It’s not often that I hang around this part of George Street other than simply walk through it to get somewhere else. That stretch of George Street between Liverpool and Bathurst. The cinema’s, the fast food joints, game halls and derro’s; coupled with the area around Central, it’s the city’s backside, in my opinion. The only things that lift it is what you find when you turn a corner and end up in an arcade or lane. Restaurants, bars, a few shops of interest and thanks to businesses coming and going as frequently as they seem to do, there’s always something new to see.
Down on Kent Street at the back of Regent Place is this new little Thai eatery called Senyai. Do you know where Miss Chu is? Well, it’s next door to it. The decor may be a bit contrived and themed but I really like it. There’s a shabby-rustic feel about it; sanded wood panelling, vintage fans and pictures, plates up on the walls and a collection of packeted oddments you’d normally pick up at a Thai corner grocer.
I’m a bit of a sucker for anything to do with betel leaves and it’s here at Senyai that demonstrates how I first tried them somewhere in Thailand, many years ago. I don’t remember where exactly, I only remember how enamoured I became when this finger food was more interactive than it usually is in restaurants about town. Rather than the usual filling placed on top of the leaf, it’s about all the ingredients set in front of you so you can do it on your own; a bit of this, a bit of that, a bit of sauce and in your gob it goes. Miang kham (6) – betel leaves, toasted coconut, peanuts & dried shrimp, finely diced fresh young ginger, red onion, chilli and lime. A thick, coconut sugar sauce is there to bind the toppings and make it go down oh-so well.
The po pia jaan (12) is described as being crispy prawn pancakes but what’s brought out is a cake of minced and seasoned prawn, cocooned in thin pastry and deep-fried until golden and crisp. It may not fit the pancake category but I don’t really care. There’s a hot, external crunch from the pastry to begin with. Then there’s that soft prawn filling that lends beautifully to the sweet sugar syrup-like sauce that’s laced with chilli, cucumber and onion. Yes please.
The first thing that stood above all others on the “mains” section of the menu, for me, was the tup gai pad normai farang (18). A bit of a verbal mouthful for anyone like myself but it’s the regular mouthful that gave me a few tingles. Chicken livers stir-fried with spring onion, chilli, some greenery and baby corn (instead of asparagus as they didn’t have it). I have very few aversions to offal, but when it comes to liver, it needs to be in my mouth. This was the first time I’ve had it done Thai-style and I loved it.
The thing I like about the menu at Senyai is that it doesn’t read like those yawn-inducing Oz-Thai menu’s we see far too much about this country. How often do you see pippies on a Thai menu? Well, here we have hoi lai pad namprik pao (22). Another verbal mouthful but all it is is a decent quantity of these sweet little molluscs stir-fried with basil, onion, spring onion and chilli. There was a little sauce in there to help sop up the rice and aside from the occasional sandy grit, I was happy.
The other half gravitates to the gai yaang (or yang 18) and declares it deliciously juicy, even though I was given every piece of skin which I woofed down gleefully. I was unaware that the last two dishes we ordered would be similar to one another. I guess my subconscious glutton wanted to try two different pork dishes.
Khao kha moo (18) is a gorgeously rich fall-apart pork hock that’s braised with star anise, cinnamon and ginger. A mound of steamed rice drizzled with braising liquid takes the centre of the plate, there’s some hot and sour sauce for dunking and a pile of steamed Thai broccoli as well. The meat is far from dry and anyone that loves their pork skin and blubber, well, there’s enough of that as well.
The khao kluk gapi (14) is steamed rice that’s seasoned with shrimp paste; pungent and fishy and not for the light-hearted. Crowning it are shreds of omelette and all around is red chill, onion, chopped raw snake beans, julienned green mango and batons of slow-cooked sweet pork belly.
Of the five desserts offered we went for sweet, sticky rice with different accompaniments. Khao nieaw sungkaya (5) has thick slices of coconut custard that’s just like crème caramel and khao nieaw mamuang (8) has a fan of fresh mango on the side. Both are supremely sweet, dusted with toasted coconut and black sesame and oozing with coconut milk.
Another sugar-loaded dessert is the roti grob (6). Crispy layers of buttery roti criss-crossed with condensed milk and showered with granulated sugar. This place seriously needs to open an outlet in my Newtown/Erskinville neighbourhood to give all the other Thai places a run for their money.