Strop has been looking forward to this place for ages. “When we get to Atom, there are a whole lot of my work friends who want to come. It’s supposed to be really good.” Well obviously this kind of hype, not to mention the promise of a huge party of people I don’t know, freaked me out. As it turned out though the untimely demise of Jester Seeds threw out all the scheduling and brought Atom forward a week, so in the end only the four of us could make it: our good selves, and the delightful Bev from Liverpool (the original and the best, where the Beatles come from) and John from Telegraph Point (a place with one of the best names ever – it should have a song written about it – I’m thinking a fusion of T.Rex’s classic, Telegram Sam and Wichita Lineman – bound to be a hit).
Before attending the restaurant I manage to fit in a glass of my new favourite beer, Dogbolter, and stop off at the bottle shop where my eyes are grabbed by a label with a trout fly on it and I hand over the cash without further consideration. This turns out to be not-a-great-move on my part. Oh well. Trout flies, they work on trout and me apparently.
Atom is a little bit posh compared to most of the Thai places we’ve been to so far. While pouring your wine the waiters put their non-functional hand behind their backs, holding the bottle by the base, of course. They also place the (paper) napkin in your lap for you, just like the fancy places. There are lots of staff and they are very friendly and good at their jobs. Everything goes smoothly. As Bev and John are Atom aficionados – it is their favourite local Thai – Strop and I promise to relinquish all responsibility and leave the ordering to them – except for number 37.
Being a semi-posh place the menu is not numbered of course. Bev leaps at the chance to do the required counting, soon determining that the 37th dish is Stir Fried Eggplant with Beef. There is a pattern emerging here: number 37 seems to spend a lot of time in the wok section of the menus. Bev asks if she should have taken into account the specials board in her counting. Strop and I look at her in wonder – aren’t the rules stupid and arbitrary enough already without slathering on another layer of complexity? “No that’s fine,” we say, “No need to count again.”
To go with the eggplant and beef, Bev and John order Miang Goong (prawns and betel leaf) as an entrée, Luv-a-duck Panang Curry (I know, I said I’d let them decide but when I saw the name I had to insist) and their favourite Barramundi Salad.
The conversation wanders all over the place as we work though the dodgy trout fly wine and John’s far more sophisticated offering. I learn that VW Golf’s sumps have an aversion to cattle grids, for instance. Did you know that? And also that a little bit of epoxy applied by a trout farmer can save you a whole new German motor. I also learn that Liverpudlian families are very close. Very, very close. Bev and John took Bev’s extended family on their honeymoon with them. John is undoubtedly in line for some kind of honour come the next Australia Day list, for services to family harmony. While the rest of us are chatting away my dear wife is quietly falling in love with one of the waiters. She can’t taker her eyes off the one with the dimples and his hair pulled up into a bun. “Isn’t he sweet?” she asks no-one in particular. I personally can’t see the attraction but Strop is definitely smitten. She is still talking about the waiter with the dimples a week later.
The food is excellent with the possible exception of number 37 which pales in comparison with the other dishes. The Mian Goong are a perfect start. I could have just kept eating those little bite size taste bombs all night. The duck curry is smooth, mild, full of flavour and the unanimous choice for winner. Close runner up is the barramundi. It has been battered and fried then reassembled into a fishy shape and covered with a shredded apple, onion, mint and cashew nut salad. Double yum.
I think we have a new candidate for the favourites list here. There are lots of other dishes on the menu that I would like to try but unfortunately that sort of indulgence will have to wait until we have eaten at every mediocre joint on the strip – for that is the nature of the quest.
Next we cross the road yet again to Rice Paper.