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Address: 23 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby
Ph: (09) 360 6262
First you sear the beef short rib, then you marinate it with coconut and other good things, slow cook for some hours and finish it off on a charcoal grill. Sounds simple enough, although I suspect there may be a bit more to it if you aim to reproduce the standout dish we enjoyed at MooChowChow. I say we enjoyed it, because the main appeal of this restaurant is the fun of it, although the food would be worth having even if the place was as dull as a wet Sunday in Wales.
It claims to be inspired by the Bangkok street markets and it does capture that lively, rowdy bustle. I can rarely see the point of the debate over whether food is "authentically" Thai or whatever but the cooking certainly mirrors that characteristically vivid freshness and spice. It lacks only the all-embracing fumes of the passing tuk-tuk but the noise level is pretty impressive.
The food is intended to be shared and there were times I thought we might be sharing our neighbours' dishes such were the close encounters of the food kind. I would advise a certain generosity in ordering to avoid the possibility of ugly scenes over some of the better dishes.
The menu changes frequently and one of our party, a regular here, was initially disappointed that a couple of his preferences had undergone changes. But he was happy enough with the replacements.
I have mentioned the popularity with our group of the beef rib, meltingly tender, spiced and with a rich aftertaste and this dish only just headed off the curried crab with coriander, lime and lemon grass in the favourite stakes. Our other solid component was the caramelised pork hock, not a delicate dish likely to figure in a dieter's repertoire, and one where we all found a little went a long way.
To balance this, we chose the green papaya salad and its blend of cool fruit with bird's eye chilli tomatoes and beans went down well.
The hot and sour salmon was less memorable, although probably very good for our health, but the crispy pork rolls with which we had kicked off were terrific and the pickled vegetables and cucumber were a good counterpoint to the main melodies.
After this the desserts were really a step too far but we felt we ought to give them a run. The tapioca with the unremarkable semifreddos was found to be a little too reminiscent of school dinners and the granita was not stunning. But the frozen lime parfait with a dip of toasted coconut and salt delivered a real jolt.
MooChowChow is apparently proud of its daftly named cocktails, a species of drink that for me is exclusively associated with holidays and Southeast Asian prices, and the Ho Chi Minht, Pingpong long and Club Rangoon did recall a carefree mood on a warm and sticky night. The wine list is impressively long and our choice of the Mure Alsace gewurztraminer stood up admirably to the food flavour onslaught.
The cheerful service matched the demands and the evening ran without a hitch, although one of our servers might have been guessing a bit in response to a wine query.
A Chuck Berry song celebrated how "the place was packed" and "reeling and rocking". Bangkok is a far cry from Berry's St Louis or, indeed, Ponsonby, but it could be Moo Chow Chow's theme song.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $339 for a selection of 11 dishes ranging from $5 to $32, including four desserts. Four cocktails and one bottle of wine.
Wine list: A formidably long list with plenty of choice by the glass. Our Rene Mure
gewurtztraminer was excellent in the Thai context.
Verdict: A noisy, lively place serving distinctive food with style and energy.
Have you been to MooChowChow? What do you think?