Sailors Thai Canteen and Restaurant

Restaurants The Rocks
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A beloved Sydney restaurant offers great food in a historic building, and water views if you’re lucky

This restaurant has long set the standard by which we measure Thai food in Sydney. Opened in the early 90s in the prominent Sailor’s Home building at Circular Quay, it was one of the first places in town to serve great Thai food in upmarket surrounds. Its popularity doesn’t seem to have waned much since, so we wondered: is that just a happy accident, or are they still doing everything right? We went back to investigate.

There are two restaurants onsite: the dining room, which is downstairs in the basement, and the canteen at street level. The latter is the cheaper, more basic offering – all concrete and sandstone, with an open kitchen and one long dining table in the centre. One of the benefits of eating up here is that it’s got more natural light, and harbour views if there's no ship at Circular Quay. If you’re here after dark and don't fancy sitting outdoors, ask for a seat at the front of the restaurant. The lights are dimmer than in the back, where we found ourselves feeling a bit interrogated by the glow of the bulbs above us. (Though admittedly, they do make you feel more like a sailor as you perch your hand across your forehead in order to see your fellow diner. That’s kinda fun.)

Order the curry puffs. They're bigger than the usual, and the pastry is extraordinarily flaky. But the canteen is not the kind of place for lingering over starters, so just get in there with the curries and noodles. It's where the good stuff is. The moo grob wan (pork belly curry) is a stalwart that should never leave the menu. Its sweet and sour sauce is lightly spiced and almost treacle like, but the hero is the belly itself – slow cooked, and so soft it melts in your mouth while still holding wafer-thin crackling atop each piece.

A nice sideshow act is the geng keaw warn nue (green curry with beef). The Thai basil has tainted the sauce in neon tones, imbuing its perfumed flavour throughout the curry. The big chunks of wagyu beef are fall-apart tender from being cooked in creamy coconut milk; the roti on the side is great for dipping, if a little doughy and underdone when we visit.

Skip the pad phong gari goong (banana prawn stir-fry). Though the prawns are cooked well, the sauce is overpowered by Indian curry powder, which doesn’t work with the other, more delicate Thai flavours. Treat yourself to the pad thai instead. The slim noodles offer a satisfying contrast against big, crunchy bean sprouts, while chewy dried baby shrimp, soft tofu and crisp peanuts add surprise and texture. If you like things spicier, order nam pla prik (a lime, fish sauce and chilli sauce) on the side – it’s not on the menu, but the friendly staff will happily whip some up if you ask.

Stick with the house-made ai tim (coconut ice cream) for dessert – it’s nubbly with toasted coconut and buttery from the coconut cream. As for drinks, go for a Singha, obviously. What else would you want at a Thai restaurant?

Beer is also the most authentic choice for this sort of place – it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the dining room downstairs. The noise from the open kitchen, bright lights and close proximity to your fellow diners means it really does feel like a canteen. It’s the perfect place to catch a quick dinner before a show at the nearby Sydney Theatre Company. But if you're after a meal to last the evening, try finding your zen in the dining room downstairs.

By: Freya Herring


Venue name: Sailors Thai Canteen and Restaurant
Address: 106 George St
The Rocks
Opening hours: Canteen: Lunch Mon-Fri noon-3pm; dinner daily 5-10pm. Dining Room: Lunch Mon-Fri noon-3pm; dinner Tues-Sat 6-10pm
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