For those of you who've been in Canberra for a while now, you'll remember that when the Canberra Centre's 'North Quarter' opened up in the early 2000s, it breathed a huge amount of life into Bunda Street and the surrounding area. With the new part of the shopping centre came modern-looking cafes and restaurants with alfresco dining, and a lively atmosphere from the increased foot traffic.
The only problem? While they were in a great location, there seemed to be a few 'filler' restaurants in the area, which offered fairly run-of-the-mill food and didn't quite make the area a food destination. Over time, however, restaurants in the precinct have been phased out to make way for others, and newer places like Wood & Coal (before the water damage), Jamie's Italian, CBD Dumplings and PappaRich appear to be perpetually busy, just like the original trio of Cream Cafe & Bar, Sammy's Kitchen and Koko Black.
When Kinn Thai opened up earlier this year in the space that Wagamama had managed to occupy since the early days, it seemed like the last piece of the puzzle was in place. Their first couple of months of trading attracted a lot of positive reviews and blog posts, people were flocking there, and it appeared that there were finally no more 'fillers' in the North Quarter - and instead, restaurants offering a range of different cuisines in a modern setting, and at the right price point. Huzzah!
Now, going out for Thai isn't usually something I get excited about (unless it's to somewhere that's offering a different take on Thai cuisine like Morks, or dare I say it, Chin Chin in Melbourne). Menus at Thai restaurants are fairly homogenous, with the same range of curries, stir fries and noodles with your choice of chicken, pork or seafood. But I was excited to head to Kinn Thai, since their menu had a few different dishes and I'd heard so many good things about it.
Walking into the restaurant on a Tuesday night, the place is filled with people catching up with friends and family after work. The place looks quite modern, with an exposed ceiling, large patterns on the walls, and black rods at the back of the room creating a semi-private area; and there's plenty of energy in the room from both the wait staff and the diners.
Kinn Thai's menu is split into easy-to-navigate sections: starters, small dishes, Kinn specialties, salads & grills, stir fries, curries, noodles, and rice. There are some interesting sounding dishes such as the massamun lamb shank, chilli jam soft shell crabs and 'crying tiger' salad with wagyu beef, roasted rice and a lime and coriander dressing; and they also have banquet options available ranging from $33-$44pp.
Upon a recommendation from a friend, I'm keen to order the fried chicken wings as an entree - however, the waitress tells us that they've been taken off the menu. HOLD UP. You took chicken wings off the menu? WHY? Everyone loves chicken wings! After countless nights thinking about this, the only reason I can come up with is that the chicken wings were just too damn popular and neither they or the chickens could keep up with the demand. Sad times.
Disappointed but not defeated, we decide that the crispy eggplant with tamarind-vinegar sauce ($12) sounds like a good consolation, and it certainly is - large chunks of eggplant arrive with a crispy battered coating, and drizzled with a sticky sweet and sour sauce. Inside, the eggplant is soft and buttery without being mushy or falling apart - it's perfectly cooked, and once again it's some sort of restaurant eggplant nirvana that I seem to be unable to replicate at home. Guess I'll be coming back for this one.
Our first main is one of Kinn's specialties - crispy barramundi fillet ($25) with sweet soy and Thai herbs. It arrives with a healthy sprinkling of something on top - it looks a bit stringy, kind of like a pork floss, but it's also got a lot of crunch. After sampling it a few times, we figure out that it's deep fried strands of ginger - the cooking process has left behind only a very subtle ginger flavour, making it an interesting (and not overpowering) garnish. The barramundi is meaty and coated in a light, crisp batter, and the rest of the dish is aromatic and vibrant, with the mix of sweet soy, peanuts, chillies, cucumber and capsicum providing a good contrast of flavours and textures.
On the downside, we find our last two dishes to be a little disappointing. The prawn fried rice ($19) can do with a bit of extra flavour and depth (perhaps it needs some more wok hei and seasoning) and it's calling out for a few more prawns. On the plus side, the grains of rice are well cooked and nicely separated.
Lastly, the crispy pork belly pad prik khing ($25) (stir fried with a chilli kaffir lime jam and green beans) doesn't quite have the crunch element that I was hoping for. I was expecting pieces of slow roasted pork belly (with crispy crackling and juicy, tender meat) that had been quickly wok tossed with the other ingredients - but instead, the crackling hasn't quite reached those great heights, the meat isn't as soft as it could be, and the chilli lime jam, while flavoursome, is a bit heavy in texture and eliminates any other hope of crispiness in the dish.
All said and done, Kinn Thai is still a cut above your average Thai restaurant, particularly with its modern fit-out and range of different dishes. It has a great atmosphere inside, service is friendly and attentive, and with a few tweaks to the menu (#bringbackthechickenwings) and execution of some dishes, it'll be a part of the North Quarter for years to come.
125 Bunda Street, Canberra City
(02) 6247 1277
http://kinnrestaurant.com.au/ (it's a chain of restaurants with other locations in NSW, VIC & QLD)