I don’t want to alarm anyone but I think we may have slipped into an alternate universe. The first clue was that the bouncers working the portal to this new reality, were scrap metal versions of Arnie’s Predator and Sigourney’s Alien mate. The second clue was all the smiling staff who knew exactly what they were doing, then there was the vast field of table- clothed tables, and the balloons. And then there was the food…
It’s King Street Strop, but not as we’ve known it.
We’ve finally made it out of the doldrums. During the last few months, I have occasionally felt like Humphrey Bogart dragging the African Queen through King Street’s fetid swamp of mediocrity. There were even wild water buffalo crashing through the undergrowth this week! Entering Thai Pothong on Saturday night, it’s as if, having given up in despair, we’ve woken up to find ourselves miraculously afloat on a sunny lake. Being a born pessimist though, I’m still going to keep my eye out for a German gunboat on the horizon.
Thai Pothong is bigger than Ben Hur. Quadruple fronted, the tables set up for large parties stretch away into the distance out the back, and yet it always seems to be packed. And they have a gift shop too. It’s all a bit overwhelming for us simple folk.
Tonight is a bit of a celebration. We felt that Thai Pothong deserved the large table treatment, so we have invited a bunch of Painting the Bridge stalwarts (perhaps I will call them The Rivets) to join us in marking a bit over a year of questing, and also what is probably close enough to a half-way point in our journey. We’ve roped in some of the family, the Stropolina of course, and the Stropette and Pancetta up from Melbourne. Jay and Lorinda, have bought young Ned back to try out a new hat, there is Wendy, and Mark, our Thai food consultant. At the other end of our long table are Rebecca and Duncan, and John and Pauline. It is actually Pauline’s birthday, so she has been our excuse to have balloons, although she is a bit perplexed to find her balloons tied to a very prominent Number 69. “I’m not that old.” Of course you’re not dear, we reassure her. She is even more perplexed when two of her balloons are appropriated by Pancetta and Ned. The two junior members of the party are sitting opposite each other, balloons tied to wrists, and surrounded by wranglers. The ever smiling staff have arranged a high chair and special Hello Kitty plates for them.
Well now that everyone is here, what are we going to eat? This is a high class joint, so there are no numbers on the menu. While I am trying to remember how to count up to 37, Strop tries to consult our crew, seeking some kind of menu consensus, checking whether anyone has snuck in any new allergies or undercover vegan tendencies. Unfortunately everyone is too busy talking and having a jolly time to give any serious thought to the menu so we decide, what the hell, we’ll get a banquet. Plus number 37, which turns out to be Prawn Choo Chee. There is wine too.
I had been a bit worried that our cobbled together party, large parts of which have never laid eyes on each other before tonight, may have been a bit stilted. A bit awkward. But you can’t shut the buggers up. Our lot are busy contributing to all the noise coming from out the back in large-table land. We’ve got a 21st going off on one side of us, and another large birthday on the other side. This one doesn’t have any convenient placards announcing the age of the young woman who is the centre of attention, but the number is obviously significant enough to score her a very sparkly pair of earrings in a snappy little velvet box. Well done you.
Then the food starts coming. And it doesn’t stop for quite a while. And it is yummy.
There are little tart things that come in spoons, spring rolls, curry puffs and satays, to get our juices going, then we’re into the green curry, #37, a BBQ pork thing, a chicken and cashew whatsit, and some veggies that I somehow managed to avoid. It is all very tasty, but I think #37 may have been the winner. It is wonderfully coconut-ey and spicy, and brings on an immediate case of chilli-powered hiccups in me. Flavours. The food is full of them. All 14 of us are eating and talking. And drinking and talking. And some of us are still eating but others are being sensible. I’m still eating of course, which is why I don’t have any notes for this part of the evening.
At some point Ned and Pancetta swap sides, so they can see what the other side of the table looks like. Later they join forces to spend a bit of screen-time together.
Then there is a birthday dessert, with sparklers, and ice-cream, and fruit. We may have even sung happy birtthday, I can’t remember. At some point Mark and I got into a discussion about how Thai Pothong compared to our other favourite Thai restaurants. Thai Pothong is remarkable for the scale of the operation and the quality of the food, which is probably on a par with Thai La Ong and Atom Thai. We agreed that Thai La Ong was still our sentimental favourite, because going there is like going to Thailand, but Thai Pothong is the best place for a Big Night Out.
Our complimentary chocky mints came with a bunch of vouchers for the gift shop, so I think I will return some time, in the sober light of day and make a little purchase. Perhaps a wooden elephant, or a miniature Alien made out of sparkplugs, a mascot for the second half of the quest.