David Thompson's Chiang Mai larp of chicken comes with a warning. On the menu, the dish is marked "spicy", and they're not kidding. Even if you carefully follow the server's instructions, putting just a small amount of larp on a cabbage leaf, the dish still packs a punch.
As she bites down on her first mouthful, tears spring to my dining companion's eyes, and she hastily grabs a second leaf of cabbage to dilute the flavour.
David Thompson is a man who does not compromise. His unflinching commitment to authenticity has taken him a long way: from Sydney's Darley Street Thai restaurant, one of the city's landmark eateries in the 1990s, all the way to London, where his Nahm became the first Thai restaurant to gain a Michelin star.
After closing that restaurant, he moved to Bangkok to open another Nahm, which was named the best restaurant in Asia in the 2014 S. Pellegrino restaurant awards. Thompson has researched Thai food in such depth that the Thai government has even invited him to lecture on the subject.
[Street food] is more current, more accessible, and being eaten more than ever before. Street food is hybridised cuisine; creole, if you like.David Thompson, Long Chim
All of which explains why Thompson doesn't hold back on the chilli. The chicken larp at Long Chim, his new Perth restaurant, is spicy, because that's the way larp is. The pad thai is served with prawns, because that's how pad thai is. "I won't do it with pork, or vegetables, or chicken, because that's not pad thai," says Thompson.
The very fact that pad thai is on the menu is something of a surprise. Thompson is known for his passion for traditional recipes, drawn from his collection of ancient cookbooks and from his travels around the country, interviewing home cooks.
So what is he doing serving up street food? For it is not just pad thai: Long Chim's menu also lists other grab-and-go favourites such as beef skewers, fish cakes and green chicken curry.
"Thai cuisine has two distinct aspects," Thompson says. "The first is the food of the home, which is a series of dishes that are shared, eaten with rice and served at the same time." That is the food he showcases at Nahm.
And then there is street food. "It is more current, more accessible, and being eaten more than ever before. Street food is hybridised cuisine; creole, if you like. It contains influences including Thai, Chinese, Indian, Malay, Cambodian and Vietnamese" – not to mention plenty of noodles. "I would never serve noodles at Nahm," Thompson says.
It is not just the menu that is different at Long Chim. Even the décor is a contrast to Nahm's pared-back interiors; Thompson describes it as "scruffy". The concrete walls have been painted with colourful murals, while diners sit on simple seats and help themselves to cutlery from a can. There is a bar (patrons are packed shoulder to shoulder), a courtyard (empty on this rainy night) and plenty of diners in the main room.
Perth's State Buildings complex
Long Chim is just one of a clutch of eateries housed in Perth's newly restored State Buildings complex – a spectacular refurbishment that also houses the elegant COMO The Treasury hotel – but it is already one of the most popular.
"It's meant to be fun and easygoing," Thompson says, "laidback like the Bangkok streets. It's not just about food – you can come in for a drink and have a plate of satays."
The cocktails, courtesy of veteran Perth bartender James Connolly, are well matched to the food. The Or Tor Kor Mule, for instance, with its bright flavours of lime juice, Thai bitters, ginger beer and lime-infused vodka, tastes as refreshing as a detox drink. The alcohol-free options are also more-ish, especially That Mandarin Drink, made with mandarin, lemongrass and ginger, and the iced watermelon with lime, chilli salt and palm sugar.
It is the accompaniment to Thompson's flavour-packed dishes, from the punchy grilled cured pork sausage to the superb miang kham, prawns, ginger and toasted coconut wrapped in betel leaf.
Order something familiar, such as a dtom yum soup with snapper, and you will find yourself tasting it as if for the first time, heady with fragrant aromas of lemongrass, lime and turmeric. Balance it out with something unfamiliar such as the charred rice noodles, which hit you between the eyes with their smoky flavours and nuggets of pork, yellow beans and Chinese broccoli.
Leave room for dessert. Durian ice cream is a choice for the brave: thankfully, the smell is less pungent than with the actual fruit, and the delicious flavour is vaguely reminiscent of caramelised mango. If you can resist a plate of banana roti, with its soft banana and crisply brûléed pancake, you are stronger than we are.
This is the second Long Chim outlet – the first is in Singapore – and several more are expected to open before the end of 2016. Unlike Nahm, which Thompson says cannot be delivered anywhere outside Bangkok – "it is so rooted to the land, the plough, the field, the farmers" – this more accessible food can be rolled out everywhere, with Hong Kong and Sydney high on the agenda.
Thompson has more than restaurants on his mind: he is also musing about opening a library and research centre dedicated to Thai cuisine. "There are old Thai cookbooks, collected by connoisseurs and dilettantes, that are mouldering on bookshelves. I'd donate mine and blackmail others into donating theirs, so we could digitise them and collect knowledge about older culinary and agricultural practices."
Any plans beyond that? Thompson's face creases into a smile. "A weekend off."
Virgin Airlines flies to Perth daily from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Its Airbus A330 fleet is equipped with The Business, an international-standard business class featuring fully flat beds. See virginaustralia.com
COMO The Treasury lifts the bar for Australian city hotels, with its immaculate restoration and its five-star service. Rates from $595 per room; see comohotels.com/thetreasury
Ute Junker writer travelled courtesy of Virgin Airlines and COMO The Treasury.
TREASURY TROVE: FIVE MORE
NEW PERTH HOTSPOTS
Long Chim is not the only exciting eatery to visit at the State Buildings. These new hotspots are helping revitalise Perth's dining scene.
The view alone makes this rooftop dining room a destination in its own right; throw in an al fresco deck and Jed Gerrard's clever cooking, and Perth has a new date night favourite. See wildflowerperth.com.au/como-the-treasury
PETITION BEER CORNER
With 18 draft beers on tap, and tasty treats including salt and vinegar chicharrones, this brew bar has been an instant hit. Its in-house siblings, Petition Wine Bar & Merchant and Petition Kitchen, are also worth a visit. See petitionperth.com
SUE LEWIS CHOCOLATIER
Former chef Sue Lewis makes her chocolates by hand. Expect seasonal flavours such as lemon curd, or rose and cardamom in white chocolate. See suelewischocolatier.com.au
Any time is a good time to drop in to this all-day diner, but if you want to start the day right, a breakfast of nut-and-seed toast washed down with green juice is hard to beat. See postperth.com.au
They only do one thing, but they do it well. No prizes for guessing what is served up at the Honeycake: if you have never had this East European treat, expect delicate layers of honey-flavoured pastry and caramel. See thehoneycake.com.au