Mikkayla reviews: Vela Thai — ‘fine Thai-ning’
147 Bay St, Port Melbourne
Confession: I’ve been actively delaying reviewing any sort of Thai restaurant for as long as possible, despite it being one of my favourite cuisines. Most people are pretty gung-ho about their local Thai joint and will fervently (and rightly) argue that theirs is the best. When it comes to ordering in, Thai food is number one on my list. In the same way that there are some things that don’t travel well to eat at home, there are others that are reliably delicious, even after sitting under a heat lamp for 10 minutes waiting to be picked up, and then enduring a 20 minute car trip, sweating in its plastic containers. Thai food is a rarity that manages to taste amazing back home, and somehow even better the next day after a quick zap of the leftovers in the microwave. It’s probably for this reason that I never seem to go out for Thai… until now.
Vela Thai is a teeny-tiny little joint at the corner of Bay and Graham Street in Port Melbourne. If you’re lucky enough to get a table inside, you’d be just one of a maximum of around ten diners… but they do have some tables outside, and a bustling takeaway service judging by the number of people and delivery drivers coming in and out.
I dragged two friends along after spending a week studying the menu and realising there were too many dishes that I wanted to try – I needed to lighten the eating load. Thank goodness they happened to be two of the most voracious eaters I know – there is no chance of leaving hungry with the amount of dishes we order.
Despite the seemingly busy behind-the scenes work, the server is warm, friendly and attentive. She gives the nod of approval at our choices (despite being convinced that we have definitely over-ordered). Our entrees are delivered in good time and piping hot – no plastic container-sweat dampening our spirits or our starters! Tender calamari rings are coated in a wonderfully light batter with thick shreds of coconut clinging to the rings, served with a dipping mayo that provides a sharp jolt of spice. Spring rolls are standard delicious, as are the chicken skewers with their delightfully savoury satay sauce.
The fried garlic chive dumplings with sweet and sour soy take us by surprise; they are nothing like what you would generally imagine for a dumpling. The soft and chewy dough is predominantly made up of rice flour and tapioca starch which, once you get past the crispy exterior, gives way to a tenderness that almost melts in your mouth.
The roti is something that ignites gasps of wonder – both at its presentation and its flavour. Roti is generally a pretty standard menu item but the puffed up, crisped and flaky balloons of buttery pastry are a sight to behold. Break off pieces to dip in the signature satay sauce; it is deliciously moreish – and an all-round favourite.
Over to the mains: Gai Yang is marinated and grilled chicken – a classic street Thai food staple strong in authentic flavours of lemongrass and fish sauce, loads of garlic and a touch of sweetness – is served with golden crispy skin and nam jim jeaw sauce – a mildly spicy relish with roasted chilli, tamarind essence and lime juice.
Vela Thai specialises in barramundi – offering 5 different flavours in either fillet or a whole fish. We went with the fillet glazed in tamarind with crispy fried shallot and garlic – it was truly delicious but was served a fair bit later than our other mains which was a little disappointing, as the rice was long gone by then.
The cashew nut chicken stirfy with dried chillies and vegies is a popular option all round – though light on the delicious sauce – and a fun take on Pad Thai comes out with crispy egg noodles and fat prawns – all the familiar, delicious flavours with a crunchy twist!
Dish of the night goes to two heavy-hitters: the massaman curry – again, a pretty popular choice but possibly the best version I have ever had. Five-star deliciousness presented beautifully, with both roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes, pull-apart tender hunks of beef and the rich, fragrant sauce, finished with chopped peanuts and a swirl of coconut cream. Vela Thai’s other must-try dish is their honey roasted duck leg – we had ours in a delightful tropical-esque curry, with chunks of pineapple, lychee, cherry tomato, capsicum and Thai basil. The skin is beautifully crisped and the meat can be shredded easily off the bone and mixed in.
Vela Thai is well worth the effort to head there and dine in – enjoy the friendly service, take along your own bottles of wine (BYO is only $2.50 per person or you can choose from the range they have there as well as beers and mocktails) and experience what I have coined ‘Fine Thai-ning’: Thai food elevated in service, presentation and taste to a whole new level.
Vela Thai is open all week for dinner from 4.30pm.