Saturday, 7 May 2016

Mak Mak - secret entrance to Thai heaven

I had no idea!  Seriously.

Every morning, I'd been walking through the Landmark on the way to work and had passed Mak Mak thinking that the funky looking little spot was a blend of Thai grocery store and a cafe doing 'take away' coffee in the morning.  On first appearances, Mak Mak is exactly that; a small kiosk like area that served take away drinks.

And it is that, and so much more.

My first experience that there could be so much more to the retro looking replica of a traditional Thai grocery shopfront was having a quick bite to eat with a work colleague.  We had a short window in between meetings, and she suggested a quick bite to eat in a great little Thai restaurant that she knew, right next to our workplace.  Everyone loves good Thai, right?  

As JP took me to the front of Mak Mak, I thought to myself, where the heck are we going to eat lunch?

All was revealed when a secret button was pressed and a wall slowly recessed into the wall and the true nature of Mak Mak was revealed!  Hidden behind the grocery facade was a sixty seat 'Thai residence-style' dining area and it literally blew my mind!

That first experience in the newest restaurant in the prodigious JAI group string of restaurants was enough to get me talking, and it wasn't long before I'd arranged for a visit with the girl.

It wasn't an easy road to take the girl though, with our first attempt together leading to an embarrassing rejection!  It was a Friday night, early, and we'd attempted a walk in.  We'd been all smiles as we asked for a table for two and a quick bite to eat on the way home.  Those smiles quickly turned to frowns as we were told that the restaurant was fully booked and not even pointing out that the restaurant was actually completely empty made a difference.

We walked away more than a little annoyed, but with a resolve to get into the restaurant together at some point; SC was craving some great Thai and Mak Mak certainly fit the bill.

Finally back, and reservation in hand, we hit the secret button and made our way into the Speakeasy style Thai restaurant.  Once inside Mak Mak, you're transported from the ultra modern and super expensive shopping centre that is the Landmark to a contemporary looking Thai restaurant, that is actually a nice blend of tradition and modernity.  The interior is similar to the Grocery store facade in the Landmark, the aqua colour dominant throughout, with neon lights in strategic locations to provide the added grungy feel of urban Thailand.

Mak Mak's menu, which is created by Thailand-born Executive Chef Mumu, reads like a blend between traditional Thai dishes and more modern takes on classic Thai flavours.  We ordered a mix of  appetisers, curries and 'from the wok' and by the time we'd finished ordering, our waiter informed us that we'd probably ordered enough for four!  We thought we had it covered though, and left the order unchanged.

While we waited for our food, our really interesting looking cocktails arrived.  Mak Mak's cocktail menu is short, but filled with great offerings. I was particularly taken with my 'Mak Thai', which came in an oversized lightbulb and looked uber cool.  The girl's 'Thai 1 On' looked a little more contemporary but was super refreshing.

Our first dish to arrive was the 'yum ma muong', a green mango salad with toasted shallot, roasted peanuts and fish sauce caramelised with palm sugar.  Adding some crunch and colour to the salad were tiny little deep fried prawns and of course there was plenty of heat from some red chilli.  There was a wonderful balance between the heat of the chilli and the sweetness of the palm sugar infused fish sauce.  I particularly loved the freshness of the salad, while at the same time the strong flavours that were expertly balanced.  What really made the dish though was the peanuts that were evenly spread throughout.

My favourite dish of the night was the 'gai hor bai toey', little pieces of marinated chicken thigh wrapped in pandan leaf and deep fried and served with a wonderful sweet chilli sauce.  We were given careful instructions not to eat the pandan leaf, so spent a little time unwrapping the tasty chicken.  The effort was well warranted, with the moist and tasty full flavour of the chicken pairing perfectly with the sweet chilli sauce.  My only issue was that there was not more of the dish, it seemed like we wasted an awful lot of the sweet chilli sauce!

We thought we'd love our next round of Thai, which was the 'hor muk salmon', a spicy steamed salmon soufflé in banana leaves with chunks of salmon and a coconut cream dressing.  It was certainly interesting, the soufflé cooked in the banana leaves but there was something about the combination of the spices and salmon soufflé that we didn't like.  It was well cooked, maybe just a little heavy for a soufflé, but my palate just didn't deal well with the spices and even the calming effects of the coconut cream didn't help.  It wasn't a total write off though, the chunks of salmon were fresh and tasty and I managed to devour all of the salmon chunks.

Our first main was the 'massaman lamb' curry, which was quite spectacular looking for a curry!  A large lamb shank dominated the bowl that had a lovely brown, orange colour massaman curry sauce that was filled with potato and seasoned and decorated with star anise.  The lamb was supremely cooked and literally fell off the bone at the lightest of touches.  The sweetness of the lamb was delightful and the mild heat from the curry simply added to the sweetness.  There was a surprising amount of lamb on the shank, which ensured that the dish was probably more than we could consume ourselves, especially considering we still had one main to go.

The 'poo nim pad phong ka ri' completely divided the table, with the girl loving the soft shell crab and yellow curry dish, while I was fairly indifferent.  I'm usually a big fan of yellow curry, it's mild enough for my palate and usually has an amazing flavour.  It was actually the wok-fried and crispy soft shell crab that I wasn't so fond of, manly due to the fact that it had gone a little soggy while we were eating the massaman lamb.  It didn't seem to bother the girl so much, she powered on and ate her way through the dish, including my half!

There was an element of disappointment on the face of our waiter when we decided not to finish off the meal with a coffee or dessert.  We hated to disappoint, especially since he'd been excellent despite the packed restaurant and seeming lack of wait staff to serve all.  The restaurant had very quickly packed out, so I was really forced to retract my thoughts around our first attempt to get a table!  Mak Mak's clearly one of the 'must go' places of the moment.

Executive Chef Mumu has done a great job recreating the classic flavours of Central Thailand, and while not all of the dishes were to my personal tastes, it was all really well prepared and quite authentic.  Chef Mumu has combined her love of Thai cooking with the refined elegance that you expect from a high end restaurant, and one in the exclusive Landmark building.

With a huge menu that we only scratched the surface of and a decent cocktail menu that becomes extra special during the daily happy hour, Mak Mak is a hidden gem that's well worth exploring.

You might just be as surprised as I was!

I really loved the freshness of the green mango salad
Generous serving of the Massaman curry
We ordered too much food!  Bright, colourful and fresh
From Empty
To Full - in no time
Homage to a Thai Grocery Store
But with a feel of Thailand
Mak Mak

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