creamy curry of rich, sliced beef kept warm by its own little burner and served with feather-light tissues of roti. A red curry of duck breast and chunks of fresh pineapple (so festive!) is similarly mild and while there's method to toning down the heat to match the clientele (hey, if you want intricate, spicy, fragrant dishes, head to Sailors Thai in the Rocks or Chat Thai, House, Spice I Am or Home in the city), it tastes like the flavour's been beaten out of the dishes a little. Likewise the cubes of fried silken tofu with stir-fried slices of long eggplant, chilli and Thai basil. It sounds exciting on paper but just doesn't really kick it the way you might expect.
It's not hard to avoid the curries though, when there's the likes of the crisp rice ball salad (nham kao tod). It's a refreshing crunch-fest of rogue slices of crisp-fried pig's ear, fresh ginger, crushed-up cakes of roast rice, peanuts, fried chilli and lime. It's nowhere near as hot as the one at Spice I Am (nicknamed ‘the burning death') but it's fresh and crunchy and you can appreciate the flavours a helluva lot more when you're not seeing through time on a chilli trip.
Cool down with the pearly, slightly salty and gloopy (in a good way) tapioca pudding – you can imagine you're eating sweet, delicious dessert grubs. Or go the fresh mango with three different types of sticky rice (black, white and pandan) and sweet coconut cream.
You might not cross town for Tapioca, but if you're residing north of the bridge Tapioca is the best Thai food you'll come across.
Essential eats! Mango sticky rice; quail eggs; steamed chicken dumplings.