Thirty years ago, Prasit, the first in the Saab Wer family, emigrated to Australia, bringing with him a wealth of family recipes from Esan, the north-eastern corner of Thailand. After a few years, joined by his sister and her husband, they opened Thai Tha Poh, a restaurant in Surry Hills which operated happily for several years. They opened Saab Wer Thai Esan restaurant two years ago in Newtown, taking the opportunity to introduce Esan dishes as well as the usual Bangkok cuisine. The North-East menu has proved very popular, especially with the local Thai population.
Several chefs from other nearby Thai restaurants come in for a special Esan order. A popular feature is the free dessert – black sticky rice with sweet coconut milk – but you have to be quick at lunch, because it’s all gone before 2pm. A large covered dining area behind the restaurant is popular for parties and celebrations, as the local university students will attest.
Home deliveries from the restaurant’s website (saabwer.com.au) are done on a bright red Fonzarelli emission-free electric scooter, doing its small bit for the planet.
“Extremely delicious” is the english translation of the north-eastern Thai expression for “Saab Wer”.
Sticky rice runs wild in this region, a distinct characteristic of the neighboring Laos but a cuisine all on its own. Sticky rice is commonly rolled into a ball, eaten with your hands, and dipped into a hot sour dressing. Another feature of the food is the wild heat you will find in these dishes, and it is where the much loved Green Papaya Salad originated. A number of protein versions were available, and we opted for the Tiger Prawns.
The colder weather is the perfect time for a comfort dish, and the family of chefs and service staff here added to an extra feeling of fondness. The Red Curry with Duck and the Chef’s Special Rice showcase another staple: the coconut. The milky sauce from the curry alone is a winter pleasure! The presentation of the the Saab Wer Fresh Coconut Rice (Chef’s Special) is striking – a mix of eggs, vegetables and chicken with scrapings of coconut was all packed into a coconut shell! So tropical and flavorsome.
Also noticeable were the intricate details in the entree selection. A number of these could be a light meal on their own, from the Moo Ping (street-like pork skewers drenched in marinade flavor) to the hand tied wrapper strings on the prawn and crab spring rolls and money bags.
The love in this food comes not only from the rich history of recipes and ingredients, but from the owners, Bruce and Noi, and their large team of friends and family that hand their love for food and family on a plate right to your table! Deliveries are also done personally by Bruce, so if you can’t drop in, chances are they will literally come to your door.
With so many Thai restaurants in Newtown, how do they manage to survive? Apparently, by being good, and I foresee Saab Wer Thai being open for a long time. We were hosted by an amazingly entertaining and loving couple, Noi and his long term Scottish husband, Bruce. I hope I find their kind of love: it was a beauty to see and felt more like we were eating in their own home, especially when they brought out pictures to show us of their family.
The back of the venue tabled a contingent of local Thai people who downed a lot of delectable treats as if they were in their own home – apparently, they dine there every night! I loved this happy and comforting familiarity.
Our mostly north-eastern Thai dinner was some of the best Thai I have eaten in years. We sat in a festively decorated courtyard and devoured a feast.
The entrees were delicious, and all of us commented on what were the best Money Bags of all time. The Kana Moo Grob was divine with perfectly crispy pork and vibrant Chinese broccoli. My personal favourite was the Red Curry Duck; for me, the Som Tum Thai (Papaya Salad with Prawns) was too hot – being the only white guy dining, I was laughed at because I couldn’t stand “Asian hot”. To round out the mains we had a divine surprise dish of fried rice and chicken served in a coconut – it was delicious and wins extra points for theatrical presentation. To finish, we had a truly divine dessert I will return for – Sweet Durian and Coconut Sticky Rice. Just heavenly.
Arriving at the restaurant, I know it’s one of those places I may have overlooked. Don’t be fooled by its humble exterior – the food here definitely lives up to expectations.
There are so many incredible varieties of entrees, soups, salads, bbq dishes, curries and more on the menu that I wouldn’t even know where to begin listing them down. Noi recommends we begin with a series of entrees. The Golden Bags are Saab Wer’s take on traditional moneybags. Far from the stock-standard pork and prawn offering, these are filled with a sweet, savoury and crunchy mix of minced chicken, corn, coconut and peanuts. You need to try these when you come here!
I’m a green papaya salad freak. I couldn’t think of a better way to liven up the palate than with this humble offering of shredded green papaya, shrimps, peanuts, tomato, carrot, green beans with lime dressing and four grilled king prawns on the side. The salad is so popular that Saab Wer have six different versions made with everything from seafood to whole prawns and even prawn crackers.
We’re halfway through our main when Noi’s eyes light up. Checking if we’re still hungry and have room for more, he offers a special treat – mixed seafood with rice, chilli sauce, eggs, cashews, coconut meat, herbs and more served in a coconut shell. I really hope you get to take the journey to Saab Wer sometime soon. The team are incredibly warm and inviting and you’re in store for an incredible evening. I think I’ve found my new favourite Thai restaurant.