Going by a game of word association, there was only ever one choice of cuisine when Richie Ludbrook and Dave Sharry were plotting the future of their new Elsternwick venture. Formerly a derelict rifle club and firing range, the venue has undergone a $2 million makeover turning the kitchen compass firmly north of the equator. What we have now is the very model of the all-day, late-night Thai eating and drinking den.
Like the pair’s other projects, including Riverland, the Boatbuilder’s Yard and the Wye River General Store, they’ve housed a clever fit-out in the historic red brick building, with long-time architectural collaborators Six Degrees leveraging amenity to the max. Indoor/outdoor lines are blurred, and the canteen-style furniture plays well with Indochine wall panels and tropical wallpaper. On-trend hanging plants dangle from every spare bit of ceiling, and there’s plenty of room for kids to run around.
It’s Thai, but it’s really more Thai-ish, serving up congee as well as eggs on toast for breakfast, mussel omelettes and soft shell crab bao for lunch and a whole heap of crowd-pleasing shareables for dinner. The brief strays into broader Asian territory via Vietnam and China, and occasionally into outright culinary Esperanto: pork scratchings don’t have to work too hard to prove they go awfully well with Asian-accented cocktails like the chilli-dusted, curry leaf-shaken Bloody Mary.
Kitchen chief Matt Dunbar was head chef at Longrain, and so possesses diplomatic immunity to mess with the formula. Ma haw eschews the usual sticky puck of pork and prawn for a vegan-friendly bolus of tofu and pickled turnip sitting on a tropical raft of pineapple. Kingfish crudo gets a punchy mint-based dressing, pungent with pickled garlic and gritty with flying fish roe. Red curry rice balls are like a fusion answer to croquetas, with tamarind lime dipping sauce and swipe of pumpkin puree, while a wobbling wedge of silken tofu goers clean, lean and green with pickled ginger, lots of herbs and a sweetish sluice of mirin and soy.
There’s plenty of interest in a sour curry of ocean trout and mussels (although sadly, not plenty of trout), the tongue-grabbing zing driven by kaffir lime and tamarind. Kang kong, otherwise known as water spinach, adds a welcome touch of green crunch to the orange depths; it’s one of a dozen dishes justifying the $4 a head spend for unlimited steamed rice. You’ll also need some with the lamb shoulder: braised overnight and charred to order, it holds its smoky integrity in a flavour melange notable for the slightly medicinal note of krachai, or Chinese ginger.
A few things to note. Contrary to its name, Bang Bang isn’t packing much in the way of heat. Sriracha on the tables would be welcomed by chilli fiends (or ask the kitchen to turn up the chilli dial – we can vouch that they won’t seek revenge). Dessert isn’t a highlight: a banana and Nutella roti ought to have been a moment of simple pleasure but texturally resembled something from the Jurassic period. The waitstaff, meanwhile, appear to be inexperienced backpackers. But Bang Bang manages to rise like the sun above its few limitations. It brings a vibrant new start to a previously unloved corner of Elsternwick. It’s fun and it’s friendly, and the food ought to please, so lock and load.