Sunday, 18 September 2011

Restaurant Review: Lemongrass

Location: 176 Lygon St, Carlton
Phone: (03) 9662 2244
Cuisine: Thai
Overall Impression: 5/10

Ying Thai 2 is one of my favourite Thai restaurants. It is incredibly well priced and has the best coconut rice I have tasted in Melbourne. Every dish you order at Ying Thai 2 is always served in generous portions and every dish packs a punch in terms of flavour. The food is rough around the edges but delicious.
Ying Thai 2 on Urbanspoon

We found ourselves on Lygon Street last Saturday but resisted the urge to re-visit Ying Thai 2 when we saw Lemongrass right next to where we had parked our car. Written boldly across the exterior of the restaurant are the words “Royal Thai Cuisine”. In Thailand this basically means food that was once served only to Royals. In Melbourne, I’m not sure exactly what this means. I don’t believe any restaurant can truly live up to such a bold proclamation. Royal Thai cuisine has high standards. Firstly, only the freshest and best ingredients can be used. There will never be any bones in any of the meat or fish. Even if the fish is served as a whole, historically, it would be carefully de-boned with tweezers before being served. The flavours of every dish have to be perfectly balanced. In contrast to Thai street food that is deliciously smacked full of spice leaving you breathless with sweat dripping down your forehead, Royal Thai cuisine is balanced. Nothing is supposed to be too spicy, too sour, too salty or too sweet. There is also great attention to detail, in the preparation and presentation of food. The dishes also have to be served in a certain manner in terms of placement on the table and when and how they are served.
Needless to say, Lemongrass did not abide by these high standards. It is also notable that scattered throughout the menu are various Malaysian and Singaporean dishes whose presence on the menu certainly does not help the legitimacy of Lemongrass’ “Thai Royal Cuisine” claim.
The “Royal Thai Cuisine” label also meant inflated prices that were not justified.
The following are pictures from Lemongrass for your viewing pleasure:
Mieng Kham / Betel Leaf Tidbits
Platter - Traditional do-it-yourself tidbits of fresh garlic, ginger, lime, pomelo, peanuts, toasted coconut, longan, etc, wrapped in betel leaves and accompanied with a savoury-sweet sauce. Centuries-old recipe.

As you can see, the term “platter” was hardly an appropriate description for this dish. Perhaps ‘plate’ would have been less misrepresentative. Sufficient for at most, one person’s entrée, the portion size was very disappointing. It was however, the best dish of the night. The mixture of the numerous elements wrapped up within the betel leaf created a magical flavour combination that transported me straight to Thailand.
Gaeng Keow Wahn/Green Curry
Our version of the famous green curry as made by Mentor Boonchoo and still made by her daughter and granddaughters today. Cooked with Peppers, asian snake bean and Thai eggplant
Stir fry seafood
Gaeng Ped/Red Curry (beef)
Our handmade red curry with peppers, snake bean and Thai eggplant
coconut rice
Lemongrass is let down by its claims to be serving “Royal Thai Cuisine” and its inflated prices for what is available elsewhere at lower cost. That is not to say that our experience of Lemongrass was a negative one. The service was attentive and the ambience pleasant. Each dish was good, just not particularly special. The presentation of the dishes, much like the flavours, is conventional.
At the end of the day, you are paying for the ambience and the service. But when presented with a choice between Lemongrass and the not so royal Ying Thai 2 just down the road, I will choose Ying Thai 2 every time.
Lemongrass on Urbanspoon

Note: Ying Thai 2 in Carlton is distinct from Ying Thai in Richmond. I visited Ying Thai in Richmond and was surprised at the difference in the quality and standard of the offerings. It was a far cry from Ying Thai 2. The food was very disappointing.

Ying Thai on Urbanspoon

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