Paste, the Michelin starred Thai restaurant has just opened in Mittagong, in the NSW Southern Highlands. Here chef Bee Satongun showcases historical Thai dishes with complex flavour combinations using Australian produce.
Located on Main Street, the room is a long rectangular one with spaced tables (for COVID-19). Laura and I had decided to do a self started long weekend by booking Friday lunch here. Even in its early days you do need to book as we hear tables being turned away (although takeaway is available). Still a table of six manages a no show which is incredibly rude especially for a restaurant operating during COVID-19.
So why Mittagong? Bee says, "We already did Thai food here for 6 years and burnt out when we where younger." After some time in Thailand, "It was just about letting customers know we are back and pick up where we left off with them in their minds," says Bee. Mittagong is also the home town of her Australian chef husband Jason Bailey. The new branch of Paste stands alongside Paste Bangkok and Paste Laos and Bee has homes in all three locations and will rotate her time between them.
There is an a la carte menu but the best value is using the set menus that range from $70 to $80 per person. As for what dishes have come over from Paste Bangkok to Paste Australia Bee says, "What we wanted to do is some dishes people are familiar with: Penang, Massaman, Tom Yum etc to show when things are done right what higher level Thai food tastes like to gain trust for the journey before we start introducing less familiar dishes."
For Bee, Thai food can be very misunderstood and simplified. "I'm influenced to use Australian proteins but I am passionate that the food does not 'wing it' so to speak. A lot of food in Australia is guessing and winging it."
While she is excited about Australian produce, procuring the volume and variety of herbs is a challenge. "Fresh is best, but layering the herbs is a different story. Thai food is not just hot, salty and sour and very, very rarely sweet. That is just the seasoning."
The keys to great Thai cuisine is having, "The right herbal relationships in the tight quantities, than the right amount of pastes in the coconut milk. Having a wide knowledge of dry spices as old Thai cuisine is heavily influenced from Persian and Indian cuisines. Knowing how to infuse herbs into liquids and salad dressings and having a strong handle on stocks when it comes to soups and even stir fries," explains Bee.
Paste My Thai $20 and Miang Kham $22
"I need a cocktail," says Laura. It's Friday so we both order cocktails. Laura has a Paste My Thai with infused chilli, kaffir lime leaf, lemongrass and cucumber vodka which is light and refreshing. My Miang Kham is made with Ciroc vodka, Frangelico, muddled betel leaf and home made galangal jam and is intense and sweet. They're both delicious and entirely different from each other.
Smoked Snowy River Trout Tapioca Dumplings $16
The tapioca dumplings are filled with Snowy Mountains smoked trout, toasted peanuts, coriander & pennywort. I love the gelatinous texture of these tapioca wrapped dumplings and tip: they're also nice with a little of the duck sauce too.
Crunchy Rice Ball Salad $27
One of the most moreish dishes is the crunchy rice ball salad with halved rice balls with diced crispy pork sausage. I also love the flavour from the tumble of fresh herbs and paper thin squares of grained kombu or kelp on top. Bee says, "One umami ingredient is good but it takes three in synergy inside the mouth to cause a type of layered explosion to occur. This is at the heart of our cooking."
Smoky Southern Crab Curry $37
On my last trip to Thailand we stayed near Phuket where they have their very own cuisine made up of the island's Chinese and Thai influences. One of my favourite curries was Phuket southern yellow curry which you don't often see on menus here. The Paste version is made with premium Australian blue swimmer crab, hummingbird flowers and Thai samphire. It is also a signature dish from Paste Bangkok. This is gutsy, full flavoured curry with a nice punch of shrimp paste flavour. It's also a great curry for people that don't want to pick out the meat from the crab shell too.
Crispy Duck $32
One of my favourite dishes is the crispy duck. It is half a roast duck rubbed with sea salt, star anise and Thai mountain pepper with plenty of citrus and a sweet sauce. It comes with a serve of steamed jasmine rice and is a delightful dish full of crispy textures and sweetness.
Australian Slipper Lobster Noodles in Shellfish Gravy $30
The slipper lobster is served stir-fried and split in half with fresh egg noodles, light soy sauce, chilli and rich pork stock. I love the intense flavours of the shellfish gravy and the tender meat is easy to prise out of the slipper lobster shell. We would have loved some more noodles for the amount of gravy.
Paste Special Crab Fried Rice $20
We both love seafood and there's a choice of crab fried rice or steamed rice. Crab fried rice is a no brainer and it's topped with a generous amount of crab meat on top, plenty of chives and vegetables.
Coconut Noodles $18
It's dessert time and this is one of the desserts I remember having at Paste Bangkok as it was my favourite dessert. There are smoked coconut jelly "noodles", coconut meat, palm sugar sabayon, crispy flaked coconut, lemon basil seeds and dried pineapple. It's light and could almost transport you straight to Thailand with its exquisite range of coconut textures and flavours.
Thai Tea Mousse $19
If you're a big fan of Thai milk tea then try the mousse with crunchy chocolate crumbs and a smooth Thai milk tea bavarois style mousse with strands of young coconut through it. Both Laura and I are huge fans of Thai milk tea and we end up finishing all of this scraping the plate clean.
We look at the time and it's 3pm and time to head home back to Sydney. Bee comes out from the kitchen and surveys the restaurant. She has been surprised at the response, especially during COVID-19. "There are literally hundreds of bookings coming in online per day," she says.
She hopes that with Paste, "It's not just about be loyal to a culture as I'm multicultural in my beliefs, but it takes a very, very long time to create and perfect dishes that stand the test of time and have the ability to truly wow in a culture. My dishes are for the mouth I hope not smoke screens and trickery. Cooking with a vast array of Australian seafood over the coming years is what I'm most excited about now."
So tell me Dear Reader, how long would you drive for a meal? How often do you make your own long weekends? Have you been to Paste Bangkok or Paste Laos?
This meal was independently paid for.
105 Main St, Mittagong NSW 2575
Monday to Wednesday 6–10pm
Thursday to Saturday 12–2:30pm, 6–10pm
https://www.pasteaustralia.com/ Phone: (02) 4872 2277