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Restaurant review

Savouring the pork

A very popular and enjoyable inner Belconnen BYO that takes Thai food, mashed it with some European combinations and calls it Morks.

There's still a fair debate about what makes for a good Thai meal. Well, in my head anyway. Very few cuisines are as distinctive, and as essentially in their pure form - the Euro colonial empires never seemed to get a toehold in Thailand, apart from a rigorous dance move made famous by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

But what we tend to get here is fairly inexpensive menus that mix Lao, Chinese and Thai, invariably including laksa and Singapore noodles.

Chef Mork Ratanakosol from Mork's Thai.
Chef Mork Ratanakosol from Mork's Thai. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

I'm always loking for a place that captures that mix of fragrance and taste we found in Thailand.

Morks attacks the Thai repertoire from a different angle. I'm an age when the name brings back a lot of memories, including Colorado, Robin Williams, colourful braces and ''O captain, my captain''. Which, as any of you who remember the late '70s and early '80s with such search-engine-fuelled clarity as me, will know wasn't even in Mork and Mindy. So I'm taking in the food and atmosphere with these images in my head.

Pork ribs with caramelized sweat and sour soy glaze with round beans and mustard leaves.
Pork ribs with caramelized sweat and sour soy glaze with round beans and mustard leaves. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

The first issue is wine. Morks is BYO only, so it's a trip across the road to the local supermarket, where the fridge is stacked to the gunnels with New Zealand savvy. So I cheerfully grab a bottle of Grant Burge chardonnay - anything would do. I'd rather suck white zinfandel through a sock than have yet another bottle of NZ's best.

My wife thinks it's small-minded, but I'm bitter about yet another series loss to the All Blacks and this is the only way I can even the playing field.

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The locals seem to be taken with Morks, as they should be. It's booked out and there's a good feeling. The place smells good, earthy pungent fish sauce, garlic and a peppery overtones. Which is good as I'm relying on my sense of smell tonight, since I can't see on account of putting a stick through my last good eye.

I'm taking hipstermatic snaps of the food for when normal vision returns. Which will be in four or five days, the pleasant and very professional Irish nurse at the hospital reassures me.

Pan-seared scallops and pig's ear terrine with chilli and lemon juice.
Pan-seared scallops and pig's ear terrine with chilli and lemon juice. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

Just a wee scratch and me thinking and behaving like I had a tree trunk sticking out of my retina.

I need the photos because if I read my iPhone notes, they go something like ''Morksisa pheasant pkanv fill o charts wets and jive Mormon''. Generally, I like the predictive text. but this time, while I thought I was writing a perceptive article filled with subtle humour and nailbiting wit what I ended up with was a work that resembled a Google translation of the instructions from a Korean-made sausage filler.

The glass of Eden Valley chardy is giving my prescription a heady boost so you'll have to excuse the slight Rocky Mountain High theme as I'd gear myself up to regale you with references to the late '70s.

The service is efficient and staff adapt well to out comings and goings. We came from three different places including Sydney to get here, and we're in and out during the evening with suitcases, basketballs and a stellar Ray Charles impression.

Morks is run by Mork and Benn Ratanakosol, sons of Adul and Sunida, who ran Sukothai in Yarralumla before buying Morks. Adul still works in the kitchen.

The menu offers a three-course format, but the good news is you can share without a raised eyebrow. In the entrees, you find some strange gear among the familiar offerings, like scallop and pig ($16), which has my attention, if not my focus. On top of four decent-sized roeless scallops is a neat hat of rolled pig's ear terrine. Underneath is a simple condiment, the essence of Thai: coriander root and garlic, spring onion and lemon juice. This dish works, and displays the young guns' vision for their version of modern Thai food. It's a well-known fact, and one that isn't easily explained, that pork and scallops go together and I like this twist, an old-fashioned English terrine of long-cooked pig's ears, giving a gelatinous textural counterpoint to the givingness of the scallops, with the Thai sauce. It's a beautiful thing. I'm sure purists would be quaking, but it works for me.

Among other entrees are open wontons of prawns in green curry; soft-shell crab with chilli jam; crab balls with egg noddles.

There are three vegetarian dishes, of which cauliflower fritters with white lime and sprouts, with basil and chilli oil ($16) sounds like the go. The fried florets are a bit oily but very crisp and inside they have the texture of well-cooked brains, nice and soft. The zesty sauce goes some way towards taming the oils. As vegetarian nosh, this dish has character and interest.

There are 10 mains, three involving tofu. But my destiny is tied to caramelised pork ribs, braised duck maryland, and John Dory. Like the entrees, the prices are pretty good, $23 to $27.

First, to get it out of the way - otherwise you'll be sitting there thinking, tell us about the pork, O, captain - the pork ribs ($25). A dome of rice at one end of the oblong plate, then four crosssections of pork rib. They sit on round beans and mustard leaves with a sweet and sour gravy cloaking them. You know I'd come back just for this. You don't need any more descriptors, right?

The duck is long braised to make the flesh spoonable, loads of positive input from the red curry gravy, with lychees to relieve the chilli bite. Rice cakes and basil leaves finish the dish off well with a crispy texture and that fresh anisette-like heat from the Asian basil. There's nothing not to like here, if you like duck, and I've yet to find someone I like who doesn't.

The quite big fillet of crisp-fried John Dory is in a yellow curry, orange maybe, full of kaffir lime and served with steamed cabbage. It doesn't feel as well put together as the duck and the ribs, but it's like you've got George Clooney and Brad Pitt in a room. It doesn't matter who comes in next, it'll be hard to focus on them.

In desserts, the passionfruit souffle takes 15 minutes, so we share a deepfried ice cream ($5.50) because my son doesn't think it's possible. It is like ice cream inside a doughnut, and he loves it nonetheless. I have a saffron brulee ($18), not particularly inspiring, just very eggy.

It is a nice surprise to get a young generation's take on Thai food. The team here might get the odd purist raining on their parade, but I enjoy what they're doing. The food is mostly very good and very well priced. Time to go, Orson. Orson come in!

Morks

Address: Unit 3, 37 Kesteven Street, Florey shops
Phone: 6259 0112
Website: morks.com.au
Owners: Adul and Sunida Ratanakosol
Chefs: Mork Ratanakosol
Hours: Dinner Monday to Saturday
Licensed: No, BYO only, corkage $2 a bottle for beer, $4 a bottle for wine
Vegetarian: Plenty of options throughout menu
To pay: All cards
Wheelchair access: On ground level, no steps
Seats: 36

Food: 3/4
Wine list: n/a
Style: 1/4
Value for money: 3/4
Service: 3/4

Score 13.5/20

11 something went wrong. 12 not so great tonight. 13 fine for a cheap and cheerful, not so for a place that aspires to the top end. 14 good. 15 really good. 16 great, when can we move in. 17-20 brilliant. The stars are a quick reference to the key highs or lows. They do not relate directly to the score out of 20.

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