In Thai, the term ‘pok pok’ is used to describe the hollow sound of a pestle grinding spices in a mortar, particularly in the traditional preparation of green papaya salad. In the middle of a lunch rush on a busy day, the sound is drowned out by the racket of the Victoria Harbour locals – and the many who have wandered down from the CBD – catching up over fast-but-lush Thai street food. It’s that rush that has owner-manager Ethan Chaikijkosi hooked.
“I couldn’t work in a quiet, fine-dining restaurant. I love the action and the energy here.” When he hears the chefs yelling in the kitchen, he knows it’s going to be a good day.
Thai-born Chaikijkosi studied architecture in Sydney in the 1990s, and developed a love of hospitality through a long working relationship with Salvatore Malatesta of St Ali fame. Since opening Pok Pok in 2012, Chaikijkosi has seen a few neighbouring businesses come and go because their offerings didn’t quite match people’s expectations. Luckily for Chaikijkosi, he finds his customers’ high standards motivating. His philosophy is, essentially, quality and affordability.
“We get the freshest ingredients and also bring a little bit of culture, you know, so people can also have an experience.” There’s the drama of the kitchen, which is visible from the upstairs dining room, and a willingness from Chaikijkosi and his team of chefs to experiment. “Authenticity isn’t everything. It’s important, but you’ve got to walk the line between tradition and best practice.”
So what are the crowd favourites at Pok Pok? According to Chaikijkosi, customers go crazy for the pork belly with green peppercorns. The Massaman lamb curry is another dish that customers tell him can’t be taken off the menu. It’s certainly evident from the packed dining room, designed by Wonder in an appealing and modern grey and hot-pink colour scheme, that Pok Pok has the food and efficient service down to an art.
That said, Chaikijkosi and his business partner Emily Lam are constantly reassessing things to see what they can do better. Currently, the third iteration of the menu is under development. As well as expanding the popular street-food lunch offering, a slower paced, more traditional and refined Thai menu will also be on offer. Ethan promises it’s coming soon, so stay tuned.
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