20th February 2019
353 Little Collins St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
I had high hopes for Dodee Paidang. I wish I could say that it’s because I know Melbourne has finally upped its Thai food game, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. Dodee Paidang actually originates from Sydney, where the Thai food is top notch. Having been to one of the branches there, I can vouch for the quality and authenticity of Dodee. Whilst this isn’t quite as good as Melbourne having its very own good born and bred Thai restaurant, the prospect of not having to leave good Thai food when I eventually move back to Melbourne is pretty exciting.
Unlike the original Dodee Paidang in Haymarket, which felt very much like a small family-run restaurant, the Melbourne branch takes up an expansive subterranean space, and seats a whopping 150. Yet despite those numbers, apparently queues out the door aren’t uncommon. And I believe it too – not only was it two-thirds full for a weekday lunch, but the restaurant has been designed to accommodate everything from solo diners to massive groups. There’s even a drumkit and sound system set up in the corner; apparently this is the place to be on weekends if you like hearing old-school hits performed live by Thai expats.
K had never had proper Thai food before, and I was keen to show him the ropes. We started with the classic of Moo Ping ($3ea), which unfortunately did not quite live up to expectations. Whilst the grilled pork neck was tender, and glazed with an addictive sweet yet savoury marinade, it lacked that distinct smokiness so crucial to good meat skewers.
Likewise, the Look Shin Ping ($2ea) were equally as underwhelming. We got one of each of the pork and fish balls, but aside from the skewer in them, they were no different to any other meat/fish balls I’ve had in the past.
Things started getting good with the Soft Boiled Rice with Combination Pork ($7.9, regular). And I mean really good. I had forsaken this last time in order to try their signature tom yum noodles, but this is definitely my new favourite thing to get at Dodee. The broth is a clear, yet deceptively deep and complex brew with intermingling notes of pork and seafood, and just a hint of tanginess to give the smooth umami a bit more character. Floating amongst the soft grains of white rice were bits and bobs of porky deliciousness – tender ribs, slices of sausage, and meatballs. As someone who grew up eating (and loving) rice soaked in whatever soup we had at dinner on the day, this was the ultimate throwback comfort food.
Just for good measure, I also decided to order the Vegetable and Tofu Pad Kee Mao ($9.9) – my benchmark dish for deciding if a Thai restaurant is worth my time. This passed with flying colours – slick, chewy noodles charred in a hot wok, aromatic spiciness from the combination of chilli and Thai basil, and plenty of crunchy veggies and tofu pieces. It may be simple, but when done well, it’s all that’s needed.
On my first visit to Dodee, I had their papaya salad and absolutely adored it. Feeling adventurous, we decided to try the Som Tum Mau ($15.9) – a much more exotic version of the papaya salad, containing everything from pork rinds to pickled crabs to Thai anchovies, all drenched in plenty of fish sauce. And this is how I found my limit for exotic foods. This is just too much for me – too fishy, too pungent, and just too plain unusual. As much as I liked picking out the bits of pork crackling, it would take an awful lot to convince me to order this again.
K was full, but I was greedy, and decided to wrap up the meal with a piece of Khaotom-mat ($2.9ea). This turned out to be a great idea; the soft, sticky dumpling of glutinous rice steamed in banana leaf may have been simple, but was absolutely delicious with its centre of sweet baby banana, and a drizzle of thick coconut cream over the top.
Despite the papaya salad incident, I was absolutely stoked with this meal. Although not the best Thai meal I’ve ever had (I think that still belongs to Home Thai), the Melbourne branch of Dodee Paidang is as much of the real deal as any other Thai restaurant in Sydney, and that is pretty high praise in my books. What I’m really hoping for however is that Dodee will do what Fukuryu did for ramen, and open up the floodgates for more bona fide, top-notch Thai restaurants in Melbourne.
Rating: 13.5/20 – soft rice 4 lyf.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.