Some far-flung friends of ours made a rare trip to Melbourne last week, and I was lucky to share my birthday dinner with them. We arranged to meet up at Easy Tiger for their second sitting, after our friends' kids were tucked into bed, and were seated in the restaurant's warm courtyard out back.
Easy Tiger briefs its staff to be a smidge over-prescriptive with the menu, but I think they've loosened up a little - while I feared that we'd be faced with everyone-has-the-same-banquet-or-no-one-banquets, they were actually happy to accommodate two vegetarians and two omnivores, one of whom has a shellfish allergy. (This bodes awfully well for vegans and coeliacs, and it looks like they have a handle on fructose-free too.) We picked the $75 rather than the $95 version, figuring there'd be enough mains to go around. They also offer an unprecedented four different beverage matches - non booze ($25), crisp wine ($35), not wine ($50) and luscious wine ($60). I predictably picked the former.
My citrussy soda was just the thing to cut through the starchy, chilli-salted taro chips.
The vegetarian 'meatballs' were mostly peanut, flavoured with palm sugar, tamarind, and galangal,and perched atop watermelon chunks. I don't really get this fried-and-fruit pairing, but Easy Tiger have been running with it for a while.
To take me through the remainder of the savoury dishes, I was served a mocktail of pineapple juice, milky calpis and coriander. Our entrees continued with rounds of silken tofu in a thin salt-and-pepper batter, with a pickly side of iceberg kim chi.
Dolmades usually leave me cold, but betel leaves are another story! They're so fresh and fragrant. These ones were stuffed with puffed rice, peanuts, lots of coconut, and fried eschallots.
This little salad included baby corn, Thai eggplant, lemongrass and toasted rice, but mostly I just tasted pickled cucumber.
We were hit with a number of mains and some steamed rice all at once. Our waiter warned us of the single green chilli hiding in the green papaya salad (top left), and I accidentally hit it. It partially ruined me for the other dishes and completely ruined me for conversation for a good 15 minutes or so. Hence I missed the subtler notes of the creamy kipfler potato massaman curry (top right) and the son-in-law egg (bottom left) fell a bit flatter than last time. I did enjoy their reintroduction of the eggplant with thick, smoky wok-fried rice noodles and soy beans (bottom right, apparently it's been missing from the menu for two or three years).
As a palate cleaner I was presented with a small aloe vera juice, bobbing with little ice cubes and jellies - it thoroughly restored my chilli-ravaged tongue.
With dessert I was served a much darker, woodier pu-erh tea, adding depth to a bowl of coconut sago pudding with strawberry jelly and palm sugar syrup.
I must confess that I'd been hoping to revisit the pandan dumplings, and as a sweet birthday gesture Michael ordered a bowl of them to share. Matching his sweetness, our waiter rushed the order up to the kitchen before they closed and the dumplings were delivered, neatly divided into four portions. (I suspect they might even have generously given us two servings for the price of one, $19).
These truly are amazeballs - bready, gently herbal pandan gradually giving way to molten dark chocolate, with a thin salted coconut cream and a little lift from fresh melon balls.
Our bill arrived with cute Easy Tiger-insignia candy - sweet and sour, a little salty with a shocking slow-burn heat, all in the spirit of Thai cooking.
While much of this banquet was familiar from our previous experience two years ago, there were some neat new innovations, fun flavours and no sense of boredom for us.
You can read about our prevous visits to Easy Tiger here and here. Since then it's received positive reviews on MoMo & Coco, foodie about town, The Chommery, Gourmet Chick, Barley Blog, Where Adles Eats and Smudge Publishing (business associates). Meanwhile, Melbourne Patron loved the food but felt let down by the service, and the experience didn't meet the expectations of Popcorn & Toast or I Eat Therefore I Am.
96 Smith St, Collingwood
veg banquet $75 per person
Accessibility: There's a ramp on entry, somewhat crowded tables with a decent walkway through the restaurant and female and marked unisex disability-friendly toilets on the same level. Male toilets and a downstairs courtyard are less accessible. There's full table service.