At first we walked past the restaurant, mistaking the bright fluorescent lighting for a nail or beauty salon. It seemed way too bright to be a restaurant, but after checking street numbers and feeling a bit stupid for a while, we took a closer look and saw we had indeed discovered S&T Thai Gourmet Café.
It's a bit of a misnomer, because it's not really a café and it's not really gourmet. But make no mistake, this is great Thai food, and S&T epitomises the whole 'cheap and cheerful' ethos.
Once you adjust your eyes to the bright lighting (which is probably quite refreshing after many restaurants where you need the flash on your camera to read the menu or see what you're eating), you realise you're not going to be dazzled by the décor. Bright white walls, one red wall, simple prints on the wall and zero table decoration. But who cares? People are here to eat, not lose themselves in aesthetics.
The menu is enormous, covering both sides of a large laminated sheet. If you're new to S&T, you don't sit around and wait for someone to come and take your order. There is a little contraption on the table with three buttons: one to call a waitress, one to ask for more water and one to ask for the bill. Buttons! We couldn't wait. Unfortunately, we only got to press the button once, to have our order taken, because there was always plenty of water jugs on the table, and the button got taken away before we had a chance to ask for the bill.
After much debate over what we would order we finally had a list. We pressed the button and immediately someone came to the table. What I really appreciated was how thorough and thoughtful she was – double-checking certain things, clarifying the entire order, and being really upfront about the heat of certain dishes.
We obviously looked like we'd faint at the first sign of a chilli so we were warned off the jungle curry and it was politely suggested we try the jungle curry instead. Good call.
The beef larb was full of bite, and for me the hottest dish of the night. It had a great fresh flavour to start with, thanks to the beautiful mint and coriander throughout the dish, but about a minute later the heat began to sneak up.
The chicken pad Thai was exactly what it should be, fresh and slippery with great chunks of meat, good flavour and not overpoweringly hot.
My favourite dish was the prawn cake. We had ordered fish cakes but on being told they were unavailable that night, the prawns were recommended instead. They came as panko crumbed disks, sweet and delicious, and I wish I'd had more.
S&T has a lot going for it – it's food obviously and it is also ridiculously good value – we walked out having spent less than $20 a head. It is also BYO and there doesn't seem to be any corkage, so that helps to make it an even cheaper night.
On the downside, the room hardly conjures the exotic East and it is very loud inside, with no noise dampeners or anything that would help soften the noise of many happy diners. Bookings are strongly recommended.