There might be an official story behind the name Mekong Baby. It’s not made explicit on their website though. My version involves a newborn baby carried down the Mekong River in a bamboo basket. As the child passes through each territory, families who cannot take on another mouth to feed, still take the time to place a small family dish offering into the basket before sending the child on their way. After the child has collected a number of little dishes, it finally comes to shore to a childless couple. The child brings joy and food inspiration, those dishes forming the foundation of a thriving business that takes in weary travellers and feeding them well, before sending them on their way.
So it happened that a band of weary travelers, myself, Mrs P, Mama P and P Sr, took shelter in Mekong Baby on a cold Friday night before heading into town to take in a play a client was starring in. We opted for the casual dining section closer to the bar. They have a pretty good beer selection, and Mrs P’s Miss Saigon cocktail of passion fruit vodka, blood orange, lemon and basil came imbued with the sweet, languid flavours of many a deep red sunset. If you ever wanted to kick back with a drink on a winter’s Friday night and dream of being on a beach in Thailand, this is the drink for you.
Friday was particularly busy at work, so I hadn’t eaten since about 8:30am. I was thoroughly famished, although Mrs P was feeling less so. Flicking through the tempting menu makes it tough to ensure your order appropriately balances the size of your eyes with the size of your stomach. Thankfully we went the conservative route, ordering two items each from the “small beginnings” and “little bigger” section.
Here the food comes out as it’s made, so you have to be prepared to play a little plate Tetris as everything makes its way to the table. First up we got the quail egg dumplings with prawn mince and coconut sambal. Opening with the delicate richness from the quail egg, you’re then drawn into the deep undertow of the coconut sambal. This is too good to share, so do what we did, and order one each.
The pork came next. I’d heard about this pork from another review, and the writer claimed that it was perhaps the finest pork belly they’d ever had. My natural instinct is to scoff at some such assertions as pure hyperbole. Upon reflection, however, I struggle to come up with any example that has been quite so deliciously crispy on the outside, and airily tender on the inside. Stick your fork into a piece for the first time and you could be forgiven for doubting whether there is any meat inside at all. I’ve eaten tofu that’s given my fork more resistance than this. I’m also a fan of how much pork you get. Most pork belly dishes I’ve had in this style have been entrée size. Having a big plate of the stuff is a welcome change.
Soon afterwards the duck nestled at our table. We were told that the spice in the dishes ranges from medium to hot, with the duck curry being on the hot end of the spectrum (along with Mama P’s goat curry, not pictured). In my opinion that medium to hot rating is for the average Ponsonby palate. I took a couple of the whole chillies into my mouth, and what might be too much for some people was more a comforting hum for me. The duck wasn’t as tender as the pork, but considering that the utensils on offer are chopsticks, forks and spoons, the duck was very manageable. As far as comfort goes, this is like laying your head on the softest, gold dust sprayed, duck down pillows, while the chilli purrs in the background like Elvis humming Love Me Tender.
The Vietnamese Pork Rolls were up last, although that means that they came before we’d even gone through half of the duck, so we’d nibble on some as we went. With these we were back to deep and sticky flavours carrying crisp and fresh flavours and textures over the top. I’m not a big fan of cucumber as a general rule, but the elements were so nicely balanced it didn’t matter. My appetite was the last stomach standing, so I also got to sample some of Mama P’s goat curry. If you’re new to goat like I am, this is a great place to start, it was so tender and the curry sauce so full of savour it still tingled on the lips when the curtain raised on the play later that night.
Four people were thoroughly fed and plied with drinks for $295. Not bad, pretty good actually. When you’ve done it hard during the week and you’re looking for a few platefuls of reward, this is your baby.