Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sumalee, by private invitation, Bentleigh by Big Fil

While it’s good to go and check out the signature eateries in different parts of town, sometimes it’s nice to check out local favourites closer to home. I’d had my eye on Sumalee for some time now, conveniently located midway between Snooze and me and just a shortish drive from Bureaucrat’s place too. Consequently while we don’t usually accept free offers of places to try I was quite excited when an invitation arrived to come pay a visit.

The restaurant itself is small, eight tables from memory, but quite colourful with one very bright red painted feature wall. It’s also obviously popular with locals with every table carrying a reservation name tag. This did lead to a bit of noise later in the evening which meant we had to lean towards each other to talk, not a huge issue for us but something which may not make it suitable for that intimate date where you want to feel like the only ones there.

To enable us to sample as many of the dishes as possible we were served slightly smaller than normal versions of the dishes. First up was the Sumalee ‘Signatures’ entree. This comprises taste size servings of three different entrees, the Thai Arancini (fried rice balls stuffed with pork mince, ginger, kaffir lime and grounded toasted rice), the Golden Prawns (crumbed prawns served with a mint yoghurt and orange ginger caramel dipping sauce) and the Prawn Plaza (marinated prawn with a lemon and chill dressing served on top of a rice cracker). We were informed the recommended way to eat these is the Golden Prawns first, followed by the Prawn Plaza and then the arancini, a sensible approach reflecting the growing strength of the different flavours. I found the Golden Prawns the least interesting of the three entrees, mainly because they were so familiar. The arancini and particularly the Prawn Plaza would be my choices for a return visit, both providing a punchier flavour with the Prawn Plaza utilising delicate little balls made out of balsamic vinegar. Bureaucrat especially liked the arancini with its toasted ground rice which gave it an aromatic and crunchy texture.

Sumalee tries to be provide authentic Thai flavours while acknowledging that some of its guests may prefer a more chilli-lite experience (including Snooze and Bureaucrat). Consequently in what was common to many of the dishes our Green Papaya Salad had a nice citric punch to it without the accompanying chilli burn. Light and refreshing, a good way to get the taste buds tingling for the dishes to follow. This was Bureaucrat’s favourite dish as the salad was very zingy and delightfully tart, while the very creamy coconut rice gave a nice balance to the dish.

Next dish up was the Pad Thai, wok fried noodles served in an egg net. This was the one dish which we probably agreed least on. Snooze was a big fan, liking the flavour and loving the presentation, and Bureaucrat liked opening up the egg net and seeing the impressive cloud of steam waft out from the noodles. On the other hand I found the flavours a little toned down after the salad and possibly would have liked it more if served in the reversed order. One dish that Bureaucrat commented favourably on was the Lemon Lime fish. While Sumalee may have turned down the heat they certainly didn’t tone down the other flavours. The dressing with the fish gave it a nice refreshing sourness very different to some other suburban Thai restaurants I’ve tried, that often served unbalanced overly sweet food.

The last two mains were the ones I was most looking forward to, the Crispy Caramel Pork Belly and the Massaman Lamb Curry. The pork belly is served accompanied by small seared scallops – a good flavour combination – sitting on a small green stir fry and topped with a few green leaves, presumably to help with the fattiness of the pork. The skin of the pork is crisp but a little different to crackling, with more of the moisture of the meat retained it provides a textural contrast but not the snap of crackling. The meat was tender to the extent that it was easier to pull apart than to cut, and not overly fatty as pork belly can be. Just a really nice dish.

The Massaman curry did leave me a little disappointed though. While the lamb shank was tender and the sauce warm and comforting, I found the flavour a little bland and simple with the underlying flavours of the spices not really coming through. Snooze was in my camp but Bureaucrat on the other hand was all in favour of a big bowl of the sauce combined with the accompanying roti as a great eating at home meal. Guess it just goes to confirm that everyone’s tastes are just that little bit different.

By this stage we were fairly full but determined to try the two desserts on the menu. While the menu lists a pandan panna cotta, the panna cotta apparently changes and the version on the night was a Thai tea version, served with a berry coulis, cream and crushed nuts. While I had been looked forward to the pandan version very much I did like the delicate flavour of this dish, which I felt made a nice contrast to finish the meal compared to the much stronger flavoured dishes which had proceeded it. A quick taste of Bureaucrat’s waffles with spiced pear, vanilla mascarpone and candied walnuts confirmed that this was also a tasty dessert, although I preferred my panna cotta.

Thanks to Paul and the team at Sumalee for the invitation and friendly service. Sumalee represents just want you want in your local Thai restaurant, good food and service at reasonable prices, From what we saw it had been taken to heart by the local community, being fully booked out on a cold Winter’s night when most of the other nearby restaurants were near empty, and we could all easily see why. Sometimes we don’t take up offers to try different cafes or restaurants because it may not be representative of most people’s visit, but we couldn’t pick any fault with the way any of our fellow diners were treated (and we did keep an eye open for that).

Our review of Sumalee did raise some questions around how we score different eateries. Our scores are obviously subjective and it’s fair to say that not all scores are equal. For example, we tend to group restaurants according to price and ambition. A score between two cheap and cheerful places is obviously comparable, whereas somewhere else aiming for and priced at the top end of the market would not receive the same score for the same quality of food. That’s just how we score, trying to compare like with like. And our assessment of Sumalee? At the lower end of the mid-range market on price but certainly not on quality.

Food – 7.5
Service – 8
Ambience – 6.5 (noise)
Price – 7.5 (Nominal - based on the quality and size of serves at other tables/menu price)

264 Centre Road
Bentleigh VIC 3204
Tel: 03 9557 1635

Sumalee Cafe & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

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