Have I been living under a rock or something?…As I only first heard about Kensington Street at the beginning of this week, and after further investigation I cleared all of our previous weekend dining plans to check out this new entertainment district in the city!
Located just before the Central Park shopping centre opposite UTS (when walking down George St away from the city) is a pedestrianised walkway filled with restaurants and shops, firstly with the reconfigured ‘Old Rum Store’, followed by ‘Spice Alley’ a curving narrow street with eatery and alfresco dining on both sides (picture an outdoor food court), before looping back around to Kensington St East and West sides. We completed the loop, poking our heads into a few stores before deciding on Mekong, located on the upper floor (East side) above Viet.
Welcomed by the sounds of the chefs grinding up spices in a stone mortar and pestle, and the melody of a top 50 pop-music track, I think the first impression perfectly captured the East-West fusion vibe Mekong is aiming for.
Studying the menu, you know it’s going to be a unique experience when nothing on it was stock-standard or typical (so we didn’t really know what to expect), and seeing the prices next to the dishes it was also going to be a bit on the pricier side, for example an average entree was the same price as a main down in Spice Alley. We ended up ordering the Mekong entree sharing plate (which was made up of half of the entrees on the menu). And we ended up only choosing one main to go with our $30 entree plate.
When we placed our order the friendly waiter was prepared to offer his assistance, as perhaps the menu could have been a little more descriptive than just listing out the ingredients of the dish. But he seemed pleased with our choices, and we waited with anticipation as we took in the interior and table setting; the cutlery was modern and up-market and the proper linen napkin easily scored a 5-out-of-5 stars on the napkin test. The walls were painted in a textured green finish, and the other fixtures of bamboo pillars, large green leafy pot plants, and dark wooden floors collectively gave off a jungle vibe. The simple wooden chairs reminded me of the original Mekong restaurant from the 80’s which used to be located in Bondi Junction (but I’m sure there is no linkage between the old and the current name-sake restaurants).
When the food arrived, the fragrance of the food wafted up to meet us. Yum! The shared plate had:
Pork belly wrapped in Betel leaf- picture a tiny dark-green spring-roll filled with mince pork (hard to tell if it was really pork belly).
Soft shell crab taco- a canapé sized mouthful of shredded fresh coconut, inside of a paper thin fold of crispy shell (hard to taste the crab though).
Steamed scallop served on its shell with various greens/herbs/spices, a spicy tangy sauce, and slithers of young coconut (although the toppings overshadowed the smallish piece of scallop)
And last of the entree quartet was the crispy seafood crape which was pan-fried to a smoky crisp on one side, while still a little bit chewy (a good chewy) on the other. The crepe was the most substantial of the four, with 2 prawns each and a nice spicy sauce to drizzle on top.
All in all, all of the tastes and flavours were added with thought to maximise the affect in your mouth and I think Mekong should be categorised as a ‘Fine dining’ restaurant, not what it is currently classified as (Casual dining), as with the attention to detail and the price, there is nothing casual about this place.
And being a fine establishment like it is, the waiter waited until he collected our entrée plates before indicating to the kitchen to start preparing our single main dish. By this time we were already evaluating the meal thus far, and we had agreed on 4.5, the main could lift the meal to a 5, if it surpassed the high bar from the entrée.
Our main was smoked duck which was served in a sweet-tangy broth. And it was a little bit disappointing, as the totality of duck we received for a main size portion was only one duck leg, to be shared between two. I’m not sure how you’d manage it if you had a few more people to dinner, I guess you’d need to order two plates (at $28 each), or literally have a bite each?
Any smoky flavour from the cooking process was unfortunately lost on the duck and the crispy skin was soggy due to being served in broth. Don’t get me wrong, the broth was tasty as it had a complex taste signature which was sweet and tart from the cinnamon stick and the cumquat, but the interesting flavours also masked the star of the dish. Duck me! What a shame!
And after I was chasing around every last grain of rice on my plate, as I was still hungry after $65 for two (including a side of rice, and tips), I guess I left a little dissatisfied. Definitely the food was great! But I wished there was more of it, considering you’re paying top dollar. But yeah, the main did help them to maintain their 4.5, but we won’t be back any time soon, as I think we already tried the most interesting dishes on their menu, and there are so many more restaurants to try at Kensington Street, than to justify coming back to the same place twice.
Mekong- Saturday 1 September.
PH: (02) 9282 9079
Upper Level, 14 Kensington Street, Chippendale NSW
Mon-Fri 6pm – 10pm
Sat-Sun 12 noon – 3pm, 6pm – 10pm