This particular part of the Princes Highway in Tempe always makes me think of what the post zombie apocalypse outer suburbs of Sydney would look like. It isn’t a nice area. Most of the storefronts look like they have been abandoned, and the ones that do have seem to still have some life left in them could seriously do with a good scrub and a lick of paint.
From the outside Baitong Thai is quite nondescript. You could easily drive past without a second thought as it blends in with its surrounds. I have been driving past this joint for the past three years since it opened. Always wondering what this lone establishment amongst not much else was like. After wondering long enough, the car finally pulls up out front instead of driving on by. It’s a good thing we did. The food is fantastic!
Once inside Baitong it is extremely inviting, both the surroundings and the staff. Baitong is the love child of long time Tempe residents Irina and Ash. After years of hoping somebody would open up a restaurant in Tempe, they got sick of waiting and took the plunge.
Irina and Ash have been called silly, stupid, brave, brilliant and clever. I can understand the words stupid and silly in regard to the location. But these words definitely don’t apply to their choice of Head Chef, Pom Gongkam. The name may ring a bell with you, but if it doesn’t, where she has previously worked will, Prasit’s Northside Thai and Pomegranate Thai in Balmain.
The menu is a nice size, not over the top with choice, but there is enough choice to make deciding difficult. The difficulty comes due to the fact it all looks great. Some normal dishes you would find on any Sydney Thai restaurant menu. Then there are some dishes that aren’t so run of the mill and beckon you to try them.
Choor Muang ($11.90) are a house special, steamed dumplings (pictured above) which are purple in colour, or as the menu advises violet. They are filled with minced smoked duck and caramelised peanuts. They are very enjoyable, and its fun to be eating purple food. Though general feeling is a side sauce would have been a nice addition.
Betel leaves are a firm favourite of mine. It really isn’t the betel leaf that I crave, it is what they are topped with, usually a punchy mouthful that explodes in flavour and texture. The Miang Tofu ($8.90) doesn’t let us down. Crisp tofu, cashew nuts, roasted coconut and lemon top two betel leaves, giving each of us double the fun. There is a lovely balance of sweet, sour and crunch.
The salt and pepper squid ($10.90) is meltingly tender. It has been a long while since I have had squid this tender, if at all; I really want to know what their secret is. The batter coating is feather light and crisp, though not as salt and pepper intense as others I have tried.
We choose the Kanom Buang ($12.00) from the specials menu. Mini Thai tacos filled with tofu, coconut, spices, bean sprout and chives. There are some similarities with the Miang Tofu, but we love this Thai spin on Mexican. Actually there isn’t anything Mexican about these tacos, the ‘taco’ is spring roll pastry. They prove a big hit with us all.
Chili pork belly ($19.90) is twice cooked pork belly with green beans in their house made chili sauce. Generous amount of pork and the sauce has a nice heat kick.
I am generally not a fan of prawn curries. They have never appealed to me, but as the Baitong’s prawns ($21.90) are one of their signature dishes and the fact that it is served in a young coconut made me order it. Yes, I am easily won over by dishes served in an out of the ordinary manner. This dish galloped past our expectations. The prawns were perfectly cooked, so tender. The curry sauce was addictive. A light sauce, coconut based, with a little heat and fragrance. With all the prawns and broccoli eaten, I actually was considering taking the sauce home with the left over rice. I didn’t we will just have to come back. This is a must order dish.
I was also impressed with the Beef Randan ($21.90). The beef meltingly tender, just fell apart with your fork, and curry sauce deep in flavour. Even though this is a ‘dry’ curry, there was plenty of sauce to be mopped up with the accompanying roti.
Another dish from the specials menu, Asian fries ($16.90). Crispy fried eggplant and sweet potato served with salted duck egg and spices. As a whole this dish wasn’t a huge success with the table. Not as crispy as anticipated and very salty, but fun to try.
With stomachs exploding and the realization that too many dishes have been ordered the Banana Blossom Salad ($16.90) turns up. Beautifully presented and well balanced in flavour, another signature dish. It is delegated to a plastic container to take home for lunch the next day.
As we had ordered over $50 of food we were entitled to free dish, which was the Grilled Turmeric Chicken. The special is to celebrate Baitong’s third birthday. The chicken joined the banana blossom salad in a container for the journey home as well. It was excellent the next day for lunch.
Irina and Ash’s philosophy is to provide their customers with Thai and Asian cuisine that is modern but still true to its roots. It is plain to see that they have achieved this. When you do pay them a visit, and I truly recommend that you do, make sure to book. For a little restaurant that resides on a neglected part of the Princes Highway it’s extremely popular, and understandably so.
Baitong Thai, 703 Pinces Hwy, Tempe, Sydney
Te: +61 2 8668 4800