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Saturday, February 07, 2015

Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai Asian Grocer, Sydney

Thai sandwiches and salads at Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai, Sydney

Let's face it. Jarern Chai is unlike any Asian grocery Sydney has seen. Plate glass windows. Subway tiles. Chic typography. It looks more like the layout of a modern Italian provedore. Say hello to the newest business venture by the folk behind Chat Thai, a chic place to pick up Thai groceries and elusive herbs, chillies and tropical fruits. Even better news. It comes with Boon Cafe, a small Isaan specialist restaurant that offers Single Origin coffee and Penny Four pastries. Food worlds just collided in a mash-up of gustatory bliss.

Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai, Sydney
Boon Cafe 

Coffee counter at Boon Cafe, Jarern Chai, Sydney
Oversized light fittings over the cafe counter

It's hard not to gush over the set-up here. There's plenty of natural light, splashes of colours and carefully arranged vases of fresh flowers throughout the space. You would never have guessed this was a hardware store only a few years back.

Boon Cafe seating at Jarern Chai, Sydney
Boon Cafe seating

There's not a great deal of seating and even though Boon Cafe only opened a week ago, the place has already generated early buzz. Its striking facade brings in a constant stream of curious passersby. They've committed to serious hours here too. The cafe is open from 7am until midnight seven days a week.

Larb padt pork larb sandwich by Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai, Sydney
Larb padt sandwich $12
Northern region stir fried spicy minced pork, grilled chicken liver, soft herb and pickled cabbage salad

The lunch menu promises to mix up Thai flavours in ways not seen before. That means offering up pork mince larb padt in a sandwich, a concept that seems ridiculous at first but makes perfect sense the more you think about it.

There's no compromise on the larb, a jumble of heavily seasoned pork mince jammed between two weighty slices of Brickfields sourdough bread slathered with organic Gympie cultured butter. A slew of pickles, cabbage, cucumber and carrot is pepped up with fresh mint and Thai basil leaves. It reminds me of a Thai version of banh mi.

Nahm prik makuda smoked eggplant relish sandwich by Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai, Sydney
Nahm prik makua $11
Northern region smoked eggplant relish, soft-boiled egg, soft herb and pickled cabbage salad

The nahm prik makua with smoked eggplant relish has a feisty kick of chilli. They use the same cabbage salad with herbs with the bonus of a soft-boiled egg. The lightly toasted sourdough requires a good set of choppers around the crust, but the sturdiness is exactly what you need to adequately house its party-going tenants.

If sandwiches aren't your style, you can opt for the rice bowl. There are seven types of sandwiches on the menu (available 11am-4pm) that include grilled chicken with roasted cashew butter and fried fermented pork and rice cakes.

Cold rice noodles with fired crab and prawn cake by Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai, Sydney
Cold rice noodles with fried crab and prawn cake $18

They'e mixing things up with noodles too, serving fusilli with Thai pork sausages, spaghettini with crab and egg noodles with chicken mince and thousand year eggs. Cold rice noodles come with fried crab and prawn cake or fried fermented pork and rice cake.

Tossing the rice noodle salad at Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai, Sydney
Tossing the cold rice noodles with the salad

The crab and prawn cake is more delicate than it looks, a cloud of fluffy sweetness rolled in panko crumbs and deep-fried. There's a terrific zing from the Thai basil and mint in the noodle salad.

Penny Fours pastries and Brickfields sourdough at Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai, Sydney
Pastries by Penny Fours and sourdough bread from Brickfields 

Jarern Chai Asian Grocer, Sydney
Jarern Chai Asian Grocer

I'm used to squeezing my way through narrow aisles jam-packed with noodles, tea and treacherously stacked crockery but it's a bit of treat to wander through Jarern Chai, easily done pre- or post-meal.

Vegetables at Jarern Chai Asian Grocer, Sydney
Potatoes, onions, garlic and Thai pumpkins

Wooden crates lined with hessian are used to showcase some of the produce. There's an incredible range of products available, including fresh tumeric, pomelos and longans.

Fresh turmeric at Jarern Chai Asian Grocer, Sydney
Fresh turmeric

Fresh longans at Jarern Chai Asian Grocer, Sydney
Fresh longans

Metal tiffins at Jarern Chai Asian Grocer, Sydney

The grocery aisles include all kinds of kitchenware, including traditional metal tiffins, enamel cups and mesh strainers.

Mesh strainers at Jarern Chai Asian Grocer, Sydney
Mesh strainers

Fresh flowers at Jarern Chai Asian Grocer, Sydney
Fresh flowers at the entrance to the walk-in cooler

At the front of the shop you'll find a separate door to the walk-in cooler. It's a treasure trove of lucrative produce that includes everything from paradise pears to betel leaves to fresh bamboo shoots.

Thai chillies at Jarern Chai Asian Grocer, Sydney
Thai chillies

Yellow dragonfruit at Jarern Chai Asian Grocer, Sydney
Yellow dragon fruit

Betel leaves at Jarern Chai Asian Grocer, Sydney
Betel leaves

Banana bells and banana leaves at Jarern Chai Asian Grocer, Sydney
Banana bells and banana leaves

Thai eggplants at Jarern Chai Asian Grocer, Sydney
Thai eggplants

Fresh bamboo shoots at Jarern Chai Asian Grocer, Sydney
Fresh bamboo shoots

Basement kitchen of Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai, Sydney
View into the basement kitchen

At dinner time, the menu switches over to classic Isaan dishes broken up into grilled, soups & curries, warm salads, rice & noodles and som dtum.

Sai ouah pork sausage by Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai, Sydney
Sai ouah pork, herb and chilli sausage $14

The sai ouah is mandatory. It's a pork sausage jacked up with lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and turmeric. There's sweetness, sourness and a fair whack of heat and grilling the sausage gives a irresistible crunch to the skin.

Grilled pork jowl by Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai, Sydney
Kor mhu yaang grilled pork jowl $12
with nahm jim jaew smoked chilli and tamarind relish

They do all kinds of grilled meats - chicken livers, chicken tails, pork intestines and crying tiger beef, but I couldn't get enough of the grilled pork jowl, tender and sweet with little nuggets of fat if you got lucky.

Sweet iced Thai red tea by Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai, Sydney
Cha dum yen sweet iced Thai red tea $5
and lychee cold drink $8

Drinks (available all day) aren't your run-of-the-mill offerings either. They make cold drinks that include yakult, lemongrass, lychee and Kakawa dark chocolate. Sweet iced Thai red tea is refreshing with a faint but welcome tannic bitterness.

Housemade iced tamarined tisane by Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai, Sydney
Ma kahm housemade iced tamarind tisane $5

Each day they offer a different house-made iced tisane. I was hoping they'd have the blue butterfly pea today but settled with the iced tamarind, saved from bracing sourness with a deft balance of sugar.

You can order the full suite of espresso coffees plus Kakawa hot chocolate and loose leaf teas by Tea Craft.

Spicy duck salad by Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai, Sydney
Larpb bpedt spicy duck, toasted ground rice and soft herbs $16

The drinks come in handy as you plow your way through the rest of your dishes. Almost everything is spiked with chilli, including the larpb bpedt spicy duck salad, tumbled with red onion, coriander and crunchy smithereens of toasted ground rice.

Spicy young jackfruit curry by Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai, Sydney
Gaeng kanuhn $14
Spicy young jackfruit, pork short ribs, pumpkin, loufah gourd and herb curry

Chunks of young jackfruit are the ideal vehicle for soaking up a fiercely hot curry. It's a jackpot of everything wild and wonderful in here, including loufah gourd, lemon basil, wedges of sweet pumpkin and chunks of pork short ribs that still have plenty of meat.

The menu lists acacia fronds and tiliacoral leaves too. The jackfruit itself reminds me of a cooked artichoke. It doesn't have a strong taste in itself but the soft flesh takes on all the flavours from the soup.

Spicy red ant egg salad by Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai, Sydney
Yum kai modt daeng $16
Spicy red ant eggs, eschalots, toasted ground rice and soft herbs

The spicy red ant egg salad is worth ordering too. They look more like rice puffs when the dish first appears but you'll soon notice each grain is an egg sac hosting a single ant inside. They're a little squishy in the mouth, the deflated sacs bursting a little with each bite. The strong dressing on the salad - heavy handed with fish sauce, garlic and chilli - make it hard to pick up their natural flavour. Maybe a faint metallic nuttiness?

Baby red ant at Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai, Sydney
Baby red ant

Occasionally you'll encounter an ant that's emerged from its egg. They're still quite soft and soggy. Red ant eggs are high in protein, calcium and iron.

Chilli sauce and fish sauce condiments at Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai, Sydney
Chilli sauce and fish sauce condiments

If the idea of red ant eggs freak you out, fear not. There's plenty of other non-ant options to keep you busy.

Now I just need to set the alarm clock so I can check out breakfast. Crab congee, steamed buns with Thai custard and toast with red tea custard... I'm coming for you soon.

Jarern Chai Asian Grocer with Boon Cafe in Sydney

Jarern Chai Boon Cafe on Urbanspoon

Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai Asian Grocer
1/425 Pitt Street, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9281 2114

Opening hours:
Open 7 days 7am - 12midnight

BYO $3 per person

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Chat Thai, Haymarket

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Thai - E-San Saap, Sydney
Thai - Rim Tanon, Sydney
Thai - Tawandang German-Thai Restaurant, Sydney
Thai - Yok Yor Thai Food Factory, Sydney
23 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 2/07/2015 01:12:00 am


  • At 2/07/2015 8:08 am, Anonymous john | heneedsfood said…

    Finally, they've opened! Very impressive fit-out and a huge step up from the discount store that was there previously.

  • At 2/07/2015 3:16 pm, Blogger Choc Chip Uru @ Go Bake Yourself said…

    Thai pumpkin and dragonfruit? Already more exotic than what I have ever seen in the Hills area - I'd love to try some ingredients from here :D

    Choc Chip Uru

  • At 2/07/2015 5:22 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    That's a seriously tasty mash up of foods & cultures there, (love the look of the decor too.) Would happily settle for a vermicelli salad & tamarind drink right now!

  • At 2/08/2015 5:36 am, Blogger Ramen Raff said…

    Fit out looks great & love how it has lots of natural light! Penny fours & brickfield stuff in one place??? Can't wait to visit them!

  • At 2/08/2015 10:27 pm, Anonymous Eva@thehungryplum said…

    I am very impressed! This is progress in the food world, seems like the kind of thing that usually happens internationally but glad Sydney's catching on!

  • At 2/08/2015 11:29 pm, Blogger Sarah said…

    Wow! I've never seen a place like that! It's got everything I want, haha. Must visit next time I'm up in Sydney!!

    xox Sarah

  • At 2/09/2015 3:18 am, Anonymous Padaek said…

    Just love the look of this place! And love those exotic sandwiches. Yum! Looks like a very special place. Can't wait to visit it, even if it's just for the ant egg delicacy. Your photos are extra awesome in this post. :)

  • At 2/09/2015 9:27 am, Anonymous Martine @ Chompchomp said…

    The Boy loves eating insects when in Thailand...not just to freak me out but genuinely because he thinks that are super tasty. I have never seen him eat ants though....they sound interesting!

  • At 2/09/2015 11:31 am, Blogger Jacq said…

    this place looks amazing! I'm not sure I'm brave enough to try the ant eggs but that pork jowl looks super tasty

  • At 2/09/2015 1:59 pm, Anonymous Hotly Spiced said…

    How refreshing to see an Asian store that's so beautifully laid out. I do like to shop in Asian supermarkets but I often feel too big for the narrow aisles and everything is so cramped I can't find what I'm looking for. This is so beautiful and I just love all the fresh produce. But I'm going to pass on the ants! xx

  • At 2/10/2015 10:55 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    hmm pass on the ants but hellooo pork jowl!

  • At 2/10/2015 11:44 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm so impressed how colourful this place is and the food looks wow :D

  • At 2/11/2015 12:47 am, Anonymous Gourmet Getaways said…

    This is a sure feast, Helen! Can't stop drooling at the fresh looking food. The dishes are a refreshing sight!

    Julie & Alesah
    Gourmet Getaways xx

  • At 2/11/2015 10:22 am, Blogger Cassie | Journey From Within said…

    What a cute and lovely place to be!
    I want to try their lunches, so innovative!

  • At 2/11/2015 10:51 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wow - Chat Thai's empire is expanding further! I noticed the other day they also now have an outlet at the northern end of the basement in QVB (the old laksa place) - different name but "by Chat Thai". (Note the typo in your first para - Chai Thai.)

  • At 2/11/2015 10:57 pm, Anonymous Cindy (a foodie's joy) said…

    What a fascinating place! :)

  • At 2/12/2015 8:25 am, Anonymous ChopinandMysauceopan said…

    Dear Helen,

    The baby red ant looks so cute asleep in that leafy mattress :)

  • At 2/12/2015 3:29 pm, Anonymous tania@my kitchen stories said…

    Wow she has done an amazing job. It is everything she was promising . Can't wait to go. Thanks for the great pictures

  • At 2/13/2015 6:41 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wow! I know where I'm going on my next lunchbreak adventure :) As ever - a helpful, thorough review. Thanks Helen! Marlz @ 'Food. Travel. Superlatives.'

  • At 2/14/2015 7:08 am, Anonymous nagi@RecipeTin Eats said…

    "Food worlds just collided in a mash-up of gustatory bliss." This had me giggling but it's a perfect description of this place! Wow, talk about something different! It's like the Asian version of those rustic grocery/restaurant places - like fratelli fresh, mercato & cucina (have you been there? I would be VERY interested in your thoughts....I have some specific opinions about that place!)

  • At 2/15/2015 10:24 pm, Anonymous Joseph said…

    I love the concept of an upmarket asian grocery store/restaurant. I walk past there frequently & never noticed it... Beter check it out next time :)

  • At 2/16/2015 10:10 pm, Anonymous Amanda @ Gourmanda said…

    Wow, interesting concept - grocery store and restaurant too! I actually wouldn't mind getting a tiffin, now that I see it in your photos...

  • At 3/09/2015 11:32 pm, Blogger The Jugernauts said…

    Wow. That ant salad.


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