Green Peppercorn Civic Hotel - Sydney CBD

The captivating Miang Kum bouquet as entree.

Caution  - the chilies are hotter here than in most other restaurants in Australia, but let us proceed.

The Miang Kum or betel nut leaf wraps, with finely prepared fresh ingredients, so easy and light on the appetite, came out like miniature flower bouquets.  Oh yes, there was much generosity in providing so much to wrap the dark green leaves in.  We could detect peanuts, crab meat, fried shrimps, crunchy rice, small tomato cubes, chilli, ginger and lime as we bit into the wraps.   Healthy, exotic and stimulating!

Petite, colourful and healthy, this dish was like eating from garden produce.   However, we were in down town Sydney, with the World Square sign clamouring for attention through our early 20th century bay window, looking down at a busy Goulburn Street leading to Chinatown and Darling Harbour.  We were fortunate to have been allocated a side round dining table, to me it was both at the same time grand and cosy.  After climbing two flights of stairs to the first level, from a side entrance to the Civic Hotel along Pitt Street, we entered another world, Indo-Chinese, with a Buddhist presence, where fresh aromatics and the art of marinating meats reign supreme.  Spicy food with alcohol on a Friday evening to de-stress and recover from the corporate world?  This is the place.

Pork knuckle braised in Asian flavours for around AUD30.

Pork knuckles to me have always brought fond memories of Oom Pah Pahs and German boutique beers.  The pig is a significant economic animal on the plains of northern Thailand and Laos, so in a way I am not surprised there was this attractive looking roast pork knuckle soaked in the most pleasant of gravy on our table.   Both John and I love our crackle and pork knuckle - and the meat underneath was moist tender, yet with the roast effect.  It was like Christmas lunches all come together in July! The knuckle was firm on the bone.  This variation of the Khao Kaa Moo was an eye opener to me, no more shall I associate knuckle with just Chinese and German recipes.  This Thai/Laotian knuckle has to be cooked smokey, five spice powder is rubbed in, coriander roots and palm sugar are important for taste and the skin has to be cleaned of any pig hairs - not necessarily in that order.

Duck red curry ( Kaeng Pad Pett Yang) laden with lychees and pineapple, bathed in a coconut milk, is now standard fare in many Thai restaurants across Australia, in small towns and large.  Some are over laden with creamy coconut milk; here the flavour is more subtle and the roast duck not oily at all, with firm lean portions.  This is a curry best eaten with steamed Jasmine rice - we had three enamel coated containers of the carbohydrate, truly reminiscent of what you have in south-east Asia.  The curry had aromas and flavours of fresh kaffir lime leaves, basil and fish sauce.  What caught my eye is the practice of placing long whole red chilies in the dish - and the presence of two variations of the eggplant - apple and pea.

Chip doing the honours for us, carving up the pork knuckle.  Edwin, Bob and John watch on, with Jacob stretching his white shirted arm.

Even if working in Sydney CBD, I had never stepped into the Green Peppercorn restaurant on level one of the Civic Hotel.  So we seized the occasion to have a lunch with Chip before he relocates to Adelaide, sister city to my hometown of George Town on Penang Island.  Farewells are never easy, breaking the stupor and pace of things we somehow can take for granted - it also brings to the fore, change management, the importance of enjoying the present and appreciating what each of us have, especially in non-monetary things like good amiable friendship and interaction.

I was cheeky enough to ask Chip what he missed about Sydney and what are his fond memories, at this juncture, of living in this Big Aussie Smoke.   Chip gave fair comment, he observed that Sydney can be a cold city and like all big metropolitan areas around the world, it can be every man for himself and his interests.  Chip did add that everyone he has got to know in the City Lunch Australia group has definitely made Sydney a much warmer and hospitable place for him in his experience.   That includes those who could not make it to the Green Peppercorn that day - Dee and Zoe were overseas,  Michael lives interstate (he phoned in during the meal), Sari was not feeling well, with Sally, Angie  and Raymond working outside Sydney CBD.

Chip related how he had to ship over to his Adelaide family what was then a rather hot item from Sydney in some of the years he was based here - Krispy Kreme doughnuts.  We can all relate to that - the hype, the rush, the excitement and the tastiness that was the American stuff.

Chip summarised by observing that it has been a fantastic ten years Sydney side.  So in turn, Chip,  each of us wishes you well in an Irish way - "May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back.   May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall softly on your fields.  And until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of his Hand."

Tony did drop by with his daughter to say hello, and that was when I first caught up with Tony after so many years!  The Green Peppercorn meet up was at once both to say a temporary farewell to one and reunite with another, a bitter sweet experience.  The Buddha is often quoted as saying "The only constant thing in life is change".

Marinated and charcoal grilled ox tongue offered with "Mum's special home made sauce" - memories of a different culture.

Ox tongue! Now my Latino mates would love this, although in Argentina and Mexico, these are served in large pieces. What we got from the Green Peppercorn were sliced in bite size, but the taste was unique, together with the serving sauce, the Jaew Som.  Hey, believe it or not, shredded papaya is utilised here to flavour and tenderise the ox tongue when preparing this dish.  The marinade for the ox tongue also has both black and white pepper, the must have south-east Asian fish sauce, Chinese inspired soy and oyster sauces, minced garlic cloves, diced onions and a sprinkling of sugar and salt for taste.   The Jaew Som is based primarily (again) on fish sauce, garlic cloves and lime juice, but includes the aromas from finely chopped bunch of coriander (roots and all), red bird eye chilies and shallots.  The Green Peppercorn version is rewarding, wholesome and addictive.

Som Tam, the papaya salad that travellers get to love on a Thai beach or fancy hotel, is a treat for the palate. Out of the five sensations, this iconic dish assures you spicy, sort and salty!  We opted for the Laotian version at the Green Peppercorn as you do not find this easily in Australia.  The cherry tomatoes, chili bits, sour lime and fish sauce were all there to accompany the thinly julienned papaya, so what was different?  Maybe the mortar pounded crab paste, more likely good mortar and pestle techniques to get the juices, texture and flavours of all the various ingredients going. I am told that if you do not have papaya, use cucumber instead and never mangoes for this particular salad, as the texture of cucumbers and papaya are more alike.  Never utilise the blender for such preparation as the outcome can be so different and too liquid.  Salads are to nurture the appetite for meats and seafood.  My Thai friends say the Laotian version of Som Tam does not taste sweet like in the Thai version.  I did find the Laotian version of papaya salad not so sharp.

Papaya salad ala Laos.

Would I return?  Admittedly yes.  I am eyeing Som Moo (cured pork),  the charcoal grilled satay skewers, chicken feet salad and the Yum Womsen, the heady mix of vermicelli salad with bits of meat or seafood and aromatic herbs.
What is the mood there? Casual, busy and adventurous.
How is the ambiance?  Office gatherings, families, Gen Y energy and pub hotel.
Seating:  Retro.
Business model:  Practical pricing, cocktails with food, city buzz.
Dress code:  Aussie informal.
Compulsory for males:  The pork knuckle cooked in northern Thai style.
Compulsory for females: Cocktails and the Som Tam salad.
Rush hour: Fridays, weekends.
What is the X factor here?   Back packing and family cooking memories.

The Green Peppercorn at the Civic Hotel is located upstairs at 388 Pitt Street, Sydney CBD, near the
corner with Goulburn Street, just behind World Square.
Telephone: 612 8080 7043.
Opening hours are from noon to 3pm for lunch every day and for dinner, from 530pm every evening, they have a fixed time for last dish orders.

Green Peppercorn is also at the Fairfield Hotel at No.1 Hamilton Road, Fairfield, south-west of
Sydney CBD.

Kindly Yours visited this Fairfield restaurant in November 2014.

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