41 Crown St
|Opening hours||Dinner Wed-Sat from 6.30pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Vegetarian friendly, Licensed, Private dining, Cooking classes, Degustation, Gluten-free options, Outdoor seating|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 8590 0873|
Pounding. You can’t have Thai food without it. The sound of herbs and aromatics being thumped to a paste in a granite mortar sits happily in the background at Viand.
Former David Thompson executive chef Annita Potter (a description she would no doubt love to emerge from one day) has transformed the old Puntino in the lower reaches of Crown Street into a contemporary Thai pavilion.
The completely open kitchen is center stage, its heavy-duty stainless steel hardware and wok-burners running against the back wall. Doors open to a charming courtyard that drips with rain, as if we really are in Bangkok.
The place is a riot of color, from the rust of exposed brickwork to the cinnamon walls and crazy mosaic-tiled counters in crimson, scarlet, cherry and chilli reds. Big open-grained wooden tables line up against a sleek banquette, with mirrors reflecting the kitchen. “Every table’s a chef’s table here,” quips Potter.
Pound, pound, pound. Soon enough, two little la tiang pyramids arrive, the lush mix of palm sugar, chicken, shallots and coriander held together by lacy egg pancake. They explode like spinning catherine wheels of sweet, crunchy, nutty, savory, gritty richness.
This one bite tells you all you need to know about Viand, as Potter bypasses tired cliches and goes straight to the intrinsic balance and harmony of Thai cuisine.
Steamy jasmine rice – always the heart of a Thai meal – is scooped onto plates by solicitous waitstaff as more dishes arrive. A salad of both blue swimmer and sand crab (the chef can’t work out which she likes most) is tossed with a lightly tangy dressing, trout roe, pickled garlic, coriander and makrut lime leaf, with crisp tapioca crackers to use as scoops .
Next up is an ugly / beautiful lon of duck egg and scampi that’s pungent, salty, and savory. It grows into its role – essentially as a highly seasoned relish – when the sticky pork lands next to it. First aged by Whole Beast Butchery in Marrickville, then simmered for hours in palm sugar caramel enriched with shallots, it could be wrapped in bonbon paper and sold as candy. Instead, crunchy little cucumbers and a clutch of sorrel, Vietnamese mint, sawtooth and holy basil temper the sweetness.
A small bowl of mussels in broth is delicate, and baby cuttlefish comes in its own black ink. Coconut-poached quail works beautifully in place of squab in a salad of banana blossoms; a lovely dish. But really, we’re all just hanging out for the curry.
It’s not recognizably red, green, yellow, massaman or jungle, but a deeply flavored terracotta pool of hand-minced pork curry (from the same pig) offset by the acidity of tomatillos and tempered by makrut lime leaves and holy basil. I could eat it all night, if I hadn’t been eating all night.
A few spoonfuls of sweet / salty coconut milk – made from scratch, natch – hold lobes of jackfruit and bouncy jubes of black tapioca, and a coconut sweetmeat, smoked over a Thai candle, ends the banquet on a sugar high.
Viand isn’t yet fully formed, with key staff members still weeks away and drinks limited to wines, beers and teas. But the most important things are already in place – a strong sense of self-belief, and the integrity of doing things the Thai way, the hard way, the slow way.
Potter’s understanding of Thai food is so broad, the deep dive of a set menu allows her to balance the dishes in a way that feels very Thai. Flavors sing loud and clear, balance is constantly calibrated, and chilli levels are boldly warm rather than street-food hot.
An a la carte menu is coming, which will make it easier for more people to dip a toe in the water. And dip a toe you should, for the most thoughtful, uncompromising Thai cooking in Sydney, from a kitchen that marches to its own (pounding) drum.
Cost Tasting menu $ 145 a head; a la carte to come
Vegetarian Tasting menu $ 120 a head (vegan also available)
Drink Three local beers, tisanes and teas, and a good, workable premium wine list. Cocktails are on the way.
Pro tip There’s a semi-private, wine-lined dining room overlooking the leafy courtyard.
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.