MELBOURNE | Melbourne, and in particular the inner northern suburbs has no shortage of quality Thai food which has lead to increasing competition and innovation and the emergence of modern or fusion Thai restaurants over the last few years. Son In Law in Collingwood is one of the more recent entrants into this space that has been dominated by CBD restaurants such as Chin Chin and Longrain.
Named after the classic Thai appetiser that is said to be served by a man’s mother-in-law if he wasn’t being a good husband as a symbol of what his ‘eggs’ may end up as if he didn’t shape up, Son in Law opened in September 2015, on Johnston Street away from the main Brunswick and Smith Street precincts, focusing on modern interpretations of traditional Thai food. In fitting with the theme of the venue and the surrounding area more generally the interior resembles more of a hip bar/cafe than a traditional Thai restaurant. The reclaimed wood tables and the use of brickwork around the bar area contrast well against the bright colours of the interior to create a vibrant feel to the place.
The drinks list offers a quality list of approachable craft beers, including a few brews from Victorian breweries such as Hawthorn Brewing and Mountain Goat, as well as perennial resident at the top of the “Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers”, the Feral Hop Hog. The wine list is relatively short but solid, however where Son in Law really excels on the beverage side is in its cocktail list which is made up of classics all of which have a Thai twist, whether it be the use of Thai spirits or even sriracha sauce. On this occasion we tried the Mae Khong Sour which was both very well presented and a very refreshing way to start our meal. There is also a happy hour every day between 5:30pm and 7:00pm when cocktails are half price and tap beer (Singha, naturally) and house wines are $5:00 a glass.
The food menu includes a number of Thai classics such as Pad Thai, green curry, Tom Yum soup and papaya salad, as well as a range of fusion-style Thai dishes such as fish cake sliders, beef tacos and roast duck baos. Son in Law is family run which means that the recipes are authentic and have been passed down within the family and also the service was excellent and we always felt looked after and well attended to.
Son in Law Eggs ($8.00 for 2)
We of course had to start our meal with the dish that is Son in Law’s namesake. Son in Law eggs are hard boiled, then fried until golden brown and then served with a tamarind-based sauce and fried shallots on top. The Son in Law version of this dish was excellent, the outside of the egg was nice and crispy and the sauce was the right balance of sweet and spicy and the chilli served on top provided a bit of extra zing. Definitely a must have for anyone who visits Son in Law.
Braised Beef Taco ($4.50 each)
Next we tried one of the fusion dishes which was the braised beef tacos done in the soft style and were served with coriander and ground chilli to give them a Thai flavour. These come served on a board which is perhaps not ideal for a dish that is quite messy due to sauces dripping out of the taco but the meat was very tender and the chilli and coriander really augmented the flavours of the meat. The tacos had a good amount of filling without being unwieldy (which is a problem with many tacos nowadays).
Roast Duck Bao ($6.00 each)
Our last starter was one of the ‘on trend’ Asian fusion foods at present – the roast duck bao – which was served with hoisin sauce, cucumber and coriander. The buns themselves were done well, light and fluffy but dense enough so that you can ‘squeeze’ the bao as you eat it without it falling apart. The filling is the classic flavour combination that one would find in peking duck pancakes (minus the coriander) which worked well although the duck was a little on the dry side.
Crispy Barramundi Fillets ($14.00)
To start the main course we had the crispy barramundi fillets with roasted dry chilli, mint, coriander and roasted ground rice. The crunch of the fried fish was a nice contrast to the previous dishes and the combination of chilli, mint and coriander meant that the dish still had a good variety of authentic flavours despite not being served with a sauce.
Massaman Curry ($15.00, $18.00 with a lamb shank)
Our second main dish was the massaman curry, which is a coconut milk-based curry made with cinnamon and other spices, served with slow braised beef, potatoes and cashew nuts on the side. This dish was the highlight of the meal for me and really demonstrated Son in Law’s ability to deliver truly authentic classic Thai dishes in addition to the more modern fare. The flavours were spot on with a decent level of spiciness which could have been more intense (although massaman curry is meant to be mild), the beef was as tender as was the case with the tacos and the presentation was excellent as you can see from the photo below. Given how well Son in Law delivered on this dish are definitely keen to come back and try the green curry for a bigger spicy kick.
Roti with Peanut Sauce ($5.50)
To accompany the curry we also ordered a serve of roti which came with peanut sauce. This would not normally be worth commenting on but finding the best roti in Melbourne is a bit of an obsession of mine and ever since Little Malaysia closed last year there’s been a gap needing to be filled. Son in Law’s roti was adequate without being exceptional, it was pan fried to a good level of crispiness and wasn’t too oily but wasn’t as fluffy as the best roti I’ve had. Also, at $5.50 this seemed a bit expensive for what you get, especially when the starter dishes were quite reasonably priced.
Twice Cooked Crispy Pork Belly ($16.00)
Our last main dish was the twice cooked crispy pork belly with chilli jam, green beans, bean shoots and kaffir lime leaves. Pork belly is always a bit of a ‘stand or fall’ dish and it is either great or disappointing (and there are lots of ways it can disappoint). Luckily, Son in Law’s version of crispy pork belly was in the former category, the ratio of meat to fat was good, the sauce was flavoursome and the beans and bean shoots both added a good crunch and also helped to diffuse some of the richness of the dish. The only criticism I would make is that the chilli wasn’t really noticeable in this dish and it could have been a lot punchier and still be approachable for most people.
Green Papaya Salad ($10.00)
As a side dish we ordered the green papaya salad which is another staple of traditional Thai cuisine. Made with papaya, green beans, roasted peanuts, caramelised palm sugar, lime juice and fish sauce this dish is made to be a refreshing complement to the other creamy or fried dishes and is traditionally very spicy. Unfortunately the papaya salad was not up to par with the other dishes, the flavours were muted and the dish was nowhere near as spicy as a papaya salad should be (in my view).
Nutella Puffs ($12.00) and Steamed Coconut Pandan Puddings ($9.00)
For our last course we shared two desserts, the nutella puffs and the steamed coconut pandan puddings. These were a most pleasant way to finish our meal, the nutella puff pastry was delicate while still holding the warm filling inside and the puddings were smooth and milky and had a good amount of pandan flavour.
Son in Law is a strong candidate in what is becoming a crowded field for mid-range Thai dining in Melbourne – we were very impressed with our meal and will definitely be back again soon. We would highly recommend anyone who is keen for either traditional Thai food or Thai dishes with a bit of a twist to head over to Son in Law and check out what they have to offer.
Son In Law
56 Johnston Street
Brunch: Fri-Sat 12.00pm–4.30pm
Dinner: 7 days 5.30pm–11.30pm
Sun – Thu: 5:30pm to 11:30pm
Fri – Sat: 12 noon to 4:30pm; 5:30pm to 11:30pm