My friend (and fellow foodie) S remarked to me recently that, in her opinion, Isthmus of Kra offers some of the best Thai food in Melbourne. This is obviously a big call. A couple of weeks after that comment I headed there with S and some other friends for a girly night out so I could test out the theory.
Isthmus of Kra is situated on the industrial side of Park St South Melbourne, in a nondescript building amongst office blocks. Despite the fact that there is zero foot traffic here, Isthmus of Kra was almost completely full on the Friday night we visited, perhaps testament to the quality of the food.
Inside, the space is dark and a bit dated in style.
The menu is divided in a pretty normal fashion (soups, entree, salads, mains, sides and desserts) although a little quirk is that it is further divided into ‘new’ and ‘classic’ dishes (with the classic dishes even having the date of their creation listed on the menu!). The menu also has a few amusing descriptions that pleased me – you can order a ‘vegetarian dialogue’ (braised puy lentils) or a ‘jumbo quail secret’ (sadly, we didn’t order this so I am not sure what the secret is!).
Our first dish was the steamed blue dumplings ($16.50):
These rose-shaped dumplings are dyed with butterfly pea flowers and filled with caramelized minced beef. Obviously the colour was interesting but I thought these tasted a little bland. However, they were served with a spicy chilli dipping sauce which saved the day and brought the dish together.
Next we had the grilled oysters ($17.50):
Six oysters arrive in a terracotta plate with little domes covering them. I ordinarily like my oysters natural, but I also enjoyed these. The light grilling took away the flavour of the sea, but to compensate they were doused with a tomato-based chilli, lime and lemongrass dressing.
For main course we shared a few curries, first up, the lamb gulali ($27.50):
As you can tell from the photo, this is a yellow curry and it contained lamb and potatoes. The bright yellow colour comes from the turmeric, other flavours were the hot curry leaves and mustard seed as well as the fresh mint. The meat was soft and falling apart and there was richness from the coconut based sauce. This was my favourite dish of the night.
Next we had the duck ped yang curry ($29.50):
A ‘classic’ dish (on the menu since 1998!) this red curry tasted strongly of star anise, with some freshness from the Thai basil. In addition to the duck, this curry also contained a heap of fruit(!) and vegetables, including eggplant, broccoli, red capsicum, melon and pineapple. The duck was rich and slow cooked, however the skin had been left on which I didn’t love. This was S’s favourite dish.
Along with our curries we had some roti:
I can’t really comment on this as it is wheaty but I was told it was fresh, crisp and didn’t taste heavy or oily.
Our last dish was venison pad horm ($31.50):
Along with the venison, this stirfry contained cashews, snowpeas, green beans and Thai basil. This dish served to counterbalance the other rich, coconut based curries. The venison was tender, greens retained some crunch and there was crunch from the cashews. Yum.
All in all, I enjoyed my meal at Isthmus of Kra. It is certainly delivering a very different experience to your standard Thai restaurant and serves some interesting Southern Thai cuisine. Is it one of the best Thai restaurants in Melbourne? Of course, I naturally think of Longrain when I think of delicious Thai, but obviously Isthmus of Kra is aiming for something very different. Compared to the many forgettable Thai meals I have had in Melbourne, Isthmus is definitely a stand-out. I really enjoyed the curries in particular and thought it was good value for the quality of the food. I’m sure I’ll be back!
Isthmus of Kra
50 Park St
South Melbourne VIC 3205
(03) 9690 3688