Inside Bourke Street’s New Hawker-Style Diner

By Sami Jenkins
5th Jun 2019

Isan Soul is your perfect Thailand getaway right in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD. Upon stepping inside, you’ll feel as though you’re stepping right into the home of an eccentric Grandma who owns a bustling side street restaurant. The feeling of being immersed in another world is truly the appeal of this place—and you will be embraced with open arms.

The restaurant is adorned with what feels like an organically grown collection of bits and bobs; old advertisement posters, toy trains, umbrellas, hats and even a sewing machine. The sense of wonderment really adds to the appeal of Isan Soul.

“When you’re in the restaurant, you’re in another world,” says Nas Prasertklinsakul, who runs the place. “We encourage you to think of your old childhood memories.” And while you’re waiting for your food to come out, the aromas of meats that have been grilled in lemongrass, fried fish cakes and tom yum waft through the air, taunting you.

Behind the scenes, head chef Ben Kunchairattana is the master behind the delicately crafted dishes that are constantly appearing from the kitchen. Ben started out without any classical training but worked his way up in the restaurant scene in Thailand. 

Now, about the food, we’ve tried it all and it is truly all fantastic. For starters, try the colour-changing Butterfly Pea tea and Thai milk tea (a classic). For entrée, we recommend the crispy fish ball skewers with sweet chilli sauce or the spicy pork salad with sticky rice.

Another standout was the chicken skewer which is made as a homage to street food vendors in Thailand. Isan Soul even imported a special stick with which to skewer the chicken, that you can only get other there. That’s commitment right there.

For something more substantial, our fave picks have to be sweet and sour tom yum seafood broth or the creamy soft shell crab in curry sauce. If you like spice, we think you’ll really like the prikking crispy pork with greens and dried red chilli paste.

Isan Soul gets particularly busy around peak lunch hour; the whole place will be full of business types wearing suits and side-satchels. But if you don’t mind the hustle and bustle of crowds, even better.

Image credit: Mel Desa

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