A reverence for Thai flavours is turning heads at this family-run Haymarket joint.
Feb 20, 2023 2:00am
First, some bad news. Porkfat, as the name might suggest, is hardly a refuge for plant-based diners. For now, there’s just one vegetarian option: a very good if not exactly groundbreaking stir-fry of Chinese broccoli and meaty shiitake mushrooms, zapped with white pepper and lots of fried garlic. (If you count the sole dessert – excellent house-made coconut ice-cream with palm seeds and candied pumpkin – then there are two.)
Those interested in a spontaneous or leisurely meal should also consider other plans. The tastefully spare split-level room has only 30 seats, so bookings are a necessity. What’s more, they’re capped at 90 minutes and enforced with a politeness so sincere it borders on heartbreaking. “We wish you could stay longer,” our server said as we sat down, “so that you could try everything.” The good news is you’re likely to leave wishing the same.
Porkfat is Thai-born chef Narin “Jack” Kulasai’s first crack at a restaurant as chef-owner (together with partner Tanya Boonprakong), having spent most of his career working for the legendary David Thompson, first at Nahm in Bangkok and more recently at the Sydney branch of Long Chim. Those credentials alone are but one reason why the place deserves a spot on your radar. Another is the fact that there’s no coolroom, which means the kitchen’s handiwork is dictated by what arrives fresh from the market. The real draw, however, is a menu of merely 12 items bound not by style or region but mostly instead by the use of pork fat.
There are nuggets of it buried in Kulasai’s signature offering, a glassy tangle of baked vermicelli noodles steeped in oyster sauce and ground spices shipping a duo of plump Queensland tiger prawns. You’ll sense its presence, too, in a steamed coral trout fillet that’s almost angelic in its purity, moored in a sesame-fragrant broth that finds a curious but compelling counterpart in pickled plums.
While lard does well to enhance both the taste and texture of other ingredients, the dishes without it sing just as loudly, maybe even an octave higher. Green curry is a contender for the city’s best, luxuriously thick and oily, with pork jowl grilled to a glorious tenderness, juicy lychees and no shortage of makrut lime. Better still might be the coconut-rich, turmeric-stained Phuket curry of tiger prawns charged with the creeping heat of black pepper. In so many respects, this is among the most impressive Thai offerings Sydney has seen in several years, right down to the hand-painted crockery which comes from an ancient village in the northern province of Chiang Rai. Perhaps the only forgettable element is the scant wine list, but even that turns out to be a blessing. The cooking cries out for perfumy gewürztraminer or hedonistic riesling, and with BYO corkage set at $10 per bottle, you can (and should) bring both.
Bring company, too, you trust will be on time and hungry. That way, you’ll be able to stay as long as you can – and try everything.