Chat Thai taps into the cafe market with its latest spin-off Boon Cafe, which sees Thai classics reinvented as sandwiches. Think crab cakes, pork crackling and soft Thai herbs between crusty slices of Brickfields sourdough. If only the Earl of Sandwich could see us now.
Boon Cafe operates within its newly established Jarern Chai Asian grocer. It's probably the only destination in town where you can pick up Single Origin coffee, Penny Four pastries and a crate of birdseye chillies at once.
Featuring a stencilled glass shopfront, white butcher tiles and industrial pendant lights, Boon Cafe looks like any fine foods providore in Darlinghurst (except it's in Haymarket). Instead of overpriced bottles of olive oil and coloured salts, this market sells Thai dry-goods, homewares, fresh flowers and specialty produce. In the front right quadrant of the store you'll find a walk-in cool room stocked with tropical fruits, herbs and Thai vegetables, including betel leaves and banana bells, as well as fresh coconut milk and cream extracted in-house. A glass counter filled with scrolls, croissants and brulee tarts runs down the side of the store, with cafe tables comfortably spaced at each end.
From 7am, Boon Cafe serves traditional Thai breakfasts, including pork skewers with sticky rice ($7) and congee ($12), the local rice porridge with shredded chicken and shiitake mushrooms. Ordering a serve of toast at a cafe has always struck me as both boring and pointless — that is, until I tried Boon's Thai rendition. Served in a pile of chubby fingers slathered with organic Gympie cultured butter, it comes with your choice of sweet and savoury toppings, including pandan and red tea custard ($4), Kakawa chocolate and hazelnuts ($5.50), house-smoked chilli relish with dried shredded pork ($5.50) or organic, pasture-raised bacon ($7) and eggs ($3).
At lunchtime, Boon Cafe gets adventurous between the bread slices. The nahm prik num ($13) sandwich combines Northern green chilli relish, spicy pork herb sausage, pork crackling crumbs and an unctuous egg with pickled cabbage salad. It's a winning combination, perfectly marrying hot, salty and sour flavours, and when it comes to crunch time, this won't disappoint. There's also an impressive Thai take on a crab spaghettini ($20) in a wonderfully mellow tomato sauce spiked with black pods of smoked chilli.
In the evenings, there's serious northern Thai eats. Don't expect the same creamy curries as Chat Thai; these versions are spicy, herbal broths filled with leaves, stalks and hunks of meat on the bone. As in the whole Chat family, you can BYO ($3) and there's a range of both Eastern and Western teas, coffees and cold-pressed juices on offer. With fruit for sale just metres away, you can guarantee it'll be fresh.