Walking out of the cold Kingston night into Morks is an assault on the senses, but in a good way. The dining room is packed and buzzing, and in a strange way it's almost like pushing through the door and walking onto the streets of Thailand. There's a striking traditional-meets-pop-art mural and the smells coming from the kitchen hit all the right notes for one of Canberra's top Asian restaurants - spicy, smoky and fresh.
While Morks started in Florey, the family are no strangers to the southside. Mork and Benn's parents owned and operated Yarralumla's Sukothai before selling it with the intention to retire. Due to a non-compete clause in the sale, the first iteration of Morks opened in Florey. Five years later, the restaurant relocated to the Kingston Foreshore, where it has continued to hold its own among a host of other Asian eateries.
Morks' menu is designed to share and separated into three sections. With only two of us dining tonight, the standard banquet menu ($55) looks like a good option to embrace the Asian way of dining - there are three entrees, four mains, a side of jasmine rice and dessert.
We're even able to substitute one of the banquet dishes, the duck red curry, for the beef short rib - although it causes a bit of confusion and we end up having to pay the small difference ($10 per head), it's all sorted out quickly and with a smile. The staff explain that they can't scale down the short rib, hence the surcharge on this occasion. In a small city town where front of house staff come and go on the way to other careers, it's easy to spot the seasoned professionals - Benn is on the floor tonight.
For drinks, we're pointed to a new cocktail menu seeking to extend Morks' playful take on Thai classics to twists on cocktail stalwarts. There are a few to choose from, such as the Bangkok Daiquiri or the Monsoon Season to name a few, and although we're intrigued, we stick to the Canberra end of the rather globe-trotting winelist. There's also a good selection of Asian and Australian beers on the menu too.
The open, barbecue pork bun has a generous slab of pork, sweet and sticky from a glaze. Fried shallots, tamarind and coconut add a welcome Thai twist.
The sweet potato dumplings with panang curry sauce are winners too. The serve is two dumplings, scaled down from four on the regular menu - I almost wish we'd ordered the full serve, they're so more-ish.
The scallop, squid and pig salad is a clever twist on surf and turf. The scallops are plump and well-cooked, slivers of deep-fried pigs ear add salty crunch and the dish is brought together with a hint of spice and bold flavours from a herby green Thai salad dressed with a generous amount of lime.
There's a bit of a pause between entrée and main, which is probably just as well given the amount of food that arrives - particularly since the substituted beef ribs come as a full serve rather than a banquet portion.
A MasterChef judge once told me that you should be able to sum up a restaurant in under three words, and Morks, unlike some restaurants, is exactly what it claims to be - contemporary Thai.
We're glad we opted for the substitution because the short rib is the evening's highlight. It is one of the best iterations of beef rib I've had, slow-cooked and deep fried. It's meaty, fatty and crisp all at the same time. The spicy green nahm jim underneath cuts through the richness, bringing freshness and acidity that makes it all sing.
The barbecue chicken larb is another inventive iteration on a Thai-Lao classic. Slivers of charry barbecued chicken thigh add interest and character to a traditional favourite. The lamb shoulder mussamun with roti is a little less exciting, a touch too sweet and the curry lacking in depth.
Lastly, there's wok tossed bok choy with tofu, chilli and mushroom. It's understated, a little less innovative than the dishes that came before it, but the subtle flavours help cut through the richness of the other banquet options.
It's hard to fault much at Morks. Service is friendly but efficient, and the banquet is well thought out and a great way to eat your way through some of their best-sellers. My main gripe is the noise. There's a lot of hard surfaces, and while the backlit concrete feature wall is a striking feature at this end of the restaurant, the noise on a busy night like this makes it hard to have a conversation.
We're pretty full by the time dessert arrives. The Pikachu "I choose you" mango sorbet is a simple affair, a scoop of mango sorbet. It's not bad, just a rather underwhelming finish to an otherwise excellent meal.
A MasterChef judge once told me that you should be able to sum up a restaurant in under three words, and Morks, unlike some restaurants, is exactly what it claims to be - contemporary Thai. The venue is casual but fun, the menu clever and innovative, pulling together the best of Australian produce and Thai flavours. Even with a relatively short menu, there's so much more that I want to try next time around - wallaby tortilla, I've got my eye on you.
Address: 18/19 Eastlake Parade, Kingston
Phone: (02) 6295 0112
Owner: Mork and Benn Ratanakosol
Chef: Mork Ratanakosol
Wheelchair access: Yes
Noise: Difficult to have a conversation
Vegetarian: A few good options