Review of SaiMai by Thai I M, Parramatta
As you can imagine, growing up with a Thai mum, I have eaten more than my fair share of Thai food both in Thailand and Australia. It's a cuisine I cook regularly as well, so to say I am a tough critic of Thai restaurants is an understatement. My visit to SaiMai by Thai I M up the quiet end of Church St in Parramatta introduces me to some of the prettiest and most beautifully presented Thai food I have ever seen.
I am invited to a food bloggers lunch at SaiMai by Food Blogs Media and I am keen to meet the other bloggers who will be my dining mates for the day. It's funny this world of online bloggers because we often chat with each other online before we meet so when we finally do meet in person for the first time it feels like we're old friends! It's a gorgeous group of ladies for lunch and it's quite fitting because the food at this restaurant is absolutely gorgeous. After ordering, the food starts coming out thick and fast, served by the lovely waitress who is more than happy to bend over backwards with whatever we need. The presentation on these dishes is unlike anything I have ever seen before in Thai cooking. The vibrant colours and contrasting textures and heights make the food (and even drinks) look utterly delectable and very tempting. One thing I can definitely tell even without trying these dishes yet is that the utmost care and love has been put into their preparation. Even the steamed rice is topped with crispy fried garlic and roasted cashew nuts. These are those extra little steps that set restaurants like SaiMai apart from the others. I can't wait to shoot everything and tuck into this feast.
The first thing I try is the Lychee Lemonade, which I find way too sweet. This is actually quite authentic to how drinks are served in Thailand, and in fact I remember as a child being given what tasted like straight, un-watered down cordial in Bangkok and loving it! Now that I'm older, my palate is drawn toward more zingy, piquant flavours and the Thai Lime Tea is just perfect for me. You have the sour lime, some sweetness and slight bitterness from the tea that creates the perfect combination for me. I will also add that Thai drinks tend to be on the sweeter side to balance all the spiciness in the food. We see this in the Thai Milk Tea which looks as pretty as a picture. Quite sweet again but not so much that it's unpalatable.
Onto the food: the Red Duck Curry is prepared with duck breast which has been roasted and sliced. This is a nice change up from the usual duck pieces found in this curry and to my disbelief some of the skin is still crisp! Australian's really love a red duck curry for its milder spice and sweet addition of lychee or pineapple so no doubt this is a very popular dish in the restaurant. The crispy soft shell crab is exactly how it should be, crisp and crunchy batter encasing tender, sweet crab meat. Cooked to perfection. I find myself wishing for a more complex sauce, rather than the sweet chilli sauce it is served with.
“I have the same thought when I try the Pad Mee (the mild flavoured pink noodles) and the Walking Barramundi (whole fried fish), but to my relief, the lovely waitress places down a small bowl of Prik Nam Pla, the ubiquitous Thai dipping sauce on the table and the day is saved. Prik Nam Pla can be made a few different ways but it always includes fish sauce, chilli, lime/lemon and a tiny bit of sugar. This one also has copious amounts of fresh garlic which is a very welcome addition. The sauce is spicy, sour, fragrant, salty and the perfect counter balance to all the sweet notes in the dishes. I really love the fish with the sauce together as a duo. This little bowl of sauce really makes my meal and I consume almost the entire thing!"
The Choo Chee Prawns are not served traditionally, rather they are fried in a crispy batter, then sit upon an artfully drizzled pool of the choo chee curry sauce. Its lovely, I still find it quite mild though #morechilliplease Then I realise that each prawn is meant to be eaten with the slice of fresh chilli which is placed beside it and my extra chilli craving is satisfied. Of course not everyone likes their food spicy and my fellow diners are not as chilli crazed as I am so it works out well that we can add fresh chilli and chilli sauce to our own personal tastes. I'm not sure what to expect when the Fisherman's Hook dish is ordered from the menu; what arrives looks spectacular. It is a mixed seafood and vegetable stir fry which is presented with a ring of prawns crowning the dish. I try a prawn, and a piece of fish, and a piece of squid and they are all cooked absolutely perfectly. The squid is very tender and without a hint of chewiness.
Desserts are again a feast for the eyes, the most traditional being the Mango and Sticky rice. This dessert is found all over Thailand and is probably the country's national dessert. Being so simple, it really relies of the quality and freshness of the mango and I feel we are quite lucky that we are just coming into mango season here in Australia. The mango is ripe and sweet and just beautiful. At SaiMai this is paired with coloured sticky rice cooked in coconut milk and a red velvet coconut cream. I don't really get what the red velvet part is, other than the pink colour (it just tastes like sweetened coconut cream to me!) but it goes great with the rice and mango. The other desserts are lovely, the fried bananas are tender and soft inside a crispy crumb coating and wonderful with ice cream, the deep fried ice cream is a contrast of cold and hot served with chocolate sauce and the roti is quite creative actually, presented like a taco, holding a scoop of ice cream.
SaiMai is not your traditional Thai restaurant. It seems like they are catering to Western/Australian market with their milder and sweeter flavour profiles. For Thai's like me, or chilli fanatics, there is always the Prik Nam Pla to spice up their dishes, or you can always ask them to cook things extra spicy. They have re-imagined the classic Thai dishes and presented them in a way that is a pleasure to look at and a delight to eat.
SaiMai by Thai I M 2/410 Church St, Parramatta
*I dined here as a guest of SaiMai and Food Blogs Media but all opinions remain my own