Where: Udom House, 343 Victoria Street West Melbourne
What: Thai brunch – something I’ve been craving ever since Oneyada Thai and Middle Fish shut
Who: Virgo Twin
Bloat score: 1 – Had to loosen my belt a notch
Brunch rarely excites me these days. If I wanted to be out of pocket by $30 before midday with nothing to show for it except a feeling of ravenous hunger two hours later, I’d simply stay in bed and engage in a bout of ill-advised online shopping. There are exceptions, of course. Sustainable Japanese brunch destination Ima Project Café, which has since shut its Carlton premises and is relocating to Brunswick, is my favourite café in Melbourne. I’m a sucker for Cibi’s traditional breakfast plate of grilled sliced salmon fillet, tamagoyaki, seasonal vegetables and a potato salad served alongside its signature rice blend and miso soup. Neruda’s does a mean yellow corn arepa topped with caramelised onions and scrambled eggs, while Lankan Tucker serves up a delicious medley of egg hoppers, string hoppers, biryani and kottu roti for breakfast. I think you’re sensing a theme; I’m a fan of non-white breakfasts.
Enter Udom House. A Thai café serving pies, toast and jaffles with fillings and toppings ranging from massaman curry chicken and Thai tea kaya to chilli paste and pork floss, it catapulted to the top of my list after I spied someone in my Instagram stories having chicken liver and sticky rice (!!!) there. I visited with Virgo Twin, who is, on paper, the same person as me – we share the same Chinese zodiac, the same sun and rising signs, and, sadly, the same FODMAP intolerances.
Udom House is tucked away in a corner shop lot on Victoria Street. It’s like being inside someone’s cosily decorated home – owing, perhaps, to the fact that owner Aum Phithakphon lives upstairs. There are polished timber floorboards and wooden tables set against black and white checkerboard tiles, and ample shelving filled with coffee beans, books and curios.
Virgo Twin and I met at midday on a Sunday and there were a few tables occupied, but not so many that we couldn’t easily nab one. You can choose between dining outside on the footpath, inside or out the back on astroturf with tables shunted closely to one another. Because it was a nice day, we chose to sit at the back, but it would’ve been squishy if there were any more than two tables occupied, and Virgo Twin and I were often caught in wafts of chilli smoke emanating from the kitchen. As she joked, however, we were close to the toilets – a pro if you’re as intolerance-addled as the two of us are.
You order at the counter and are handed a table number – in Udom House’s case, Art Oracles cards featuring famous quotes by Jeff Koons, Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondrian, among others.
Like the control freak that I’m known for being, I usually dictate that my dining companions order different dishes to one another if I’m reviewing the place, but alas, Virgo Twin likes chicken liver as much as I do (we’re twins after all!!) so we both opted for the khao nheaw hor ($9) – sticky rice with choices of protein that ranged from chicken liver and shredded pork to fried chicken and tofu (you know which one we got). You can add a boiled egg for $3 (which we did) or num prik nhoom (a northern Thai green chilli sauce) for $4, though the dish does come with its own spicy vinegary dipping sauce.
This dish was under the ‘e-sarn style breakfast’ section of the menu, with ‘e-sarn’ referring to the northeast section of Thailand that goes by many different spellings – Issan, Isan, Esan among them. The food from this region of Thailand is heavily influenced by Lao and Khmer culture – the staple carb is sticky rice in place of jasmine rice; a thick fermented fish sauce called pla ra is a signature ingredient; soups and curries don’t typically incorporate coconut milk; and the meats are mostly chargrilled or roasted. Common e-sarn dishes include ones that people generally familiar with Thai cuisine would recognise, like som tam (a spicy, shredded green papaya salad enlivened with lime, dried shrimp, fish sauce and palm sugar), larb (ground meat, typically pork, tossed with lime juice, fish sauce and crunchy roasted rice) and moo ping (chargrilled skewers of marinated meat, also typically pork) to internationally lesser-known dishes like Issan sausage (a fermented pork and rice sausage) and gai yang (charcoal-grilled chicken marinated in soy or fish sauce). The most unusual part of e-sarn cuisine are the animals and insects that feature in it – from ants and water beetles to lizards, frogs and water buffaloes.
The pungency of e-sarn cuisine is informed by the socioeconomics and geography of the region, according to Thai recipe blog Temple of Thai.
“The intense flavours of Isan food is one way of managing an insecure food supply – very hot, flavourful dishes encourage diners to diffuse the flavours with a lot of sticky rice.
“Few large trees grow in Isan, so residents have had less access to wood for cooking. For this reason, Isan cuisine includes a large range of pickled and cured foods and when food can be eaten raw, it often is.”
Virgo Twin and I greatly enjoyed our sticky rice and chicken liver dish. The rice initially appeared like a miniscule amount but because it was sticky rice, I found that I was close to fullness once I finished it. The chicken liver was crisp and well-spiced on the outside and soft within, with a finely diced garlicky dressing that added a punch of savouriness to every bite. I would highly recommend getting the jammy egg on the side, which added heft and creaminess.
Apart from the e-sarn style breakfasts, pies, jaffles and toast, Udom House also has a selection of rice and noodle dishes if you’re on the hungrier side. Think khao mhoo grob (crispy pork, Chinese sausage and a boiled egg on jasmine rice), larb prawn on either jasmine or sticky rice, ga phrao nuer (stir-fried holy basil, chilli, garlic and beef on jasmine rice) and a good ol’ pad see ew.
I don’t typically write about drinks because controversially, they don’t interest me all that much, but the one we had at Udom House was notable. Both Virgo Twin and I ordered the Yuzu Mule – honey, yuzu, ginger beer and soda water topped with an espresso shot for the most citrusy take on a coffee I’ve ever had. Virgo Twin found it a touch too sour, and while it did have a healthy tang, I really enjoyed it.
Udom House have a heap of interesting drinks if you’re in favour of ditching your typical oat latte. The Es Yen is a Thai signature coffee shaken with ice, while with the Cha Keaw, you get Thai-style Jasmin green tea with milk and the option of an espresso shot (this is almost certainly what I’m getting the next time I visit). The Nom Chompoo is a popular drink found on every coffee trolley in Thailand and consists of Sala-flavoured syrup and condensed milk poured over ice and topped with evaporated milk foam, while the Jun Ba features Sala-flavoured syrup on ice topped with Thai black coffee. Never before have I been so taken with a café’s drinks menu.
Of course I wasn’t actually full after my chicken liver dish, so Virgo Twin and I decided to turn our eye towards Udom House’s sweets. We went for the Thai tea kaya toast and the tua pap, which was sitting in the display cabinet.
The Thai tea kaya toast was conveniently cut into pieces, perfect for sharing. Like the best condensed milk teas you get in Southeast Asia, the Thai tea kaya toast was rich and fragrant but unlike the drink that inspired it, it wasn’t too sweet.
Likewise with the tua pap, which is a popular Thai dessert made from glutinous rice flour stuffed with mung beans and wrapped in soybean paste and grated coconut before being steamed. This dessert wasn’t sweet at all unless you had it with the roasted white sesame seeds and sugar that was drizzled across – so I highly recommend getting a few pinches of the sugary sesame seeds with each bite for a pleasing injection of sweetness – and I enjoyed the savouriness of the mung beans within. By this stage, Virgo Twin was highly full – our similarities had to end somewhere – so I had two of these tua pap to myself hehehe.
Alas, even though I ingested a super strength Lacteeze beforehand, the Thai tea kaya toast had pushed me over the edge. I was fine until immediately before we left, at which point Virgo Twin – with her spider sense twin powers – asked me if I was okay. My stomach had started to twist in pain that can only have meant one thing, evident apparently on my face. Though I tried to go to the toilet at Udom House, it didn’t feel like a safe space (lol) because it was situated too close to diners, so my bowels refused to cooperate. Which is how I found myself in an uber home, fearful that the public transport journey home would take too long. But all’s well that ends well.
I’ll definitely be back to Udom House because there’s at least five more drinks and savoury dishes I’m keen to try. While I may steer clear of the toast for my butt’s sake, you’d struggle to keep me away from anything else.
Udom House is open every weekday except Tuesday from 7.30am to 3.30pm and on weekends from 9am to 3.30pm.