My first few encounters with chef Mork Ratanakosol took place when his contemporary Thai restaurant was a delicious secret tucked away in a side alley of a suburban shopping centre. With such an innovative and original menu, and flavour-packed food, I had always imagined that Morks was destined for bigger and better things – so I was none too surprised when the establishment relocated to the Kingston Foreshore in springtime last year.
The move has paid off and the accolades have been notable. Indeed, Morks has just been listed as one of Canberra's Top 20 Restaurants 2014 by goodfood. When that list includes stalwarts such as Ottoman, Courgette, Aubergine and Sage, a number 14 badge is not to be sniffed at, methinks.
So, Morks is now in a trendier (some might even say 'destined-to-be-grand') quayside location, but the food is as good as ever, and the vibe is non-pretentious and fun. Trendy young things wearing short shorts and flip flops sit comfortably alongside the suits. Morks has even created the #dogsoftheforeshore hashtag, an Instagram and Facebook gallery where visiting diners can proudly share photos of their pooches.
In terms of the menu, Morks offers a selection of entrees, mains and desserts that can be shared but are portioned for the individual. Frankly, when it comes to dishes like Morks soft shell crab slider, or the lamb cutlets with nham jim, I'm more than delighted to have a serving all to myself!
Entrees include mouth watering morsels such as pork crackling and chilli jam salad; 'Angel' prawns in a kaffir lime and coconut curry; and scallops and pig ear terrine with chilli relish. For mains there's an insanely good mussamun beef curry; pork belly with caramel, kapi rice and apple salad; and of course those lamb cutlets. Vegetarian options are available too. Desserts are dreamy: there's the hugely popular egg in hay, comprising vanilla ice cream with roti and saffron pashmak (which I paid homage to with this recipe); the cheekily named strawberry gigolo, which is a strawberry shortcake with eton mess; and sirius black, a rich and velvety chocolate mousse with salty caramel peanut 'soil' and whipped cream; among others.
During our most recent pilgrimage to Morks on a 'quiet Tuesday', I had the opportunity to chat briefly with Mork before the dining room unexpectedly packed out. Our conversation follows below, AND Mork generously shares a secret family recipe!
A conversation with Mork...
Congratulations on the success of Morks so far, particularly now that you’ve moved to the Kingston Foreshore. And 'well done' on being listed as one of Good Food’s Canberra's top 20 restaurants for 2014, woo hoo!
Thank you very much, Lizzy.
I know that you grew up working in restaurants and that your parents owned Sukothai Restaurant in Yarralumla for 19 years. Tell me a little about how the family came to be in Australia, and particularly Canberra.
My parents wanted to move to Australia for better opportunities for the kids. Our grandparents and auntie were here in Canberra already, so that's where my parents ended up. They loved Canberra for its natural beauty, lack of pollution and safe environment. Having now lived here for 26 years, I think its good points have largely stayed the same.
What is your earliest food memory?
The earliest food memory for me was my grandma's five spice braised pork belly. She is a superb cook and she was the one who raised me most of the time while my parents were hard at work.
What is the philosophy at Morks Restaurant?
Don't be boring! Take traditional Thai food and mess with it whilst keeping it super approachable.
Is there one dish that is a stand out in terms of popularity with your diners?
Our lamb cutlets are a relatively new item on the menu but they have been very popular.
[And that's because they are soooooooooo good!].
Do you have an all-time favourite recipe?
The Ratanakosol ‘secret’ marinade. We use it on all our grilled meats.
Who are your food heroes and who or what inspires you, Mork?
Food hero would have to be Neil Perry. From a young age I would watch him on TV and was so inspired by his work. I'm also very inspired by street food and peasant food because I believe that it is the essence of cuisine. Recently, I have been reading a lot of material from David Chang and Dan Hong. Those guys are crazy good!
Is there a recipe you'd like to share with Good Things readers?
Yes, I would like to share with your readers the ‘secret’ Ratanakosol marinade.
[Wow, thank you Mork, that is awesome!].
THE ‘SECRET’ RATANAKOSOL MARINADE
This recipe is sufficient for about eight lamb cutlets. It’s very simple, but so effective.
3 cloves garlic
a thumb-sized piece fresh ginger
a thumb-sized piece fresh lemongrass
4 coriander roots
1 tablespoon white pepper
Combine the above ingredients in a food processor and blend to a paste.
You also need:
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon Xiao Xing wine
Combine the above ingredients in a bowl along with the paste. Add the lamb cutlets and mix well to coat. Marinate over night or for a minimum of six hours. For the best results, grill on a BBQ to ‘desired doneness’. You can substitute lamb for chicken, quail, beef, pork, or any meat you desire.
And finally, what's for dinner tonight?
We are going to the Artisan for dinner! Go Canberra chefs!!!!!
Thanks again Mork, I've really enjoyed catching up with you.
It's been a pleasure, Lizzy.
Postcards and morsels - Morks contemporary Thai cuisine...
Mork and his dedicated band of brothers...
Morks = grand location, great food, non-pretentious dining...
Morks Restaurant is located at 18/19 Eastlake Parade on the Kingston Foreshore in Canberra, Australia. For more information about Morks and the menu, visit the web site.
Note: this is an exclusive interview with Mork Ratanakosol. Good Things has not been paid to write this article and we dined at Morks at our own expense.
Tell me dear readers, do you enjoy innovative cuisine? How about Thai food, what's your favourite dish? For my Australian readers, have you dined at Morks?
Thank you for taking the time to stop by and comment. It's truly appreciated. ッ
Cooking and writing have been a lifelong passion.
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- Liz Posmyk
NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.