Finally there is a reason to go to North Adelaide other than to grab a pie with sauce after midnight – Gin Long Canteen.
Open now for nearly three months, Gin Long is how an American diner would do Asian, with loud music, neon signs, charming gimmicks, wooden tables and mosaic-tiled bars.
The restaurant holds anywhere between 60-80 people, and nearly every possible area is used for seating.
Situated in the old Kwik Sticks premises opposite a host of fast-food outlets, Gin Long is quiet at 6pm but full by 6.30.
Its popularity is no real surprise, as the restaurant has managed to pinch star chef Nu Suandokmai from Golden Boy (for the meantime, anyway) and his distinctive style is clearly evident on the busy weekday night we visit.
In a typical industrial-style setting, the large open kitchen adds to the busy yet entertaining atmosphere, with numerous chefs shuffling between hobs and service area.
Staff are seemingly dressed in whatever pleases them and menus feature a comical and questionable method of performing the Heimlich manoeuvre. The wine list is short, inexpensive and modern, with an Asian-influenced cocktail list.
After a refreshing tamarind and orange-infused gin long – served in a plastic cup, sealed and branded at the bar – we start with some prawn dumplings in a yellow curry sauce. They are delicious; there is plenty of prawn meat, and a coconut and slightly spicy gravy is reminiscent of Star of Siam’s sea star dumpling.
Following that, we indulge in a pork kofta-style skewer – it’s a DIY project which involves wrapping the meat in rice paper with rice noodles, fresh herbs and vegetables and satay sauce. Although messy, it is a nice take on the ordinary cold roll.
The soft-shell crab is reminiscent of that at Golden Boy, with large quarters of lightly battered crab sitting in a spiced vegetable yellow curry. It is fresh and light.
For entrees that cost between $10 and $14, there is a huge amount of food.
When we take another look at the menu, the waitress advises us that the pomegranate chicken is one of the best.
She is right, but it isn’t as good as the sambal egg noodles with fried egg. With a squeeze of lemon, the heaped pile of noodles are soft and spicy and a complete meal on their own.
The pomegranate chicken is also delicious. Sweet tamarind, used wisely, lingers in the background; a sweet soy marinade coats the tender chook, while the purple seeds of the pomegranate add colour and crunch.
Also ordered – unnecessarily, as we were completely full – was the “really slow braised pork belly”, which fell apart. Sticky soy and Chinese greens added balance to this rich, salty dish.
The food is simple, fresh and colourful. It is served as it is ready and comes out rapidly.
Gin Long Canteen’s overwhelming popularity meant service was sporadic, but staff did their best in the packed restaurant. Being perched at the bar ameliorated this slightly, and the gin longs kept coming all night.
The similarities between Gin Long Canteen and Golden Boy can’t be ignored, but there is one main difference: price. The most expensive main on the Gin Long menu is $29 for the nom nom barramundi, while most mains are about or below the $20 mark.
Put simply, it is fine Asian cuisine at Gouger Street prices.
The menu also has a $39 banquet for a minimum of four people – which, if the six courses we ordered are anything to go by, would be good value.
This is a great little spot; it’s fun, it’s cool, the drinks are great and, most importantly, the food is superb.
It is clear Gin Long doesn’t take itself too seriously, but conversely, diners are paying it serious attention.
Hopefully, its success can inspire a greater change along the uninspiring O’Connell Street strip.
4.5 out of five
Gin Long Canteen
42 O’Connell Street, North Adelaide
Telephone 7120 2897
Open: Tuesday-Thursday, 12-2.30pm and 5.30-9.30pm; Friday, 12-2.30pm and 5.30-11.30pm; Saturday, 5.30-11.30pm
Cuisine: fine Asian food at Gouger Street prices
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