Sa wat dee – welcome to Melbourne’s little slice of Thailand.
Middle Fish is the life-long vision of Siriporn Liamthong, known affectionately as Pla, a Thai national from the southern region of the country. Pla grew up in a market area of Thailand, and was heavily influenced by Chinese culture from immigrants to the region during her early years. What she has created is a welcoming urban restaurant, with the warmth of the chilli only surpassed by the warmth of the hospitality.
The location of Middle Fish is unassuming, nestled in between an industrial and commercial area of Carlton. It is not coincidence that the Queen Victoria Market is only a stone’s throw away, with the market influence playing heavily into the design and culture of Middle Fish. It’s easy to see why the space itself is popular with the local uni students also – it’s no secret that Melburnians love a hole-in-the-wall, eclectic, off-beat speakeasy, and this is exactly what Middle Fish offers.
The warehouse that encompasses the restaurant has been converted into a hip setting featuring the very best of local and Thai design. Pla and her partner David (rumored to be the current champion of the chilli-eating contests amongst the staff) have collaborated with an artist from Chiang Mai who has created feature pieces for the restaurant to bring the style of Thailand to Melbourne. Two large chandeliers created from silver cups greet you immediately upon arrival, designed to be functional whilst also acting as an offering to Buddah.
If you weren’t already impressed with the décor and ear-to-ear smiles of the staff, the food will certainly get you there. Middle Fish has already been trading for breakfast and lunch for 3 years now, but has only recently dabbled with the dinner trade – open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner and 7 days a week for breakfast and lunch.
The fusion menu is inspired by Pla’s traditional Thai heritage and Chinese culture influence. The stand-out dish for these incurable foodies was “Sa La Pao” – think Chinese custard buns minus the custard – filled instead with Thai creations of pork and chicken mixed with Asian herbs and turmeric. The fish cakes were also incredible, turning this non-seafood eater into a convert.
In fact, there were so many knock out, flavour-filled dishes on the menu there simply isn’t enough space to list everything. As it was noted, “this is what food should taste like”. We relied on the recommendations of the Manager, Ken (“Ken – as in Ken and Barbie. Still no Barbie yet though”), and he didn’t disappoint.
The entire staff were so keen to please and depart their love of Thailand that it was hard not to feel like you’d come home for a hearty meal. In fact we laughed, cried (over the amount of chilli) and indulged so much that we were the last ones standing in the restaurant.
If you’re looking for a new flavour, to try a Thai Ice Tea (also highly recommended), to learn some Thai language or to purchase any manner of Thai cooking products, swim on over to Middle Fish and say hello to Pla, Dave and Ken – the friendliest Thais in Melbourne.
122-128 Berkeley Street, Carlton