Why do you name your restaurant after a rather derogatory term? The truth may be simpler than it seems – perhaps the founders of the Chat Thai franchise simply didn’t know about the connotations associated with this word (funny how it started in Sydney huh), and went ahead with the name.
It didn’t seem to matter though, Chat Thai has a pretty impressive cult following, rivalling (or exceeding?) that of Home Thai. It’s probably one of the few Thai restaurants people come up with when asked to think of a Thai restaurant. They’ve executed their restaurants quite well, so the question then is raised – how does the food itself fare? You’ve already made up your opinion as you’ve likely been to Chat Thai already, but as for my thoughts…
Date Visited: many, last visit 6/1/13
Address: Shop 5 Lower Ground 500 George St Sydney (TGV) | 20 Campbell St Haymarket, Sydney | Level 6, Westfield Sydney, 188 Pitt St Mall Sydney | two more locations in Randwick + Manly, but have not visited those
Go-to dish: Fresh spring rolls of smoked fish sausages, chicken and crab with caramelised tamarind relish
As the Chat Thai franchise spans several stores, it’s not a particularly easy job describing their interiors as they vary quite a bit.
- Westfield branch: a little on the darker side when it comes to lighting, a bit more traditional in its decor with the use of shaped wood, giving a traditional dining environment
- Haymarket (pictured above): looking a bit more utilitarian with its brick motif, a very casual vibe is given off which I’m totally cool with
- George St (in TGV): the Chat Thai here is just another food court stall in TGV, so not much to speak of on decor here
Before I begin, I’ll give this overarching comment – the Chat Thai on top of Westfield is the best one with the Haymarket store being extremely close in quality, while the one at TGV is the runner up of the three. That’s just my experience with multiple visits to all three joints.
I almost always get these when I visit Chat Thai (or Home Thai for that matter – they have almost the exact same dish). They’re not like normal spring rolls in that they’re not actually deep fried, but rather served cold with hot ingredients within. After god knows how many counts of eating the deep fried variant, this is always a relief.
- It’s quite saucy with its tamarind relish, but not as saucy as the ones from Home Thai. Which you’ll like better will almost solely depend on your preference for sauciness
- The sauce is really good, there’s a good kick to it and its quite zesty; distinctly Thai. Feel free to apply it liberally to your morsel (Y)
- Inside the spring rolls, the various meats more or less fuse together and you don’t really make out anything individual once the chewing begins, but no matter, it tastes great and that’s what counts
- Warning, if you fork the improperly, they’re going to fall apart. It’s much less fun to eat the ingredients of these spring rolls separately than as a whole
A really great entrée dish and one I always recommend to order. Though there are mains I may like more on occasions, this is the one dish that I almost always order and as such, is my go-to dish.
Yum yum, get some delicious pork, and turn the whole thing into skewer form. So simple and so effective.
- The pork is fatty, which is a good thing as a completely lean skewer doesn’t taste as good. What’s a little unfortunate is that it’s quite rindy at places, and that I cannot stand – texture-killer
- Flavour-wise, you can expect some awesomeness as it is the sweet, sweet meat that is pork. That’s on the mark, definitely
- It’s a bit like a Thai variant of BBQ pork, roasted twang
Another solid entrée, albeit with a few flaws that really should be addressed for me to consider it a staple.
Mmm, always gotta love some gravy noodles. Definitely up there with one of my most commonly-ordered mains.
- Particularly delicious about this dish is actually the greens – Chinese kale is one of the most delicious green vegetables (just think of thick soy-sauced drizzled over the stuff at yum cha) and it’s made more so with the gravy. The crispiness and the crunch is nothing short of amazing, and the gravy ensures that with every bite, there’s awesome flavour. GREAT YO
- The chicken is actually really good texturally, but I can’t help but think that chicken just simply isn’t the meat to serve with these noodles. The gravy never really sinks in, and the chicken never really absorbs it. I always feel like I’m tasting the gravy that’s slopping around the exterior of the meat, but never any more than that. Wow, deep
The rather flawed chicken choice aside (and I’m well aware this is my own taste preference), I could drink that gravy like it was water…
…Well, until my craving for water starts up due to all that sodium intake.
I have to admit, this dish did not strike my fancy. It was the wrong flavour base for the wrong set of ingredients. Just didn’t…click.
- The fish dumplings were essentially flavourless. I felt like I was just tasting dough and the slightest hint of artificial flavouring. This could be ameliorated by actually using more fish in each little ball, as opposed to using huge amounts of starch
- As for the wild gingers, they were…potent. Not intolerable, but very aggravating, and I didn’t actually end up eating them as I couldn’t really stand it after a few bites
- The apple eggplants were a bit nicer, though the contrast between the surprisingly hard skin and the cream insides were very distracting, and ill-fitted
- The dish was a bit oily
- Overall the dish was a case of “too much spice without enough flavour”. I’m easily able to take chilli, but I fail to see the point when there’s not much other flavour for the spiciness to augment, which is the whole point of chilli in the first place
Would definitely not order this one again.
So I only took a photo kind of halfway through eating it and so a bit of it’s already gone (and totally wrecked the tubular noodles…)
- Great five spice broth, another one of those soups I could drink many litres of, that MSG, you just can’t escape it, and it just works so well with 5spice! [screw you, health]
- The noodles themselves were slightly hard for my liking, not as slippery as I would’ve preferred
- And for the bad news – absolutely despised the meat. The pork was a total killer to the dish – it was bordering on the disgusting, incredibly rindy, un-chewable offal. Man I sound incredibly harsh, but such harshness was the quality of the pork. An assiette indeed – one other type of pork they put in actually tasted somewhat like tripe. Unfortunately, I don’t like tripe, so uh oh. The last type of pork was in the form of pork loin balls, which were like rocks.
If there was a “dish to avoid” category, this would take top honours; as sad as it is to say.
A word of warning – I would not recommend ordering this dish unless you consider your tolerance for chilli at least above average. It’s hot enough that it will spoil your enjoyment of this dish, if it doesn’t burn you. I don’t even order it normally because it’s too spicy for what the dish should be.
- So yeah, that spice. Hawt
- Noodles themselves are good, too good in fact – they soak up the chilli flavours well
- Extremely oily dish, caution if you’re not into that
- The meat was not too great, similar comments to the guay jupb above, but a lot less extreme
Overall, I like Chat Thai, however you really need to be able to sort out what dishes you like and what you don’t. I have some favourites of mine (I’ve actually eaten more than 5 times the variety as shown in this blog in my visits to Chai Thai, I just dont’t have the picture proof) but others I wouldn’t ever touch again. Choose carefully, but I wish a restaurant wouldn’t have to force me to say something like that. Atom Thai, for example, is a shining example of great Thai, try that first.
As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three
The Good: strong dishes are very strong indeed, reasonable prices for the most part
What could be improved: there are some serious horrorshows that just don’t agree with my palate and would take more than a mere retooling to fix, YMMV
I give a grand total of seven Caesars out of ten – 7/10