Review: Mekong Baby, Ponsonby

By Nici Wickes

Address: 260 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby
Phone: (09) 360 1113
Cuisine: Modern Asian
Rating: 8/10

Interior detail of restaurant Mekong Baby in Ponsonby and the Crab Betel Nut Leaves currently on the menu. Photo / Babiche Martens
Interior detail of restaurant Mekong Baby in Ponsonby and the Crab Betel Nut Leaves currently on the menu. Photo / Babiche Martens

When a trend takes hold, it seems we can't get enough of it.

Eateries dishing up upmarket, modernised versions of cheap Asian street and market food are popping up everywhere. And it's great to have an alternative to the too-long, numbered menus, the plates of bland stir-fried everything we've gotten used to. I'm also over gourmet pizza joints, so how fantastic it was when one such stalwart, GPK on Ponsonby Rd, rebranded to become Mekong Baby, a food house set to serve up their take on the flavours you'd find if you took a trip on the mighty Mekong river as it wends its way from China, through Myanmar and Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

But before the food at Mekong Baby got a chance to drive me wild, its phone service drove me crazy. I never managed to get connected to anyone over the course of a week of calling. That's an indication of what? Systems that aren't. So we chanced it and turned up. It was full. But a quick drink at the bar filled in time until a space became available, which saw us happily ensconced at a high table under the stairs. We ordered a bunch of dishes and the food came quickly.

It also came in an annoyingly random order. Warning us that the kitchen "will send them out as they come" doesn't make it right.

But the food is splendid. The chilli caramel of the pork belly has a kick that can't be ignored, the crispy rice flour crepe is a dream with its frilly fried edges and overflowing filling of soft mushrooms and crispy tempeh, and betel leaves topped with sweet crab meat with kaffir lime and chilli are gorgeous mouthfuls.

Prawn cakes are scrumptious, though nothing like their springy Thai cousins. Here, chunks of fresh prawn are mixed through a batter and fried until they're puffy and golden and a dipping sauce has all the key elements - sweet, salty, hot and slightly sour.

One of the lightest dishes on the menu is divinely refreshing; thin slices of raw kingfish, drizzled with a coconut and basil dressing spiked with green nam jim. But my favourite dish of the night was the pad see ew - wide flat rice noodle rolls so tender they were pure comfort food, served with skirt steak and Chinese broccoli, sweet dark soy sauce and fish sauce, the whole lot flash fried in a wok so fiercely hot that you could taste that the flames had licked the food. Mekong Baby has food I would happily return for, despite the slightly shoddy and disorganised service. Heck, there aren't many niceties exchanged in a Bangkok night market or getting lunch from a Vietnamese street cart and I never complain.

It's the food that counts.

From the menu: Crab betel leaves $6 each, Prawn cakes $8, Kingfish sashimi $16, Vietnamese Spring rolls $14, Fire Chicken $24, Pad see ew $24, Pork belly $26, Green papaya salad $16, roti $5, Coconut sago $12, Lime-papaya meringue pie $12
Drinks: Fully licensed

- VIVA

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