Fitzroy, VIC 3065
Chilli Lili. Chilli Lili. Chilli Lili! I can’t be the only one who thinks the name of this new Thai restaurant is a blast to say, because according to Liliana, for whom the restaurant is named, people were walking past chanting the restaurant’s name before it had even opened.
Located in Fitzroy, Chilli Lili is a refreshing change from the many vegan-and-gluten-free-and-politically-correct restaurants along Johnston Street. Walking in on a warm Tuesday evening, we were welcomed into a house that was refurbished to be bright and modern, though it can’t shake that hint of grunge so characteristic of Fitzroy.
|Seasoned Chicken Crackling ($3.9)|
Before the entrees, we were treated to a starter of Seasoned Chicken Crackling ($3.9). You know those golden, knobbly pieces of skin you pull off your fried chicken because you know they’re bad for you? Well this is nothing but those; nothing but crunch, many secret herbs and spices, and glorious deep frying. Like popcorn chicken without the chicken. I’m really not a fan of Rihanna but you know the song Hate That I Love You? With every piece of chicken I ate, the urge to sing it became a little stronger.
|Entree Sampler ($12.9)|
In comparison to the fried chicken skin, the Entree Sampler ($12.9) was almost virtuous. There were two pieces of the Chilli Lili Wings, and each bite was like having that evil chicken crackling again, except this time it was accompanied by hot, juicy chicken as well.
|Entree Sampler ($12.9)|
The second entree was the Lao Sweet Beef Jerky, made in-house. Sweet and cinnamon, the flavour is wrung from the meat with each chew. The dry, crumbly texture of it was a perfect accompaniment to the sweet and chewy sticky rice. Finally, we had the Chilli Lili Lao Sausages. I found this to be a refreshing change from most sausages, which are greasy and rich. Instead, this one was coarse and wholesome, herbed gently with lemongrass and kaffir lime to give it a mild fragrance.
|Green Apple Salad ($10.9)|
After our entrees were cleared away, we were treated to two traditional Thai salads... but with a twist. The first is the Green Apple Salad ($10.9), which was served like a traditional papaya salad, with the apples julienned and tossed in tamarind sauce. And it tasted fantastic – crisp and refreshing, the sweetness of the apple mingled well with the tangy tamarind sauce. Then the chilli hit like a train. Having learnt my lesson from Ayatana, I quickly stopped, though not without regret.
|Crying Tiger Beef Salad ($16.9)|
After the apple salad, the spice level of the Crying Tiger Beef Salad ($16.9) was kindly taken down a step for us. The presentation for this dish was top notch, and tasted even better than it looked. The length of scotch fillet was sliced thinly so the medium rare centre showed, and each piece was rubbed with salt, pepper, and a dash of oyster sauce, ideal for bringing out the beefiness in the meat. The Thai herb salad was equally delicious, a refreshing mix of Asian greens, including generous amounts of cooling mint, dressed with a squeeze of lime.
|Three Kind Curry ($24.9)|
More places should do a Three Kind Curry ($24.9). Just because the massaman curry is my favourite, it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to try all the other curries on the menu. And with the three kind curry, this problem is circumvented with a trio of the most popular curries scaled down into cute little soup pots.
|Thai Green Curry|
The first thing about the Thai Green Curry that hit me was the smell. From the little pot wafted the most mouth-watering fragrance, a combination of coconut milk, thai basil, and chicken. The sauce was rich and creamy, a tad too sweet but offset nicely by the hint of chilli. I especially appreciated that the vegetable selection extended beyond frozen vegetable mix, into bamboo shoots and baby eggplants.
|Massaman Beef Curry|
The Massaman Beef Curry is the most popular curry by far, and definitely the best massaman I’ve had in a while. This time the aroma was thick and nutty, and the whole chunks of pressure cooked beef fell apart with the twist of a spoon. I was delighted to find a whole waxy baby potato at the bottom, soaking up the sweetness of cinnamon and star anise. It was indulgent to the very last drop.
|Thai Red Pork Curry|
Lastly, the Thai Red Pork Curry. Compared to the other two, this curry isn’t nearly as full-bodied and distinctive. However it was good to have something lighter and more familiar as a counterpoint, and there was a good deal of vegetables to offset the richness of the massaman and green curry.
|Mango Ice Cream with Pandan Sticky Rice ($7.9)|
I felt a little bit smug at this point; I was full, but not nearly at the point where I have to be rolled out the door. Except then we were presented with the Mango Ice Cream with Pandan Sticky Rice ($7.9). Despite not being mango season, they somehow managed to get their hands on some beautifully fresh mangos, which was served with a scoop of pandan sticky rice, and the most sensational mango ice cream. Not only was the flavour fruity and pure, the perfect balance between light and indulgent, it even had real diced mangos in it. Turns out Lili had searched Thailand for the best mango ice cream, before getting it shipped over to Australia. Now that’s dedication.
The Thai scene in Melbourne has been getting rather competitive recently, and that sort of competition tends to bring out the best, such as places like Chilli Lili. Not only is the food tasty and authentic (if you look past the spring rolls and fish cakes), but they’re also not afraid to experiment a little with more unusual offerings, such as the curry cheese croquettes. Lili even let it slip that they’re developing a tapas menu, which includes a delectable sounding massaman slider, so keep your eyes out and tastebuds ready!
Rating: 15/20 – chilli ray.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.
Sweet and Sour Fork dined as a guest of Chilli Lili.