For a midweek jaunt, The Baan is busy. All but one table are full at 6:30pm and the carpark is a constantly-changing crowd of takeaway customers and diners in their Wednesday best.
It's the sort of place where suited professionals can dine alongside a community magazine editor in daggy old jeans (*cough*) and nobody looks particularly out of place. Yet, The Baan Kurrajong - comfortably ensconced in the San Remo winery grounds of Blaxlands Ridge - offers a dining experience that sets a new standard for the region.
The menu is crowded with old friends; the mixed entree with satay skewers, moneybags and curry puffs. The larb, the curries, the stir fries and belly-warming sticky coconut dessert. But it's no hole-in-the-wall Thai takeaway menu, either. There's something on every page to make you look twice, and house specialties including duck, barra, and even signature Baan banana spring rolls to finish.
The moneybags are not your standard tooth-shattering cardboard wrapper dealio. Sink your spoon into it to divide it in half and it will succumb easily. Dip into the housemade sweet chilli sauce and enjoy the feather-light and flavoursome casing which gives way to a delightfully subtle filling. Prawns on skewers have the telltale "burst" of freshness I'm looking for, and Oat's house-made velvety satay sauce keeps just enough texture to let the humble peanut rule.
We're served by owner-operator Mandy Vaiyaboon herself, who is fresh-faced as ever, even after a first week of trade that has seen such enthusiasm from locals that the phones have regularly jammed at peak times. On top of parenting a young family fulltime with her partner - Executive Chef Oat Vaiyaboon - Mandy manages the floor and bar. The Baan offers a small but solid drinks menu, and given their plans to open the outside deck to customers at some point over the summer, it's easy to see where the go-to spot for Blaxlands Ridge and East Kurrajong residents will be come warmer weather.
"It's been an overwhelming response," she says. "Overwhelming, but good. We've been made to feel very welcome. It's just been lovely."
Right. Into the mains.
"Those are peppercorns. Be careful," warns the diner behind me. She's talking to her husband, as they venture into a dish they strongly suspect of being spicy.
It's a common anxiety among diners whose palates are less seasoned to the fresh red and green chilli delights of South-East Asia. But rest assured; the menu at The Baan accommodates everyone; even children. Tonight, my tiny dinner companion has the $12.50 "Kids Egg Fried Rice" [pictured below] which sees her very well fed. Items with chilli on the menu are clearly marked with one, two or three chillis to indicate how much heat each dish contains.
The beautifully-presented Pineapple Fried Rice will wow your dining companions as it is placed upon your table, and strips of chicken breast add a bit of heartiness that makes it a meal unto itself. If you really love pineapple (like some people) the Pineapple Stir Fry with prawns will zing your palate awake with a delightful tang that takes you straight to Phuket.
But let's get to the superstar dish of the night.
We've found the dish that really showcases Chef Oat's talent, and it's his curries. In a silky and subtle bowl of coconutty red chilli heat and a whisper of tamarind, buttery soft strips of beef await you on a bed of seasonal vegetables in Oat's gorgeously understated beef panang curry. Some cooks like to make panangs super-peanutty and almost thick with the texture of peanut, but Oat has taken the higher road here. This panang is gentle and sweet. She's more a soft warm chilli heat than a peanut and chilli hit in the face, and more tang than coconut. Yet, all the crucial components of a good panang are still right there for the taking. Still creamy, and still hot enough to make you smile with that first spoonful. Don't pair that curry with anything but steamed rice. Let her sing her divine song alone.
Dishes are priced very reasonably, with entrees ranging between $9.90 to $11.90.
Enjoy a choice of two set menus for groups of four and up; the "Classic" being the $35pp option and the "Full" being a $45pp option. Diners are encouraged to check in upon arrival.
The Baan Kurrajong is on Facebook.
Call (02) 7228 9074 or email email@example.com to make a booking.
This is an intimate dining space; bookings are strongly recommended.
Have you got your copy of the Autumn 2021 issue of West of the River Magazine yet?
Read more food and farming stories in our Hawkesbury Plate issue. Out now.