We don’t often venture all the way to New Westminster for a bite to eat, but we’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about River Market at Westminster Quay which is becoming something of a food fan destination with Wild Rice, Re-UP BBQ and Wally’s Burgers nestled into the waterfront property. When we heard Chef Angus An of Maenam in Kitsilano was opening a new venture there called Longtail Kitchen, we made a beeline to check it out. We have been consistently impressed with the flavourful Thai dishes An serves up at Maenam as well as his pedigree – An worked under renowned chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Jacques Pépin as well as training at Michelin-starred restaurants like The Fat Duck. He was then a chef at Nahm in London which was, at the time, the world’s only Michelin-starred Thai restaurant. While Maenam is a refined Thai dining experience, Longtail Kitchen is a fun and relaxed alternative with dishes that are just as appetizing, offering bold, assertive flavours that are a nod to the street food of Thailand.
With dishes priced between $6 – 10, Longtail Kitchen is part of a food fair of sorts but with the sort of quality that is unexpected at such casual venues. Pad Thai is a staple at Thai restaurants the world round but we’ve rarely had a version as good locally. It contained all the usual suspects – rice noodles, a generous serving of tofu, peanuts, beansprouts and most notably big, juicy prawns cooked to tender perfection. But you will notice the difference from average attempts to prepare this ubiquitous dish as soon as the plate arrives – the deep brown sauce, rich with tamarind and offering a gentle heat, is a marked contrast from the bright orange goop served at so many lesser Thai establishments. The soft rice noodles are a wonderful contrast against the refreshing crunch of the bean sprouts as well as the bits of peanut. Squeeze over the wedge of lime, which gives the dish a bright, tangy hit. We’re huge fans of Thai curries and here the Fresh Tumeric Curry of Lingcod and Mussels, served with a bowl of rice, was a hit. The yellow curry was deeply flavourful and balanced, and the seafood juicy and tender, although we could have used a bit more of it.
We’re often bored with the way chicken is prepared at restaurants – it seems like a bland afterthought on many menus. But if you’re a fan of wings, you must try them here – the Crispy Longtail Chicken Wings were as the description promised: crispy and deep-fried with care, their crunchy skins gave way to juicy flesh within. Dusted with toasted rice powder, they were served with nam jim jiao, a zesty dipping sauce full of sweet and salty tang which we lapped up. We’re already dying to go back and try the Papaya Salad ($6) which sounds like it is prepared in the traditional fashion with tomato, chili, long bean, peanut and shrimp paste as well as the Chiangmai Chicken Curry Noodles ($10) which is an egg noodle dish with chicken, pickled mustard greens and beansprouts – sadly, both dishes were so popular they were sold out by the time we arrived.
The colourful, cheap and cheerful décor complete with hanging paper lanterns feels right for the concept, which is self-serve and casual. Tables are scattered playfully in the space with mismatched chairs and you will find plastic cutlery and wooden chopsticks on a stand in the back. The garage door-style front opens out onto the waterfront offering a lovely view of the Fraser River – we predict the patio will become a hotspot as the weather warms up. A couple things to note – there’s no alcohol served which is a shame because a glass of wine or cold beer would have been a welcome addition to our meal. Also, the hours are limited – right now, Longtail is open 10 am – 6pm Sunday to Wednesday and 10 am – 8 pm Thursday to Saturday, so it’s not exactly the place for a rockin’ late night, but a great option for a late lunch. Despite these restrictions, the food is tasty enough that Longtail Kitchen is definitely worth the drive to New Westminster.