Published in Warrandyte Diary
Already a Warrandyte institution, it’s hard to believe Warrandyte’s Vanilla Orchid has only been open three and a half years. Following in the footsteps of long-established, sister restaurant River Kwai, the eatery offers authentic, Eastern-region Thai cuisine with a few surprises such as Burmese influenced dishes and French desserts with a Thai twist.
Owner Duncan Robertson describes the food as a blend of his technique and wife, Julia’s native Korat flavours. The emphasis is on fresh and authentic, with everything from sauces to Roti and curry pastes made in house. Together with Julia, they have toured Thailand extensively and explored regional flavours for both restaurants.
Duncan’s food industry pedigree is impressive. Having grown up in McLaren Vale with both parents involved in food and wine, he helped out in the family coffee shop and picked grapes at Wirra Wirra before training under internationally acclaimed chef, Chong Liew. Duncan has tried every facet of cooking from executive chef to food coordinator to teacher. He has worked at Hilton on the Park, Cicciolina and the Salopian Inn, Melbourne Bakehouse, David Jones and Spotless Catering. He has trained award-winning chefs at NMIT and worked alongside celebrity chefs including Curtis Stone and Gordon Ramsey.
A Lalb Neur (Char-Grilled Beef Salad) decorated with fresh orchids is vividly coloured, aromatic and fiery, with dry-roasted spices and a good hit of chili. The beef is smoky and tender within, and texture is provided from toasted rice and super-fresh, oriental cabbage.
The Chho Chee Guong (King Prawn Curry) offers perfectly cooked, glossy prawns tossed with kaffir lime and Thai basil, awash in a brightly coloured, velvety curry sauce – lively, smooth and perfectly balanced.
Great desserts and Thai cuisine do not usually appear in the same sentence but here Vanilla Orchid excels. An experienced pastry chef, Duncan’s imaginative fusions of French desserts featuring Thai flavours provide a ‘wow’ factor. The Garfair Booraan Parfait is an explosive delight to the senses. Inspired by a regional Thai coffee beverage (a thick and sweet layered concoction of coffee and condensed milk), this dish is velvety smooth and satisfying with an invigorating, crispy topping of chocolate, coffee and satay dust.
The wine list is disappointing but luckily Vanilla Orchid is BYO as well as licensed and corkage is only $6.
With award-winning “mother-ship restaurant,” River Kwai a continuing success, Duncan says he and Julia opened Vanilla Orchid with the objective of “offering consistent, good food in Warrandyte, but we also wanted to give something back” – profits from the restaurant go to charitable causes in Julia’s hometown community in Thailand.
According to Duncan, staff at both restaurants keep them “running like clockwork”. He explains, “We have fantastic, mainly local staff and most of them have been with us since we opened.”
Duncan is not content to rest on his laurels and has just finished filming a television series entitled, Duncan’s Thai Kitchen. “Julia and I are planning a third restaurant with a unique twist,” says Duncan, but refrains from revealing more details.
- Vanilla Orchid is open 5.30pm until 10pm Tues-Sat and 11am until 10pm Sun. For further information visit http://www.vanillaorchid.com.au