This tucked out of the way Northern Thai restaurant in Alphington is not your average local Thai joint- its a lot prettier... and your wallet may feel a lot lighter on the way out! But in general, it does serve food that is a step up from your local Thai. The dishes are a lot more exotic and innovative than pedestrian Thai.
I first discovered Paladarr in my teens when I did my very first ever cooking course there. It was such a fun experience in the commercial kitchen making curry puffs and tom kha soup and pad thai and red curry with the head chef Chaloem. Craig and I ate there a few weeks after that but as young, part time uni students we were shocked by the bill and never went back.
Now that we are a bit older and slightly more financially comfortable, when I recieved a birthday voucher in the mail I decided to head back and give it another try. And sure enough, we enjoyed it more than we did then. Our wallets found the hit a little easier (and the free main meal and two glasses of champagne the voucher entitled us to helped) and we enjoyed the food more since we have become a lot more adventurous since then. The food there can be quite hot as the curry pastes are traditional to Northern Thailand, and the menu recommends that you don't tamper with the heat of the dish by asking for less curry as it is meant to be enjoyed that way. We didn't find any of the dishes we ordered too hot though, but we are accustomed to a bit of chilli these days.
We started with a dish that has always sparked my curiosity- Creamy crumbled pork in coconut cream with peanuts, pepper, garlic and coriander. Complemented with butter-fried roti bread and fresh vegetables. Basically, this was a yummy satay style warm dip with pork mince through it. It was very enjoyable but I found the serving size a little small for $14.
We were very impressed by the steamed ocean-fresh snapper plumped with fresh herb stuffing and drizzled with garlic, chilli and ginger nahm jim. The snapper, full of herbs, garlic and ginger had just absorbed this amazing flavour and as picked the flesh of the bone each bite was full of delicious juices. The nahm jim topping was quite hot but we just put it to the side and had a little at a time. This was an absolutely beautiful dish.
Safe to say we picked every single bit of fish off that we could find, leaving a bit of a mangled mess ;)
Our other main was the sliced pork belly plunged in hot rice bran oil and stir-fried with Chinese broccoli and chilli. This was also really enjoyable- bite size, crispy pieces of pork belly with Chinese broccoli and just the right amount of spice. The pork pieces were delicious but it was hard work chewing through them as the crackling was quite crunchy.
The menu gives you two rice options- steamed jasmine rice or black sticky Issan rice. We adventurously ordered the black rice but were a little disappointed. It was a little too sticky, and hard to eat with the mains. It is obviously traditionally designed to be eaten by hand, and that concept didn't really work with a whole fish and stir-fry style dish. We wouldn't order it again.
As a side to our mains we ordered the ‘Son-in-Law’ eggs in caramelised red onion, tamarind, palm sugar sauce and coriander . I have always wanted to try son in law eggs- soft boiled eggs that have then been fried. These didn't really tickle our tastebuds. They were kind of bland. I had always imagined a soft boiled egg in a crispy coating (and have seen photos of other restaurants intepretations in a tempura style coating). This didn't taste much different than a simple hard boiled egg.
Since it was technically my belated birthday dinner, we also shared dessert- Coconut cream Panna Cotta infused with Kaffir lime and lemon grass, adorned with warm seared mango, palm sugar caramel, tamarind sorbet and sugar-dusted taro threads. This was enjoyable but I am not sure how well all the elements worked together. Individually each piece was really yummy, but together I wondered whether the tamarind/mango combination was a little too much.
The service is also very friendly and attentive, a step up from your standard Thai restaurant. We did wait about 15-20 minutes to recieve a food menu but the waiter was very apologetic when he realised.
It is a little bit expensive and I would recommend Paladarr as more of a special occasion venue than just a typical Friday night. For a more exotic and adventurous Thai feed, it is worth trying. Also, Monday night is 'bowl' night, where for $16 they feature a range of soup and noodle dishes which would be a cheaper way of enjoying the beautiful atmosphere and service without the big bill.