Gastro: Siamese Dream – Full Moon


Posted 1 month ago in Food & Drink Features

Full Moon, a Thai restaurant specialising in dishes of the Isan province, opened in early Summer like a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it, by which I mean quietly or unnoticed rather than inconsequentially. Under the solemn watch of City Hall, it sits comfortably in the space occupied for many years by The Larder on a stretch of what is known mid-week as Parliament Street.

When closed to traffic at the weekends it becomes Sodom and Gomorrah Way. *Remind me to recount the ping-pong mass anecdote later. The Larder was an unpretentious neighbourhood place, a kind of restaurant that now perches on the cusp of the endangered list in Dublin. The modest and noble aim appeared to be to feed folks well-executed plates of food at prices that allowed both parties to the transaction to live and make a living, respectively. My early thirties were punctuated by a lot of dates marked here (rather than dates). A lot of steak-frites and bottles of wine that were exactly as good as I deserved. I never ate an exceptional dinner there but (more importantly) I never ate a bad one. It was a restaurant that you could use. You could celebrate or you could just feed yourself of a Tuesday. New Yorkers in wingspan-wide walk-ups who use their stoves for storage understand the value of places like that and they are rightly prized in the neighbourhoods where they persist.

The dishes of Issan Province, in the north-east of the country (bordering Laos on its right flank and the mighty Mekong on its left) are characterised by a ferocious abandon in their application of spice and sourness (as my wife and I are often described), so I was girding my duodenum as we entered the place for lunch on a recent Wednesday. I’m happy to say that the long, handsome room hasn’t been screwed around with. I always enjoyed the proportions and the natural brick walls before those became ironic, or post historic, or whatever. I liked to sit right out back where I had a full view of the length of the restaurant. It was also pointed out to me long ago that one was afforded a prime view of the comings and goings at the Boiler Room in the alley out back. Didn’t get it at the time.

We are here to check out the clipped (and keenly priced) list of lunch specials. Each one delivered in spades. Pad Thai is a dish that most will recognise but not realise as an appropriation of Chinese cuisine – rice noodles flovoured with salted, dried shrimp and finished with roasted peanuts and a sprinkling of sugar (that’s what civilises it for sweet-toothed non-Lao Thais). It’s as good a version as you’ll find in Dublin. The family of green papaya salads collectively known as somtum (though not here) is another defining corner of the Isan kitchen and you would be remiss not to try one. When your server enquires as to your tolerance for spice, consider the question carefully and don’t be a hero. The heat levels in many of the dishes from this region will humble you, reduce you to tears.

We chose the basic Tam Thai which brings the finely shredded fruit dressed with tart tamarind and tomatoes and given texture from peanuts and an unfeasable amount of fresh sliced tongue-stinging chillis. You can feel the edges of them. The flavours are kaleidoscopic and thrilling. When we catch our breath a heaving bowl of Beef Noodle Soup hits the table, bathed in a dark broth fragrant with cinnamon and star anise. I lose myself in it although the bouncy little Pac Men of processed beef ‘sausage’ offer a challenge in terms of mouth feel, for one of us at least. A brief conversation with our friendly server about the Isan region’s predilection for fish sauce leaves me in no doubt that my own knowledge on the subject is deficient. When I mouth the words Nam Pla he wrinkles his nose like a Manc talking about southern poofs. Apparently, the real shit could fell a man. I now feel incomplete without it. I’m left thinking of Lot’s wife and the sodium levels in my diet.

For a subsequent dinner we are joined by a couple of old friends (our friends seem to be becoming increasingly older) who know Thai food, having been frequent visitors since the place was called Siam. It’s a warm dank Thursday and the room is buzzing. The folks gamely allow me to suggest a few dishes and we get right to it with an order of Moo Ping, skewers of tender, sticky pork with a punchy dipping sauce. They disappear like a magic trick as do the appropriately bouncy fish cakes. Nam Tok Nua, (Spicy Beef Salad) is by some degree the hottest dish of the night although it barely tickles the fire-proof gullets of our guests. It brings thin, tender slices of meat (eye of round I think) in a blizzard of dried chilli seeds and an abundance of fresh mint. Through the sweat and involuntary twitching, I know I’ll be ordering this again.

A green curry is creamy, comforting and gently spiced. This one tastes better than I remember, and almost certainly is. I find myself playing a tastebuds version of good cop, bad cop with the curry and the beef dish. The former assures me that everything will be okay if I co-operate while the latter warns that I’ll be keeping house for a twenty-stone white supremacist if I don’t. Bummer. We move on to a superb Tamarind Duck dish before the showstopping whole fish preparation hits the table. For Pla Kapong Luy Suan the kitchen has filleted a bass, deep fried those fillets into strips before incorporating them into a spicy, vinegared herb salad served in the deep fried carcass of the bass, arched into a horse shoe. You’ll find the images on your social feeds. It feeds us very well.

The food makes few concessions to infantilsed western palates and that’s a good thing. (Although Lao cooks are known to dial down the heat and sourness even for central Thais’ tastes.) It also probably explains why on the night of my second visit, at least half of covers appear to be expats. The ruling military junta back home might also play a part. There’s real nuance in the cooking here, not just heat, and there’s a requirement of balance that can be lost when complex cuisines are translated into English. They could have used another pair of hands with a full dining room but the longueurs in service don’t bother us. We haven’t been around a table together for forever.

At this point, Clarke recounts the story of trying to find a Sunday mass service for his devout Derryman father some time ago in Bangkok. He eventually did, deep in the ping-pong district. It’s a compelling argument for freedom of worship I guess. From a predictably ‘couldn’t give a fiddlers’ list we drank a bottle of Kung Fu Girl Riesling from Washington State, a sinuous wine that can always be relied upon to kick ass when dealing with varying levels of spice. We also put back a couple of cold Singhas, chewed the (figurative) fat and had a generally swell time. That’s what Full Moon is – it’s a swell time and a good deal. Pleasure doesn’t need to be complicated. Bring your main squeeze, bring your friends, bring your laudably adventurous parents. Add some life to their years.

Words: Conor Stevens

Photos: Killian Broderick

Full Moon 

8 Parliament St

Dublin 2

fullmoon.ie

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