|Khao Dtom Sen, with fresh rice noodles and pork short ribs in a clear pork based broth (menu item 24 on the Rice and Noodles list.|
"Watch the world go by, be Happy." These words are hidden somewhere in the small font, tightly filled up brown paper menu. Welcome to the Jarern Chai Boon Cafe.
You are encouraged to not be shy about eating with your hands. Brined, pickled and fermented creations are offered with still fresh herbs. Lots of mince, crab meat, various salad or grill options and choices in condiments or garnishes. Variations with condensed milk, brown rice bowls, sourdough, eggs, noodles and teas.
Coffee is by Single Origin roasters, Paradox Blends for shots and the Killerbee variety for milked coffee. The former has bitter sweet chocolate, spice and forest berry undertones on the tongue. The latter has notes of tropical fruit, toffee and dark honey. Oh yes, there is also the traditional Thai coffee or red teas, in iced and hot servings.
Providing Sarni cuisine by day and Isaan fare by night, the Boon Cafe is a refreshing change from southern and central Thai food normally available in Western cities and in south-east Asia. This north eastern Thai region of Isaan shares many similar cultural and cooking styles with Laos, Cambodia and Burma, but its base in Thailand is the Korat Plateau.
Signature drinks are the Tisanes - whether hibiscus, Pandan, sweet pickled plum, blue butterfly pea, lotus root, tamarind or bael ( a kind of Bengali quince). Not exactly the fillers in your suburban fridge.
I suggest commence with a reliable item like the crisp fried chicken wings (the Peak Gai Tod) or the air dried and fried marinated pork loin (the Mhu Daad Diew, menu item 14 on the Grilled and Fried list) with drinks whilst waiting for your mates to turn up. No alcohol is currently served at the Boon Cafe. Then for mains, go for the spicy chicken clear curry with apple eggplants in Dill, lemongrass and chilli broth (the Gaeng Ohm Gai, menu item 19 on the Soup and Curries list). After this, see where your heart and palate take you further.
For breakfast, consider the smoked fish sausage with sliced pork, chicken mince and pieces of pork sausage loaf - the Kai Gatah (menu item 1 under the Breakfast list ) or the Nahm Prik Nuum (menu item 11 under the Breakfast list) with soft boiled egg, soft herb and pickled cabbage salad, spicy pork herb sausage, green chilli relish .
If you are aiming for something light for brunch or lunch, the congees are always a winner, with a crab version available as well. For a quickie, there is always a sourdough or croissant with dried shredded pork and house smoked chilli relish ala Asian or if you prefer, with organic pasture raised ham and Provolone cheese. The one item that jumps up to my attention under the Boon Cafe's snacks list is the Ice Bread, the Kanom Pung Yen, with choices in Japanese matcha, Thai red tea, Milo or just plain red syrup. The crab and prawn cake is always a winner ( menu item 15 under the Breakfast list), garnished with mayo, smoked chilli relish and s soft herb and pickled cabbage salad unique to this cuisine.
For a twist on standard dishes, try:
the Boon Omelette with a runny egg served with rice and the Jalepeno Siracha sauce
( menu item 8 on the Breakfast list ); or
a sourdough laden with stir fried minced chicken, holy basil, squid, chilli and fried egg (menu item 19 on the Sandwiches list, only from 11am to 4pm); or
the fried rice with house fermented pork and egg ( the Khao Padt Naam, menu item 58 on the Rice and Noodles list); or
the chicken liver on skewers (the Tub Gai Yaang, menu item 3 under Grilled and Fried); or
the salads with salted duck egg, whether with corn or papaya (menu items 44 and 45 on the Som Dtum list)
Several offerings are offered only at specific different times of the day or night. The steamed bread with a Pandan flavoured custard ( Kanom Pung Nung); a concoction of fried red ant eggs, toasted ground rice, eschalots and soft herbs (the Larpb Kai Modt Daeng, menu item 29 on the warm salads list); and the hot smoked Tilapia betel leaves, garnished with ginger, eschalots, lime, chilli and hot relish ( the Mieng Bpla Phao, menu item 38 on the warm salads list), are only provided from 4pm.
Away from the more exotic, there are:
crab meat pasta (menu item 21 under Rice and Noodles);
duck and rice with pickled ginger, greens and duck flavoured gravy (menu item 31 under Rice and Noodles );
shredded and grilled chicken served with roasted capsicium, smoked chilli jam and roasted cashew butter (menu item 17 under the Sandwiches or Brown Rice bowls list );
fresh chicken with papaya salad (the Som Dtum Gai Todt, menu item 16 under the Sandwiches or Brown Rice Bowls list ); and
the familiar Yum Woon Sen (menu item 36 under the Warm Salads list), spicy glass noodles offered by the Boon Cafe with mussels, prawns, calamari, minced chicken and soft herbs.
My overall impressions:
Food: The menu list is extensive, varied and offers an exciting discovery for many palates with a wide spectrum of dishes that can range from an unusual curry called the Gaeng Kanuhn, a literal cauldron consisting of pork short ribs, young jackfruit, Luffa gourd, lemongrass, smoked red onions, Acacia fronds, lemon basil and Tiliacora leaves (menu item 22 on the soups and curries list), to the Padt Ma-ma. with chicken, cabbage, chilli and Mama egg noodles stir fried on a wok (menu item 56 on the Rice and Noodles list ) Many ingredients utilised are marinated, braised, smoked and garnished, with offerings of daily specials on the menu and sourcing of several local ingredients.
Customer Engagement: Young staff are quick on the step, beam smiles when when busy and make you feel welcome.
Ambiance: Crowded, with little space between small wooden tables in a confined eating area, but reminiscent of street conditions back in the Old Country. There are always people walking about, food ordered comes fast and one reflects at how much Sydney city centre has changed in the past twenty years.
X Factor: With 63 food items, in addition to drinks, the Boon Cafe is already an eye catcher. Prices asked for are reasonable, servings are moderate sized and so customers can try samples of several dishes. The Boon Cafe is open very day the whole day long from 8am. After a meal, you can do your grocery and fresh produce shopping of Thai related items, including kitchen utensils, many varieties of rice from Thailand and traditional cakes and pastries.
"Sometimes a little pork crackling goes a long way for the soul." So says the Boon Cafe motto. On my next visit to the cafe, a Thai mate already asked me to look forward to the DtumMa-Muang, a spicy green mango salad with pickled field crabs and fermented fish. An acquired taste ? Maybe not, many backpackers already know this dish before they arrive in Sydney from south-east Asia.
The Boon Cafe is located at 425 Pitt Street, Sydney NSW towards the junction with Campbell Street and the Capitol Theatre.
Telephone: 612 9281 2114
Opening Hours: Everyday for breakfast from 8am to 11am, lunch from 11am to 4pm and dinner from 4pm to midnight.