A Tale of Thai Dining

“Be consistent—people will come back because they like your food, they don’t want it to change. Don’t compromise on quality either. Today’s customers are knowledgeable about food. They’ve travelled and know what to expect. If you cut corners and buy cheaper meat or vegetables, they’ll notice.” ~ Peter Thanissorn

Growing up in the suburbs of Adelaide, South Australia, the most exciting gastronomic experience I can remember came from the chicken shop opposite my school. All the girls catching buses to the Hills would queue for a $2 bag of hot chips to share on the way home. My journey home was a five minute stroll round the corner, so, sadly, sustenance en route wasn’t justifiable. Thus, I became the Bisto kid, following the visible scent of sizzling roast chicken and frying chips. Then, mouth watering, nostrils flaring, watching enviously as the Hills girls boarded their buses, paper bags brimming with crispy chips doused in chicken salt. Which just goes to prove you don’t have to be a starving Dickensian child to lust after food!

Since those bygone days, the original bright yellow chicken shop may have disappeared, but bistros, coffee shops and take-aways have become prolific along the length of Unley Road, and Asian restaurants abound. And opposite the long-gone chicken shop, is, in my humble opinion, the best Thai restaurant in the area.

“Suree’s Thai Kitchen” has been ensconced on the corner of Unley and Commercial roads for many years now. It was originally opened in 1999 by Peter Thanisson and his wife Suree, who is, in fact, Cambodian. Peter (who is Thai) had previously owned ‘The Bangkok’ restaurant in Regent Arcade. Peter arrived in Australia to study architecture, but coming from a family of hoteliers, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to start a restaurant.  ‘The Bangkok’ opened in 1979, becoming the first Thai restaurant in South Australia, and was soon enormously popular – despite the fact that most Aussies back then couldn’t have pointed out Thailand on a map, and authentic Thai ingredients were hard to come by. Peter was soon joined by Cambodian chef, Suree. Twenty years later, Peter and Suree had married and moved out to the burbs, where their new venture, “Suree’s Thai Kitchen,” received a resounding welcome.

In 2004, Sie King Tiong & his partner Wen Zhen Teo – a Chinese Malay couple from Sarawak – also came to Australia to study: King to do an engineering degree; Wen Zhen to do a Master’s degree in Accounting and Finance. As university students, they found part time work at Suree’s. When the couple graduated in 2007, Peter & Suree were keen to pull back, and offered to hand over the restaurant. Like Peter, King and Wen Zhen also decided to jump ship, and the rest is history.

Whenever I am in town, I find my feet – or is it my nostrils? – travelling down the road to Suree’s of their own accord. Unfortunately, due to it’s popularity, spontaneity isn’t always the best policy. Open seven nights a week, and Friday lunchtime, I have rarely been to the restaurant when it wasn’t packed to the rafters, and the staff are kept on their toes from beginning to end of the evening service. Yet, if you have shown up unexpectedly, and there isn’t room at the inn, you can always order a takeaway instead. Or have it delivered.

The food at Suree’s is consistently excellent. This is largely because the same chefs have worked at Suree’s for years. Head chef Suchat Orasri originally worked at the Amarin Hotel in Bangkok. (“Good grief! We used to go there years ago when we lived in Bangkok!”). He started working with Peter & Suree in 2005. And while the staff are inevitably flat out, I always find them polite, smiling, and keen to keep the customers happy.

King and I had an interesting discussion about the menu, and whether Australians are comfortable with authentic Thai cuisine, or if the chefs have had to westernize – or indigenize it – to suit our palates. He laughs and suggests there may have been the odd tweak – lamb, peas, and Moreton bay bugs are possibly not bone fide Thai ingredients – but the Thai dishes generally come from traditional recipes. At least one of the signature dishes, however, and a personal favourite of mine, is one of Wen Zhen’s creations.  This is the sensual, sweet-and-sour dish of lemon & lime prawns. Made with lemongrass, lime leaves and shrimp paste, it is absolutely irresistible.

As we look through the menu, I spot a few dishes from other South East Asian cuisines. The majority are certainly Thai, and the old favourites are all there – larb gai, Pad Thai, Tom Yum Goong and green chicken curry – but there are a couple of Malay offerings, too, and some excellent Vietnamese cold rolls.

As for the wine list, King sees no point in leaving Australian shores to fill his cellar, although I notice he has snuck in a couple of New Zealand offerings. I find a beautiful Cape Barren Chardonnay I haven’t met before and look no further. But if you don’t fancy wine, you can always try a couple of authentic Thai beers.

King suggestss I try the tea & milk ice cream, another “Suree’s” creation. Sadly, that will have to wait till next time, as I am now filled to the brim with a fabulous crispy barramundi in a really hot, spicy red curry sauce. Cheers!

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