Food review: Som Tam Gai

2375 Gold Coast Highway, Mermaid Beach Ph: 0434 034 627

If you have travelled through Asia, the eponymous Som Tam Gai (named after Green Papaya Salad with chicken) will bring back fond memories of Asian street food.

During COVID, founder Dasche Goodwin returned home to the Gold Coast from his job at a fine dining Thai restaurant in Finland to find that jobs were nonexistent. Instead, he decided to open his own restaurant, engaging business partners/chefs Garry Velez and Carlos De Valence to join him.

To Som Tam Gai, Dasche has brought the philosophy and skills he gained during his time with Tomi Björck (Finland’s most celebrated chef) at Farang, Helsinki. From their travels through Asia, Garry and Carlos were both really interested in the concept of a casual restaurant focussing on Southeast Asian street food.

Opening Som Tam Gai on one side of the yurt-like building in front of Poke Poke, Mermaid Beach, the trio of chefs spend long hours each day preparing food from scratch in the kitchen. It’s a very casual restaurant, diners spread around the small dining space and out into an alfresco area that’s perfect at lunchtime and during warmer months.

But the focus really is the food. Som Tam Gai’s dishes all bring the bold, authentic flavours of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia to the table.

It’s food made to be shared, a great idea anyway as you will not want to miss out on anything. Like true street food, the dishes are inexpensive ($30 or less, with many plates in the teens). Skewers, snacks, curries and wok-flashed, we begin by choosing a few dishes and go from there. Alternatively, a short or long banquet will bring you a feast of the chefs’ choice ($49 – $59pp).

Our skewers of Crying Tiger beef pack a punch, especially with the addition of the side of chilli paste. Wrapping the beef in baby cos leaves adds opposing textures, so favoured in street food dishes. Turmeric tiger prawns laced with turmeric, grilled pineapple and herbs boast freshness and flavour. We find it impossible not to lick our fingers as we eat, not wanting to waste a drop of sauce. Asian greens never tasted as good as this, topped with a hat of crispy enoki for balance and crunch.

But it’s the Thai red duck curry with lychees that’s an epiphany. After years of settling for less, this is the depth of flavour we long for, the texture of the curry speaking of seeds and spices ground to paste by hand, and enough punch to bring the full explosion of Thai street flavour to our palates. Superb!

So, what drinks would we pair with this food? Beer of course, and though good wine is available, a Lychee Martini would go well with curry, or maybe even a Chilli Margarita.

We may not be sweating it out in hot Thai nights right now, but Som Tam Gai is the closest we’ve come to the real flavours of Asian street food in a long time, all without going far or busting out too many bucks. What a treasure! We can’t wait to go back and dine there again.

Follow Marj @foodgoldcoast.

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