Tom Waterhouse likes to think he knows what punters want. The team behind BangPop actually know what we want which is evident by the menu that pushes your senses and reaffirms my belief that dining out is all about new experiences. A relaxed party-like atmosphere where the patron is taken care of with a playful amount of cheekiness and from what I noticed an empathetic floorstaff that realise that most people that dine at BangPop would not be able to comfortably be able to handle the spice and associated heat of the dishes and sauces. For me, I can never get enough fire and have previously dared the kitchen both here and at unrelated kitchens to "prepare it like you would in (insert hometown) and not how the white man wants to eat it!" which is usually far too tame and boring. Any chest hair that I have is the result of these bold proclamations after the kitchen delivers an authentic - tasty and very spicy dishes that in turn makes me pause, gulp large amounts of Singha beer ($7) knowing it will not placate the god of fire but the ancient art of edging, where the process of eating the street food mirrors an intimate act where you nearly orgasm but refrain, only to repeat the process over and over again until you can't take it any longer and request the bill. Fortunately serviettes are provided.
My first adventure at BangPop was inside at a communal table. The restaurant had just announced a $15 lunch deal which included a "small plate" of either chicken or pork respectively (I tried both of these dishes and they were equally good) and a can of beer however not just being satisfied with this reasonable sample of foodstuff, we also ordered the Kor Moo Yang (pork neck - $11.90) and Sua Rang Hi (grilled beef - $12.90) to compliment the very reasonable and spicy specials. The kitchen had me hooked with the neck and an absolutely fiery and wonderful nam jim saap sauce with very pronounced flavours of coriander, chillies, garlic and a hint of sugar. The sauces and the associated condiments that are provided not only add flavour but add a sense of James Bond-esque intrigue to this self-proclaimed street food which should not be confused with cheap or being plebeian, but is full of flavour where it is just hard to stop gorging.
On my enthusiastic return, it was a sunny and mild yet windy day in Melbourne so assuming it could be the last day where you are not required to wear a jumper for absolute comfort, we made the executive decision to sit outside and watch the Yarra river and rubbish flow past along with the confused tourists migrating from the DFO. Service remained attentive to our needs for seemingly unlimited amounts of Singha and after a repeat performance of the pork neck, we decided it was only proper to run the full gamut of the menu and enjoyed the Tod Mun Pla - Barramundi and red curry paste (fish)cakes with yet another bold sauce, this time a nam prik pla-grop, a chilli fish sauce of sorts that even had a few chilli seeds in it for good measure. This appealed to my desire to wake up with a case of ring of fire and tasted so good going down the old gullet after bathing the fish in this authentic pool of beauty.
Kai Chae Mae Pla Tod (Chicken Ribs - $12.90) followed from the "small plates" menu and despite appearing to be a meager portion of dry meat found its natural match with the nam-jim talay accompaniment. A green chilli sauce that was both affronting to my nasal passage because of the pepper in a good way, and after eliciting a sneeze, I knew that I found what I could eat daily. The nose "knows' as they say. Of all the starters, the Sai Krok Issan (Pork Sausages - $10.90) were the most tame however the general populous would find the levels of chilli a bit confronting even though it is neutralised by the cabbage, which is a natural remedy to the tingling palate - a bit like a vampire is a to a werewolf, or so it goes supposedly.
Not able to resist the "larger plates" we had to see what the Kang Daeng Phed (Duck Leg Red Curry - $22.90) would taste like. It is no secret that I like to prepare my own duck at home and evolving my personal recipe and appreciation is a bit of an unnatural and ridiculous hobby so I remain critical of how third parties treat the eponymous mallard. BangPop again delivers. The duck is moist and when combined with a handsome amount of chilli, but this time it is neutralised by roast coconut, yet another palate savior, is a winner.
I made the mistake of having the duck (and more Singha) before tasting the Gaeng Lueng Tai - the poached "market fish" and in this instance was skirt, a fatty fish that happily absorbed the pla grop that had a pronounced taste of lime and sugar. It should have been consumed before the duck however the amount of Singha that I consumed affected my judgement and I only have myself to blame. Still this yellow curry was quite good and although not noticeably "hotter" compared to the red curry, still was very tasty.
The service staff remained not only attentive but humourous throughout our ad-hoc experience where we hoped to gorge ourselves in the afternoon sun like snakes and enjoy as much "authentic" Thai street food that we could possibly muster. Service remained consistent and cheerful on both visits and the virtual isolation of eating outside did not impact service levels or the sense of enthusiasm. I found the communal dining inside to be fun and associated it with a positive and vibrant atmosphere. I like to think that I am a better man for experiencing BangPop and it isn't too often that I act like a fiend and require returning to a place so quickly just to get more bold tastes which teased not only my palate but my libido. If you are looking for a reason to visit the South Wharf precinct you now have an excuse despite being spoiled for options in general. BangPop is now my new favourite in the somewhat maligned area.
35 South Wharf Prom., South Wharf VIC 3006
(03) 9245 9800
My Rating: 14.5/20
Value For Money: 3.75/5
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com
At the time of this post, 82% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like BangPop.