Newtown's King Street is the place to go Thai for its never-ending run of South-East Asian restaurants. But there’s not much dealing in the street hawker variety, and there’s nothing to challenge the chilli test of Spice I Am’s Surry Hills and Darlinghurst restaurants.
House, an offshoot of Spice I Am, opened in 2010 and differs by basing its menu on Isaan cuisine, from the north-eastern part of Thailand. By differs, I mean it burns the tongue in different ways, so much of the menu is a palate-cleansing experience. And by palate cleansing, I mean it could literally take off your tastebuds. House is not for the sensitive-tummied diner.
Nor is it for those who like their alcoholic beverages brought to them. House is annexed to the rather unappealling Triple Ace Hotel, which is packed with pokies but, for Surry Hills, is remarkably free of hipsters. And although in such close proximity to a pub, there's a strange licensing loophole which means diners have to go next door to the bar to get a beer. Which is just as well, for you may need a drink. Not to emphasis the spicy quality of the food, which is volcanic.
The key ingredient of Isaan cooking is fermented anchovies, which are quite distinctive and an acquired taste. As an opening side dish, jaew bong ($12), which is mashed anchovies with chilli and lime, is an overpowering accompaniment. Much better is ping lin ($10), a grilled, marinated ox tongue, which on this occasion is slightly chewy but on previous visits to House has been very tasty.
The menu is mostly curry and coconut milk free, with the emphasis on salads and soups. The house salad special, the yum pla duk fun ($18), is deep fried shredded catfish with green mango, peanuts. eschalot, chilli and lime dressing and is refreshing if, again, incredibly hot. Jaew horn ($18) is a hot pot of chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, squid, pork liver and seasonal greens, which is similar in appearance to a Sichuan hot pot in appearance but has a subtler kick and is the best thing on the menu.
With Mexican food taking over Surry Hills, it's good to know there’s still an alternative tongue burner on menus. It's not up to the standards of the Spice I Ams, that's for sure, and with its truckstop-style interior and traffic noise, it's not the most relaxing place to dine. But if thermo-nuclear taste is your thing, go crazy.