amazing sambal noodles
date of visit: Wednesday 12 February 2014
Last week, Tara, of Sydney-based food blog VegeTARAian, was in Adelaide so a few blogging types headed out to Gin Long Canteen in North Adelaide for dinner and a catch up (and, in my case, to actually meet Tara for the first time).
Wednesday was a stupidly hot 40-something degree day and by the time I arrived at Gin Long all I was really interested in was a cold beer (or two). Hot weather tends of destroy my appetite, so food-wise I wasn’t feeling picky (not that I ever am). There were six of us at dinner (the minimum number Gin Long will allow you to book for) and our table was reserved for 6pm (again, Gin Long will only allow you to book for either 6 or 8pm). Even at that early time, Gin Long was busy although not at capacity – by the time we left at 8pm the restaurant was well and truly packed. And on a Wednesday night – not a bad effort at all. I would say – don’t go without booking, but …
Gin Long has been a hot venue since opening and, in recent weeks, with the arrival of Nu Suandokmai, straight from the CBD’s Golden Boy, it has become even hotter. The fact that Suandokmai isn’t planning on being in the kitchen long term (the media is suggesting he’ll be opening his own venue at some point) I think adds to the general excitement.
Seated at our table (having been informed we’d be leaving by 8!) and beers in hand, we turned our attention to the menu. With one vegetarian and one vegan at the table we ordered the banquet ($39 per head, minimum of four people) but also ensured that they would be well catered for.
‘very exciting’: beautiful flavours
Food started arriving quickly. First up the “very exciting” beef salad. This was a light, Thai style beef salad laced with fresh mint. Flavour wise it was excellent but I managed to get a piece of beef that was laden with gristle (and which I had to extract from my mouth most inelegantly!) so that suggests that there’s some room for improvement in the attention to detail department. We also had sugar cane prawns, netted spring rolls (which I didn’t try) and the Malay curry puffs. These curry puffs easily, at this point, the best thing on the table. Crisp pastry, not greasy, a light filling which packed in plenty of curry leaf flavour – I would have been happy to sit down with a huge plate of just these.
Malay curry puffs: amazing!
Entrées over, our main courses started coming out. I didn’t try some of the vegetarian dishes, such as the chargrilled tofu or the Vietnamese coleslaw, but I did put in a solid effort sampling the rest of the spread. The tamarind prawns didn’t really work for me (and be warned, as they are served with their shells on): there just wasn’t enough complexity of flavour. The braised pork belly was delicious but the star dish was the sambal thin egg noodle. This was a hearty dish with a good whack of chilli spice and topped with an egg. Noodles are one those dishes which can be so one dimensional and almost bland (yes, throwing chilli at something doesn’t necessarily give it flavour) but not these noodles. Plenty of flavour, plenty of heat and plenty of moreishness.
I suspect that some of the dishes may have been a little on the salty side – it wasn’t something I noticed at the time but later on I did have the tell tale slightly dry mouth, slightly thirsty sensation I always experience after eating salty food. But maybe I also just ate too many noodles …
By this time, it was almost 8pm and we were getting a bit nervous about what would happen with dessert. So we asked. “Oh”, said our waitress, “I always feel really bad about this, because people always ask and there is no dessert included”. You would imagine that at this point, we might have been offered the dessert menu … but no. Perhaps it was just too close to 8pm.
I enjoyed the food and thought that it was reasonable value for money. However, I really dislike restaurants with overly complicated booking policies. Part of me understands why restaurateurs make these decisions but, for the punter, they are really too often an inconvenience. The service at Gin Long was erratic: while our orders were taken quickly and food was served quickly, neglecting to tell us the banquet didn’t include dessert (especially when it seems to be a very common query) was an unfortunate oversight. After our food was all served, we were then forgotten about so getting the bill proved to be a lengthy exercise (one of our party has been a few times and says this has happened every single time).
Although Gin Long Canteen has a very funky interior, it suffers from an excess of hard surfaces and, at times during our meal, the music seemed particularly intrusive. And while I’m prepared to concede that I am particularly old-fogey-ish in this respect other people also felt the same way.
My final gripe? The staff need to be identifiable as staff. There was a real mish-mash of attire: Converse trainers mixed with VERY LOUD wedges, outfits dominated by fluorescent colours, and rather too many hot-pants edged with lace (I realise that for some people this may be a plus …).
If you can’t tell, I left Gin Long with very mixed feelings. I’m not sure I’ll be back in a hurry. The food makes it definitely worth a visit, but unless you’re a bona fide hipster you might leave feeling a little less than cool …
Gin Long Canteen
42 O’Connell Street
North Adelaide SA 5006
phone: 08 7120 2897