“…a long time ago, the emerald buddha arched is finger south of the provinces, sewed a blue thread,whose name was Mekong. You there, traveller, this shall be your map, share it around…” *
Mekong Summer Menu Revisit
Mekong Video Review:
Kensington Street goes from strength to strength with the addition of Mekong. Chef Tiw Rakarin (Mama’s Buoi, Bang Luck) takes diners on a journey through Indochina, with a menu that draws inspiration and flavours from the region. Sydney is spoilt with an array of cheap and cheerful eateries which showcase the street food cuisine of continental Asia. Mekong offers a fine dining experience, with an emphasis on providing the flavours you are used to, complemented with innovative techniques and a level of refinement akin to David Thompson’s Sailors Thai and Longrain.
Mekong sits above its sister diner Lower Mekong, which is a much more relaxed affair. At Mekong, the decor is warm, intimate and cosy. The colours reflect the lush, tropical vegetation of the Mekong river, and during the day the light filters through the bamboo stalks that line the windows. Seating is comfortable and you can be assured of enjoying your meal without worrying about bumping into your neighbour.
Most people say that you eat with your eyes. At Mekong, though, you eat with your nose. The fragrances and aromas often reach you before your dish even lands on the table, infiltrating your nose, saturating your senses with lemongrass, chilli, lime, basil, mint, coriander…the quintessential flavours of Indochina. This time, the Coco & Vine team throw caution to the wind, and let our ‘guide’ Ryan expertly choose our dishes to ensure we have a varied and fabulous food adventure.
We start our journey down the Mekong with an amuse-bouche of baby peeled carrots in chilli jam with pork floss. Yes, I said pork floss. You have to try this. I engage my senses and break fine dining etiquette, picking up the baby carrot by it’s stalks and biting in. I am instantly surprised by the cold, fresh crunchiness of the carrot and the instant sweetness on the tip of my tongue from the jam. But immediately the fire party from the chilli dances across my palate, with subtle hints of savouriness from the pork floss. If this was the start, then I knew that we were in for one fantastic, flavour-filled trip!
Our next stop is a dip into the river, with one of the mix of entrees little fish. Thai crisp anchovies are dried and then flash fried, in a medley of lime, lemongrass, chilli and peanuts. To tame the briny flavours, the anchovies are rolled in sugar and sesame seeds, providing crunch and texture to this fantastic starter dish. For those of you familiar with Malaysian and Indonesian cuisine, you may have tasted sambal ikan bilis. Where the ikan bilis can be quite salty and fiery, Mekong’s version is notably sweeter, yet the heat factor isn’t diminished.
We continue with the squid ink dumplings, delicate parcels are perfectly steamed housing the combination of crabmeat and prawn thai stuffing in the centre. This is an experience, as it is served with a beautifully delicate and aromatic pho-like soup with strong hints of cinnamon bark among an array of Vietnamese spices. The soup is sensational and we continue to spoon up that goodness, even after the dumplings are long gone!
Out of the river and on to the land, we then devour the flavours of the spice of the omelette. The Lao crispy omelette encases thin slices of pork roll, sour pork, morning glory (Phak Bung) and deliciously coated in soy-chilli sauce. The spices and herbs are mixed together to delicately coat the other ingredients and leave the familiar heat lingering on the lips and mouth from the chilli sauce which is dusted with roasted rice powder. The pork is expertly cooked; moist and flavourful without overpowering the dish.
The sweetcorn harvest is another delight for our senses with its visual appeal, fantastic bouquet of herbs and spices and playful ingredients. Vietnamese rice flour cups are filled with smashed red bean, prawn, sweetcorn and cucumber relish. Topped with salmon roe, this plate provides a delightful refresher. These are nicely apportioned little cups of goodness so that you get all the flavours in one superb bite. Nestled amongst dried star anise, they are offset with subtle liquorice aromas to add a twist.
We take a break from the food, to indulge in a couple of cocktails. But this time we decide not to drink on the job and let our host expertly select from the mocktail menu to complement our food selection.
The blushing gibbon is a fantastic mix of watermelon, green apple and apple juice. This mocktail arrives at just the right time as the sweet flavours from the watermelon, combined with the sharpness from the fresh green apples brighten our mouths for the course to come.
I love tea (almost as much as coffee) and my tea of choice is nearly always Earl Grey. So when the grey heron arrives I am delighted that an Earl Grey syrup is what gives this heron it’s ‘grey’. The drink is crisp and cool with intense flavours of ginger, lime, apple and pear juice providing the ideal base for the Early Grey syrup. It is as tart as it is sweet and the icy cold ingredients continue to abate the spice that has been waltzing in my mouth.
With that refreshing pause, we head further into the banks of the Mekong and onto the mains. And, what an incredible selection arrive to enchant us on our food journey. We dive head first into the gold burma chicken. The shredded, poached chicken is bold and spicy, generously tossed throughout the salad, with the freshness of mint leaves and a light dressing. No shy accompaniment, the crispy chickpea tofu is delicious and provides the handy ‘scoop’ to ensure none of the goodness is left behind.
There is nothing quite like Wagyu beef and the grade 5 in the vientiane wagyu salad is melt-in-your-mouth sensational. Imagine this, the wafer thin slices of beef are actually quickly scorched with a blowtorch. That’s all the cooking that’s needed. The salad is interlaced with roasted rice powder providing texture and nuttiness, all drizzled with a delicious house-made tamarind sauce.
We wrap up the meat selection with the duck at sunrise. The duck confit is semi-submerged in a delectable red Thai curry, cherry tomatoes, basil oil, and fresh pineapple. The sweetness and crunchy texture of the pineapple are a welcome addition to the traditional coconut and spicy flavours of a red curry. The duck is fall-off-the bone perfection. The cherry tomatoes, shallots and coriander add a depth of flavour and complexity and is a definite must-try on any visit to Mekong.
To contrast and balance the meat-based items, a delightful what’s the story, morning glory? is served. Stir-fried with Thai bird’s eye chili and yellow bean, this is a great side accompaniment, with fantastic nutty and soy flavours. Wok hei (breath of the wok) takes me back to my travels through Singapore and Malaysia and the hawker stalls. The flavours and aroma of the wok hei elevates Mekong’s morning glory beyond a token vegetable side dish.
No journey, whether it’s down the Mekong, the Seine or the Nile, is ever complete without a sweet stop. What could be more Indochine than a dessert containing lychee and coconut?! The rosewater lychee is a dessert with a definite twist to the traditional sweet treats of the region. The lychee and rosewater mousse is layered with a mango puree and plum seeds in a coconut shell (almost meringue-like) and for a dessert, is not overly sweet. The mango puree forms a gelatin layer on top, for that extra fresh flavour burst, and blends well with the lychee and rose flavours.
With our tasting notebook full and our journey complete, we know we’ll be back for another delicious trip down the Mekong. The only fitting way to finish this post is with the end of the Mekong poem:
“…we notch our talismans, knife and fork, a steel cross on a porcelain map that granted us passage down indochine way…” *
* Extract from Mekong’s poem
* Coco and Vine dined as guests of Mekong.