If you've ever been to Chinatown, chances are you've probably walked past Tawandang although you might not have noticed it. It was pretty hard to miss for myself, as my bus stop was right across from the restaurant when it opened, but otherwise you'd be forgiven for thinking it was just your average Thai restaurant. It's not until you read their menu and realise that it's so typical afterall- offering not only some more traditional Thai dishes, but also their almost signature dish of German Pork Knuckle. How's that for something different?
According to their own description, the German component of the restaurant comes from the fact that they are no only a restaurant, but also the first Thai - German micro-brewery in Thailand. I'm not too big on beers so no comment on the drinks, but the food alone is well worth the visit.
We walked past their newly opened Chatswood branch a week ago and would almost have missed it were it not for their big 3rd anniversary banner with their 50% off their pork knuckle dish offer. I was immediately sold and we wasted no time in making a booking.....two consecutive days in a row!
Going by the restaurant's history, which makes up the first spread of their menu, the restaurant has been quite successful not only in Thailand, but also with its branches in Singapore and now two in Sydney. Whilst the Chatswood branch is not nearly as large as their Thailand branches (which apparently seat 2000+ diners!), but it does span across two levels and is much larger than it first appears. Make sure you ask for a seat upstairs, as it's a lot more spacious and comfy!
The decor is tasteful, even if a little mismatched- there's sofas replacing seats on some tables, wooden chairs and cushions on others and green lounge chairs next to those. There flower vases on some tables, or candles for the tables in the darker corners of the restaurant. It's quirky and we love how it's not quite like your typical Thai restaurant.
Service is quick and efficient and the only thing that's really slowing us down is the time it takes to make our way through the dizzying array of dishes on both their regular and lunch specials menu. Before we even get a chance to make ourselves comfortable, the pork knuckle swiftly arrives on our table. So quick infact, that even our drinks had yet to arrive!
Ka Moo Tod |Deep Fried Pork Knuckle ($27.50)
And boy were we ready to dig in! Whereas a traditional German pork knuckle would be roasted until the skin is crackly, this on is deep fried to guarantee the crispiest outer skin layer, and even the meat on the outside is crispy! Once you get past the outer layer, there's plenty of meat inside and it's so meltingly tender, you won't need a knife at all.
Coconut Juice Blend ($7.50)
The drinks menu is quite exciting too, and we love that they offer an all-you-can-drink option which includes Thai teas/coffees for only $5.50.
For a little extra, and although not all-you-can-drink, I'd definitely recommend trying the coconut juice blend, which is a mix of frozen coconut water blitzed with the coconut meat then poured back into the coconut. This makes for a sweeter and more refreshing drink that coconut water and is so good you won't want to stop at one.
The lunch specials are excellent value- for $10.50, you not only get a choice of a main, but also a drink and a small side as well! There are four options for sides and they come in a super cute one piece servings.
Green Curry ($10.50 lunch special)
The lunch special meals come in a surprisingly decent portion, with plenty of rice to mop up the curry sauces, and is perfect for sharing. The green curry is more of the soupy type, with a generous serving of chicken and handful of Thai eggplants. We were hoping for a little more veggies but that aside, the curry is a winner- we love the complexity of the spices, and so much so that we do not notice the heat until we've had a little too much!
Panang Moo ($10.50 lunch special)
We're a little hesitant to try the Panang Curry after our experience with the green, as the heat of the Green Curry still lingers on our tongues. The fiery red colour gives us the impression that it might be spicier, so we're quite relieved to find it's actually milder than the green curry. It's a tad sweeter, although the heat does build up. The Panang curry is served with pork rather than chicken, which seems to work quite well with the creamy Panang sauce.
Hoy Tod |Green Mussel Omelet ($18.50)
The green mussel omelet is Tawandang's take on the Thai oyster omelet, substituting oyster for mussels to make it not only less fishy in taste, but also more economical, given the ever changing price of oysters in Sydney.
There's a generous serving of mussels in the omelet, you there's no need to pick around for them, but we make sure we start on the edge of the omelet, which are satisfyingly crispy. It's not often that we find this type of omelet in Sydney and it's definitely our favourite so far, so we're quite disappointed to find out that it's only offered during dinner service.
Nam Tok Moo | Roast Pork Salad
Because we weren't able to order the omelet for lunch, we settle for a salad instead and are glad we decided to try the roast pork salad. Served with some raw beans, mint leaves and cabbage sitting alongside the pile of pork, it looks like quite a small serve until you mix the ingredients together and the salad magically fills the whole plate. We love the the textural contrast between the tender pork slices and the crunchy cabbage and beans, the dressing adding some spice and sweetness to the mix.
Sticky Rice with Mango ($8.90)
And whilst we're here, we can't go past the photogenic looking desserts, and though we're tempted by the beautiful pastel colours in the coconut milk based desserts we thought we'd go with the sticky rice and mango whilst it was still in season. Chewy sticky rice splashed with coconut milk served along-side the sweetest mango I've had this time of the year- what's not to love?