Michael and I were recently invited to Ayatana – a popular restaurant on Chapel Street that marks itself as a Modern Thai and Wine Bar. I’ve been impressed with the improvement in eateries along Chapel Street in recent years. Not only was the food at Ayatana delicious, but the atmosphere vibrant, and, better still, the menu fully catered to the discerning vegetarian.
Michael: Tony, the owner, started the restaurant 14 months ago. Judging by the number of diners it seems the word has spread that he has put together a pretty good package.
Elisa: The first thing I noticed upon entering was the delicious scents of coconut and tamarind wafting from the kitchen. There was no Phad Thai – forcing me to move away from my default order. I smiled as I opened to the “Veggie” page of the menu.
Michael: The restaurant was quite full (surprising for a wintery Tuesday night) and there was a bubbly hum from the diners. The décor had strong contrasting colours of red, black and white. This would suggest a hectic ambience, but it did feel like walking into a sea of tranquillity. The calm ambience was created by the low light and the serenity of the welcoming and smiling staff. Even when the restaurant filled up with two big parties the two waitresses quietly and efficiently went about taking and delivering orders with a smile and reassuring grace.
Elisa: For wine, I ordered the Oakrigde Chardonnay. It was a pleasant wine but did not hold up against the chili – taking on a more metallic taste.
Michael: The attention to detail has been important in creating an appealing restaurant: not many wines by the glass, but all well-chosen (I had a Ten Minutes by Tractor Pinot Noir); I did notice that the waiters were vacuum sealing the wines after each pour; BYO wine is allowed; the stemware is a cut above the average.
Elisa: Michael’s wine held up to the food better than mine, its flavours were of raspberries and musk.
To begin we had the recommended ‘Sweet Crunchy Toasted Tamarind Rice’. This dish is part of the standard, rather than ‘Veggie’ menu but is popular and can be made vegetarian by missing fish sauce. This dish was made with crispy noodles, chili, cashew nuts, red onion, sprouts and bean shoots. It was very much like a papaya salad – flavourful – hot, tangy and also slightly sweet. The noodles were very crisp (a sign of freshness), the dish invigorating balanced by the salad leaves and bean shoots.
Michael: The dishes are reasonably well priced and generous in proportions; the presentation of the food is done with great care; the ingredients are very fresh and high quality.
Elisa: For main we shared the tofu and mushrooms. The wild ginger filled our olfactories, it appeared in a Japanese style with a light sauce and spring onions. Beautifully silken tofu was cut in large chunks so that its taste was still discovered beyond the sauce of soy. This dish also contained cauliflower and broccoli, bean shoots and sprouts, and fresh coriander (no chilli). The sauce was like a salty soup.
Very nice food. Michael’s wine complemented this one.
Michael: The menu is not extensive but the dishes on offer are interesting, driven by flavour (rather than heat) and are innovative while maintaining authenticity.
Elisa: As a side we enjoyed egg that had been boiled then fried in tamarind giving it a tasty, crisp coating. This was served with fried garlic, salad leaves and a tamarind dressing. I took pleasure in the textures with the crunch of the fried garlic, fresh salad, juicy sauce mushy egg yolk and firm white. The flavours here were strongly of garlic and tamarind.
We also enjoyed the red curry made with jap pumpkin, sweet potato and tofu. This was prettily garnished with a sprig of Thai basil. Its sauce was bright orange, matching the sweet potato. The thin curry was flavoured heavily with kaffir lime, a bit of chilli and a hint of anise. It was not the veggies but the more-ish sauce that made this dish. Michael’s wine lost its richness against the curry.
Michael: I didn’t really need to have dessert, but felt the need to finish with something sweet. We decided to share the caramelised steamed banana. This was substantial so the sharing was a good idea. The dish had four pieces of steamed banana surrounded by a sweet caramel sauce. It was accompanied by caramelised macadamia nuts and a creamy vanilla ice-cream. The individual parts came together to provide an array of complementary flavours and textures: the whole was certainly bigger than the individual parts.
Elisa: I really loved this one too. It was attractively presented with the star anise and cinnamon. The bananas had been steamed till soft and then caramelised. The vanilla bean ice-cream was powdering on the tongue and at the base was a sublime palm sugar caramel. The warm macadamias were buttery and coated in toffee. A mouthful with all three gave me cold teeth from the ice-cream as I bit through the others. As the ice-cream melted, it became like a creme anglaise with warm banana.
Ayatana is open for dinner every night and for lunch Thursday to Saturday. It is best to book - we were dining on a Tuesday and surprised to find it full with others being turned away.
97 Chapel St
03 9533 8813