The story I heard about Bow Thai (uncertain about the truth behind it) goes something like this:
The Thai government was getting concerned at the sheer amount of Thai restaurants popping up in western countries like Australia. The problem was that poor quality, inferior Thai food may mislead potential overseas tourists to think that Thai food less than worth going to Thailand for. So, a few select culinary ambassadors were sent to Australia to taste test the variety of so called 'Thai food' on offer and give an official seal of approval for what they deemed authentic.
What I heard is that Queensland only had THREE Thai restaurants that passed the ultimate test. Bow Thai was one of them. Their website does not mention anything about the above story but they do claim they were awarded Australia's top 8th Thai restaurant award by the Thai Restaurant Association in 2000.
I have no recollection about where I heard this story from - be it TV or a more obscure source like Vogue Forums but it did make me absolutely itching to go and see for myself. I also read other positive reviews online.
It's not easy for me to have opportunity to go to an Asian-style restaurant. If I'm just eating with Charlie, I feel like we're missing out because we can order a maximum of 2 main dishes before it becomes too much. Asian food like this is best eaten with a group so that you can order a whole selection of dishes and share. Luckily, the occasion came about so we got together with 2 other buddies and met at Bow Thai to see if the hype was well-founded.
To be honest, I started having doubts when I called to make a booking and a bored-sounding woman said we could just show up. As expected, when we got there the place was practically empty, bar one other table of guests. For a top-notch Thai restaurant, I expected it to be buzzing with people. Sure, we did go on a weekday at lunch time but I thought business clientele would keep them busy.
The service was fast and consistent but not overly friendly or standout. There was one waitress that attended to us and some other staff or members of the family or something that just stood around and chatted in their own group. The layout was pleasant and clean but the vibe was sort of depressive... maybe just because it was so quiet and the staff were unenthused.
The menu is extremely extensive and there was a large selection of starters, curries, soups, stir-fries and salads. I'm not interested in vegetarian food but from what I could see, the vegetarian menu had quite a bit of content too. You can preview their menu for dine in or takeaway here.
I thought we should get the 4 person banquet to save us the effort of ordering. In hindsight, maybe that wasn't the best option for seeing what Bow Thai has to offer. I know that banquets tend to be very standard items and maybe we would have been more impressed if we customized our meal selection instead.
The banquet consisted of an entree platter, 4 mains, small dessert and coffee/tea.
Charlie and I chose coffee, which came in a cute set. The coffee was passable but our friends were disappointed that their tea was tea-bag tea rather than loose-leaf tea. I agree that this is unsuitable for an Asian restaurant. Tea bags do not only seem cheap but also don't compliment your food that much. Fragrant Jasmine tea would have been much better.
Another sign that the restaurant concentrated on a western market was the fact that we were given spoons and forks instead of chop-sticks. The other guys didn't mind that much but I thought it was weird trying to scoop up single bits of capsicum with a spoon. One of my friends pointed out that South-East Asian countries traditionally DO use spoons rather than chopsticks so maybe I'm just uninformed here.
The entrees came pretty soon after we were all seated. I thought this mini-platter was well presented and the offerings were quite tasty. I'm not going to say the spring rolls are on par with what we had at Bretts Wharf because that's an unfair comparison (completely different standards and prices) but they were passable. There were 3 different starters and 3 dips to compliment.
After we were done, the mains came roughly all at once. I found that the beef and pork dishes looked and tasted similar. Serving sizes were a bit small. Everyone claimed to be full afterward but I think that banquets at other Asian restaurants tend to be bigger. Small servings are good if you're watching your weight but... that's about it.
I stopped eating the stir-fries after a taste each but I couldn't stop at one taste of the curries. I normally order lamb massaman curry when I get Thai food - indeed it is one of my favorite curries (any ethnicity). The chicken massaman from Bow Thai was sweeter than I expected but it was nice. The seafood 'Bow Thai classic curry' had a light, coconut flavor and was well received all round. It all went down well with the rice that came with our meals. Good news is that there are free rice refills.
After our meals came our dessert. The dessert was just plain single scoops of vanilla ice-cream with a topping of choice (standard chocolate, caramel or strawberry). Hey, it's ice-cream with topping... what more can I say? It came with a cherry on top.
My overall feeling after trying Bow Thai is sadly, disappointment. I was expecting a lot based on a possibly-fabricated story. Maybe my experience was hindered by how quiet the restaurant was and I would have enjoyed it more if it was bustling, at night. Similarly, it's possible that I didn't order the best they have to offer. On the flip side, you'd think that if a restaurant has a banquet, they will use that to showcase their top dishes to the best of their ability.
Taste-wise, 2 out of 4 dishes were bordering on home-style and the curries were only good because I find it hard to dislike curry. As our friend commented 'I can do this at home'. The presentation, taste and serving sizes were nothing to write home about. Prices are similar to other Thai restaurants so considering that this is in a prime location, you could call it 'cheap'. If that's the case, price may be its only merit. One day I might just move to the valley and if I want Thai food, Bow Thai would be amongst my considerations for take-away. The massaman curry is greatly substandard when compared to the one from Thai Orchid Square in Market Square, Sunnybank. Unimpressive food paired with a deserted atmosphere and basic service standards means that I won't be going back.