January 6 & 10, 2016
In 2006 Tom Phat was a new entry into the Cheap Eats guide, on the frontier of Brunswick gentrification and Asian fusion food. A decade later its brunch & bar fit-out has barely changed and aged rather well, with floor space doubling thanks to an extension into a neighbouring shopfront. While dishes have shuffled around from time to time, the menu has remained a mish-mash of eggs and roti, curries and stir-fries, cocktails and mocktails, with well-marked veg options, plenty of tofu and at least one mention of tempeh.
We first visited and blogged Tom Phat in 2008 and made a follow-up post in 2011. While these describe positive encounters, we'll admit to a couple of disappointments regarding both the food and the service in between; Carla was far more thorough in her polarised feelings on easy as vegan pie. In the past week we've returned for both dinner and breakfast to find out how Tom Phat is faring in 2016.
For dinner, Michael ordered the fried crispy silken tofu with red pumpkin curry, basil and lime on rice ($19). The tofu pieces were like deep-fried clouds, the curry was fragrant and citrusy, and Michael was very pleased.
I took on the nasi goreng ($18; we paid $12.90 for the same dish in 2011). It was sweet with kecap manis and a little smoky, with skewers of tofu and tempeh and a fried egg that spilled golden yolk over the rice. Another winner, we reckoned. I washed it down with a tangy Eastern Sunset mocktail ($6) of orange juice, pineapple juice, lemon juice and grenadine.
With happy memories of a scrambled tofu dish back in the day, Michael set his eye on their current version for breakfast ($14.90). It wasn't the spicy egg-substitute he was anticipating, instead a soupy bowl of 'roast tomato salsa' holding silken tofu blobs, wilting spinach leaves and a few button mushrooms.
Michael does credit Tom Phat for introducing him to Vietnamese iced coffees (still $4 after 5 years). He's mighty fond of getting his summertime caffeine with a shot of condensed milk, though he now does so more often from Wide Open Road.
Meanwhile, I was curious to revisit the roti pancake ($12.90; up from $11 in 2011). Indicative of changes in me more than at Tom Phat, this didn't work out. Tough to cut, filled with mashed banana and encased in toffee, this was extraordinarily sweet even before the icecream hit the plate (oh, for a little lime or spice to cut through the sugar!). My two favourite things about roti are its flakiness and its delicate crunchy surface, and this approach maintains neither.
If nothing else, Tom Phat remains consistently inconsistent! It seems any dish is equally likely to generate a grin or a grimace. We were similarly bemused by the playlist, a mix of early '90s hip hop by night and Wilco backed up against CDB by day. The service staff, at least, were reliably friendly and efficient. It's fascinating that such a restaurant has persevered for a decade with very few updates - we'll probably continue to swing by every now and then, but Tom Phat has never really locked down our loyalty.
You can also read about one, two of our previous visits. Since then it's received praise from fellow veg blogger little vegan bear.
There's also praise on omni blogs frenchtoastandindiepop, gluten shmooten, Eat Like Ushi, Peach Water, I Talk Too Much My Mouth Hurts, Klaus and Fritz, Only Through You, TEXTURE by alexandra, egg tarts and apple pie, Asian Restaurants in Melbourne, Melbourne Epicurean Eats, Chomp And Slurp, krapow, Lots of Cravings and Ms I-Hua.
Reviews are more mixed on Mon's Adventure, The Misadventures of MissC, New International Students, Skinny Glutton, bows with boats, The Bakeanista and Monschable Melbourne.
184 Sydney Rd, Brunswick
breakfast & drinks, lunch & dinner
Accessibility: Tom Phat has a small ramp on entry. Tables are aligned through the length of the building with a corridor through that starts off wide but gets a little more crowded towards the end. There is a disability-marked toilet out back. We ordered at our table and paid afterwards at the low-ish counter.