Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rambutan – a tropical escape

Sydney’s winter is nearing an end, although it may not feel like it just yet. With a few weeks till the official start of spring, I’m doing my very best to make it through.

I don’t like the cooler weather – the need for extra layers and woolly accessories; the inability to wear my Havvies and pretty dresses; the cravings for hearty, fat/carb-loaded food.

Tropical fish downstairs in the tiki lounge at Rambutan, Oxford Street, Paddington
Escaping to any tropical retreat – or indeed, anywhere warm – has been a constant in my mind for the last couple of months. I found temporary respite descending the stairs to Rambutan’s underground tiki bar, armed with a voucher and the usual scarf-coat-gloves combo.

Dr Phil’s Famous Flaming Rum Punch
If the illuminated tanks of tropical fish weren’t enough to send me on a tropical holiday, the tiki cocktails certainly were. Take the impossible-to-not-order ‘Dr Phil’s Famous Flaming Rum Punch’. Presumably named after the cocktail bartender now at Eau de Vie, this was one hell of a drink to watch come together.

Appleton VX rum features in the base drink, but the drama is all in the upturned lime half, which is filled with raw sugar and floated in the tiki glass. A splash of booze and a lick of fire later, the drink is flamin’ on fire – the sugar melting to a caramel that sweetens the punch.

When the blue flame sadly is no more, the remaining drink is a strong reminder that cocktails most certainly can be imbibed in the middle of winter – flames, tropical fish or not.

Coconut and kaffir lime daiquiri carnival
I opt for something a little more summery and fitting of the modern Thai food which we’re about to dine on. Kaffir lime is up there with my favourite scents, and the leaf floating atop this cloudy white cocktail fills the nostrils with the floral, citrusy aroma, although the flavour doesn’t quite reach the tastebuds.

It’s a sweet cocktail, if not a little too much for my tastes, with an overpowering, almost oily flavour of coconut; even over and above that of the usually strong taste of Sagatiba Pure Cachaça.

After a little defrosting in the tiki lounge, we head upstairs to the dining room, precariously balancing our cocktails all the while up. We’re seated at a small table for two aside the large communal table; the space significantly narrower and squishier than I remember from previous visits (although perhaps that’s just the snowman-shaped/dressed me talking).

Miang (betel leaf) with tea smoked trout and grilled chilli eggplant relish
To start, I can never go past the betel leaves, here opting for the smoked trout option. It usually takes me at least a couple of messy mouthfuls to eat the whole thing – but all the more to enjoy it for longer.

Each mouthful is jam-packed a flavour bomb of ingredients – the soft pieces of smoked trout are gorgeous while the eggplant is a bit lost beneath the good hint of chilli and overall sweetness.

Mussels with lemongrass, Thai basil and chilli
The entrée special of this particular evening was mussels – lightly cooked with lemongrass, Thai basil and quite a bit of chilli, it was my favourite of the night. I adored the mussels, which were just cooked and impossibly tender for the mollusc which can be notoriously chewy.

The chilli kick was perfect while some rice would have been good to eat with the sweet, chilli-spiked juices left at the bottom of the bowl. Another round of mussels would also have gone down well.

But it was time for mains, and ambitious ordering of two dishes plus fried rice and a steamed rice portion meant the small table was not going to handle it. Bring out the metal stand that elevated one of the mains above the bowl of rice for some strategic dish juggling.

Pla laht prik - hot, sweet and sour crispy whole barramundi with
bamboo shoot and kaffir lime leaf
I don’t often order whole fish in restaurants (is there anything more embarrassing than choking on a bone?), but was hoping the barramundi wouldn’t have too many small bones. Right I was, and some of the bones were even crisped up to a near edible state.

Lightly battered and fried, the fish was doused in the sauce that was more sweet than hot or sour. The crunchily fried kaffir lime leaves were pretty and added a subtle flavour, and the whole fish became a skeleton not too long into the mains.

Dry red curry, roasted pork belly with snake beans, grachi and holy basil
The pork belly was exactly what I imagined and what I was looking forward to – crackling-topped hunks of fatty pork, smeared with (again, rather sweet) red curry sauce and served with delightful snake beans and more crisped green herbs. This was fabulous with steamed rice and even pretty good the day after as leftovers.

Fried rice with gai lan, cherry tomato and chilli jam
The fried rice was actually nothing too special. There was egg and shallots as you’d expect, with a dollop of chilli jam served alongside for a sweet, chilli touch. This mostly headed into takeaway containers as we'd ordered rather overzealously.

We didn’t linger for desserts although service was efficient and very friendly all night. With the seriously squishy seating and narrow spaces between the tables, the feel inside Rambutan is unsurprisingly intimate although it can also get pretty noisy. They almost look like they have more room in the open kitchen.

Grabbing our takeaway containers, it’s a cold entry back to reality – where, sadly, tropical fish and tiki cocktails don’t float about. Where are you, spring?

Rambutan on Urbanspoon


Keely aka The Richest Girl in Bondi said...

Looks like a great escape from winter there. I've always wanted to try a flaming cocktail (ever since the 'Flamin Moe') so that is definitely on my list! C'mon spring - just a couple of weeks to go! I'm so over coats.

MissPiggy said...

I like the look of that flaming cocktail - like something we had in Fiji. I'm over the winter-jacket weather too...

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Yes where is Spring indeed! We had a taste of it last week but it seems to have turned cold again! :(

john@heneedsfood said...

It's been many years since last eating at Rambutan and by the look of that pork belly red curry I think it's time for a revisit

Dumpling Girl said...

The fish looks great, been a while since I have had a whole fish like that.

sugarpuffi said...

holy crap that flaming rum punch looks too awesome! cant stop staring at it

The Food Mentalist said...

Mmmm pork belly!!!

Tina said...

Hi Keely - A flamin' drink of some sort is just the thing to take your mind off coats!

Hi MissPiggy - It doesn't help with all the pretty spring dresses in shop windows...

Hi Lorraine - It was glorious last week. Less so today... :P

Hi John - Yes, it had been a while between visits for me too :)

Hi Dumpling Girl - The fish was quite an impressive one - just look at it!

Hi sugarpuffi - The flame is rather hypnotic... :)

Hi The Food Mentalist - Australia's favourite cut of meat, you think...? :)

Ramen Raff said...

Me love pork belly! That particular one though looks mouthwatering.

Gotta try them mussels too

Anonymous said...

next time you're here make sure you try out the kingfish, it's amazing :D

Tina said...

Hi Ramen Raff - The mussels were an entree special. Highly recommend them if they're on.

Hi minibites - Hm, sounds interesting... how's it done?


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