The suburb that is Melbourne University is one that offers no shortage of food options, especially with Lygon St a stone’s throw away. But if Italian cuisine or pizza isn’t for you, there is also an abundance of cafes in the Carlton area to fulfil your lunchtime needs. I have walked by Middle Fish food cafe on several occasions while heading to Seven Seeds for coffee. It operates out of a converted brick warehouse space located on Berkeley St and I’d describe it as a food cafe only because it’s a lot more casual than a “restaurant”. I don’t recall having observed it to have a substantial crowd previously, however on this Saturday, the crowded premise was enough to change my mind about Seven Seeds and give it a go instead.
As it turns out, Middle Fish serves Thai food. The menu offers a variety of smaller entrees (e.g. fish cakes), curries and rice noodle salads. There are several vegetarian options for my alternative feasting friends too. The spacious layout provides seating for groups of varying sizes (2 – 10) which caters very well to the needs of the academic population, be they students or professionals. The high ceilings and heavily glassed frontage ensures sufficient lighting within the building, and ventilation so the heavier Thai food aromas do not persist for longer than they should.
For a starter, I had the Gai Tod Na Saw, the Southern fried chicken wings with fried shallots ($8.50). A curious thing about the name – as far as my limited knowledge of Thai cuisine takes me, I’m not aware of any difference that may exist in preparing fried chicken between the Northern and Southern regions of Thailand. The wings were okay, can’t say they’re anything fantastic. I thought the meat edged towards the drier side, and could probably do with some coating. Didn’t really note or taste any fried shallots either. Three wings for the price, erm.. I’ll pass on this and will try the fish cakes ($7.50) next time.
The Yum Woon Sen Gai, glass noodle salad with mince chicken, carrot, tomato, spring onion and roasted cashews ($13.50) was a welcomed tasty dish for a chilly afternoon. It’s a warm salad made with rice vermicelli and minced chicken meat. There was ample salad leaves to give some fresh flavour, and roughly cut tomato pieces. So slightly modified from the advertised dish, but I didn’t mind the change. The flavour mix worked well, with the dash of fish sauce, slight hints of sweet and sourish flavours. I would have liked some fresh sliced chilli with it though because I think that would add a bit of a kick to this dish.
The Mussaman curry ($16.50) was a generous pot serving of beef and potato chunks in a peanut based curry, served with a piece of roti bread (cut into quarters for your convenience). I can’t describe the serving portion as anything but generous, there was plenty of beef with minimal potato to make up for quantity. This dish can easily be shared by two people and all you’d have to do is order an extra serve of rice. While tasty, I did think the curry sauce veered towards the sweeter spectrum. The coconut cream was easily picked up, but I think they might have used a touch too much brown palm sugar.
Finally, the Kang Prik Gra Dook Moo, slow cooked pork ribs ($16.50) is a fancy looking offering that by no means lacks in flavour. The pork is prepared in a tasty stock with tender meat but not to the point of it flopping off the bone. It is served with fresh bean sprouts, diced carrot and Chinese cabbage which is a nice textural contrast when you pack them into the stock. Served with rice, this is another main which should be shared.
Overall, Middle Fish is established in a prime location which should see it not short on the lunchtime crowd. The prices are well-within the affordable range, although I would say the entrees would be better served adjusted down slightly. The mains are good value, and from my peek of the next table, the fried rice seems particularly appetising and that’s what I’ll be ordering the next time I visit.