BangPop is a brilliant Thai restaurant in South Wharf that recreates the energy and excitement of Bangkok’s hawker stands. A common thread in Melbourne has been the need for authentic Thai. Some establishments serve limp version of Thai dishes that fail to endear. This innovative offering from the brilliant mind of Paul Mathis delivers an authentic taste of Thailand. Like other Mathis inspired restaurants this place is fun.
From the spice-driven menu to the frenetic buzz of the colourful dining room, guests are invited to enjoy a truly immersive experience without having to even think about getting on a plane. I was able to lunch at BangPop 3 days in a row and while I intend to return again soon, here is my review...
Owner and restaurant entrepreneur Paul Mathis explains that, in Thai, the word ‘bang’ means a village situated on a stream, while the ‘pop’ element encapsulates the bold flavours, vibrant colours and larger-than-life personality of this Yarra-side restaurant. Thai's love their colours and BangPop displays the brilliance of purples and greens, and reds and yellows.
With an emphasis on affordable and casual communal dining, the compact menu constantly acknowledges its street food heritage. Hawker stand staples, such as grilled pork neck and chicken spare ribs, have found their way from the food carts of Thailand to Melbourne’s Docklands. For mine, BangPop serves up one of Melbourne's best lunch specials for $15 including main and glass of wine, beer or soft drink.
What I love is that BangPop doesn't "dumb" down authentic dishes to suit the masses. Actually what the masses may well want (I can't speak for them but speculate) is an authentic experience, and that includes the heat in the dishes. BangPop brings the heat and fire, enough to brighten up a grey Melbourne day, but keeps the flavour (heat doesn't kill it).
You can approach BangPop like the Thai street food culture, starting with small plates and say a salad, then moving on to the larger plates...
The Pad Ka Prow Moo is a wonderful dish with wok fried pork with Thai basil, chilli, garlic, and jasmin rice. I've had variations of this dish in the past where the heat has overpowered. But here the balance is right with spice and heat and flavour all predominant, all with perfect rice accompaniment.
It strikes me that although this is street food there's a sense of finery and celebration around this restaurant space and it's cuisine. Head chef Kam McManamey (previously at Geoff Lindsay’s Elwood restaurant, Dandelion) brings a sense of refinement to the street food offerings, while all the time demonstrating a strong understanding of the importance of flavourful dipping sauces and aromatic condiments.
I love the idea of being presented with a bevvy of condiments - allowing me to adjust the balance of the meal. The fact that the waitress explained each condiment to me and its effect, was impressive. I found the balance of all dishes perfect as it was, preferring not to use condiments but to discern where the chef "is coming from" in terms of balance.
BangPop serves up a delightful Pad Thai once again with great balance of spice, heat and fresh ingredients. Having eaten scores of Pad Thai in my culinary life I highly rate the BangPop Pad Thai, served with a choice of chicken as an added ingredient (note the chicken version is more expensive). Presentation is excellent with vibrant texture and colour.
The idea is to squeeze your lime over the dish then mix it up. Here we have crunch of bean sprouts and crisp shallots, large portions of chicken, nuts, garlic chives, chilli, Thai stir fried noodles and sauce, as well as a component of tofu. Fresh and delectable.
The Thai Green Curry is another classic I was eager to sample. BangPop serves up a Green curry of bamboo and tofu with scuds, Thai basil and jasmine rice (I presume you could add chicken). This was about the quality of the curry sauce and the crunch of bamboo and tenderness of tofu. I enjoyed this dish (next time I might add chicken due to habit).
With larger plates and salads designed for sharing, there is also a range of rice, noodle and curry dishes – including Tom Yum Goong (a spicy prawn broth) and Kang Dang Ped (red duck curry) – and a handful of authentic Thai desserts. A daily specials menu provides the opportunity for experimentation and allows the kitchen to flex their culinary muscles with market produce and techniques not normally on the menu.
A highlight was one of the small plates - the Pork neck - so tender and flavoursome with sticky rice. Seared pieces of marinated pork with a tang. The idea is to dip the pork in the bowl of chilli and garlic sauce and eat with the sticky rice. Sensational.
Produce at BangPop is local and seasonal, apart from a few Asian products – such as fish sauce – that is sourced authentically from Thailand.
Overseeing the drinks menu, restaurant manager Hamish Lee offer an affordable, succinct and constantly evolving wine list featuring fruit-driven, aromatic European varietals, such as Gewurztraminer and cool climate Rieslings, complementing the full-bodied flavour of the food. The beer offerings consist of a handful of tried and true Thai beers and a sharp selection of craft beers. There's a crossover from kitchen to bar as ingredients like Kaffir lime leaves, ginger and coconut water infuse the cocktail menu.
Fun, vibrant and fast-paced – BangPop encapsulates the best bits of Bangkok’s frenetic street scene. Just look at the huge projection at the back of the bar to be transported straight to the heart of the city.
Long, wooden communal tables offer a unique style of dining that encourages interaction and, just like Bangkok’s street stalls, sees people from all walks of life coming together to share delicious food.
Boasting possibly the most original fence in Melbourne, the grassed outside area is edged by a colourful border of bicycles. I nearly needed a bike as the rain began to fall upon leaving...
BangPop is a great spot to soak up the riverside atmosphere. Highly recommended.