Full Moon Thai: Same same? Nope. Different? Definitely.
Lisa Cope - 4th August 2021
What’s the story?
Full Moon Thai appeared with very little trumpet blowing at the end of July 2020, promising "authentic Thai street food and classic Thai favourites". We tend to take promises like this with a pinch of salt, especially when they come from the vicinity of Temple Bar, but over the next few months we started to get messages talking about how "legit" it was, and how it was "the best Thai food in Dublin". Big claims.
Like a lot of places in the city they've had a rocky year, and during lockdowns predominantly stuck to takeaway, but now that they're back open fully with indoor and limited outdoor dining, we thought now was a good time to see what it's all about - this picture on Instagram may also have increased the urgency of our visit.
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Full Moon Thai is owned by chef Ju McCarthy (from Isaan in North Eastern Thailand) and her husband Derek. She's been in Ireland for almost 20 years and previously cooked in Camile and Pink Elephant in Swords, before the couple decided it was time to walk their own path.
Ju's other chefs are also from Isaan, famous for hot and soup sour, som tum thai (green papaya salad) and laab (minced pork salad) amongst others, and there's an effortless assurance about the place that seems to say "we're not diluting anything for you Westerners - buckle up". At the same time their tagline of "same, same but different" suggests they're not taking themselves too seriously either - it's just food.
Where should we sit?
They only have two tables outside and don't take booings for them in advance because they're not fully sheltered, but you can call on the day to reserve one if it's looking dry. Otherwise if you're fully vaccinated you can head inside for either a window seat, a high table near the bar or some of the booth seating in the back. They have wood and perspex dividers separating each table, the ceilings are high, and when we were there the front door was open so it felt decently ventilated. They also do takeaway.
What's the food like?
The menu is fairly extensive and choosing is going to be your biggest problem - we recommend trying to round up the maximum six bodies so you can try more. Centre stage are the papaya salads (seven different types), wok dishes, and whole sea bass dishes, but you'll also find the curries you know and love, pad thai, spring rolls, and of course tom yum soup. After reading previous diners' reviews we were enticed by the crispy curried rice balls (a Laos street food snack) with a lip-smacking tamarind dipping sauce. It's the first time we've come across them here and hopefully not the last.
As a measure up against the dishes we have had, we ordered a portion of Thai fish cakes which were beautifully fragrant with lemongrass, chillies and herbs, and came with an above average sweet chilli dipping sauce topped with peanuts and cucumber.
We struggled to choose one of the seven papaya salads (Sophie's Choice), but with our server's help eventually decided on the 'Tam Thai' with tamarind juice, tomato and crushed peanuts. It was sweet, sour, spicy and difficult to stop eating. If you want to up the stakes you could go for the 'Tam Plu Pla Raa' with fermented fish and softshell crab. We didn't order the 'Laab Moo', a spicy minced pork salad, and have regretted it every minute since, so maybe don't make the same mistake.
Next was a plate of prawn Pad Thai, another dish we felt we could use as a yardstick to measure Full Moon against. It was smoky and nicely sour with a generous amount of prawns and a good kick of chilli, along with additional chilli flakes on the side - they like 'em hot in here. It wasn't a dish we'd necessarily be running back for, there are more interesting, unusual things to try, but judging by their online reviews we might be alone on that one.
Next was the dish that unashamedly lured us to the door of 8 Parliament Street that day - deep fried sea bass with a spicy herb salad, or 'Pla Kapong Luy Suan' (fish in the garden). It came out looking like the centrepiece of a Thai banquet, and we almost didn't want to touch it and ruin the effect.
This one needs a warning, as its spice levels are at 'tears running down face/stick my mouth under a cold tap' levels, but if you can take it and have plenty of water on hand, you'll be transported to a remote Thai island, sand under your feet, watching someone from a neighbouring restaurant cut a coconut from a tree for someone's curry - no? Just us? This is a dish that takes everything fizzingly delicious about Thai flavours and herbs and smacks you around the head with them - just go slowly, lots of rice, and don't forget to peel all the crispy bits of fish off the spine and head.
From the wok dishes we went for the beef 'Pad Kra Pao' - a spicy Thai basil stir-fry. The spicy, liquoricey herb isn't easy for the average home cook to find in Dublin so we love seeing it when we're out, and this dish was a case of few ingredients fused to perfection. The meat was tender, the vegetables crunchy, and the flavour - there was a lot of flavour. Rice comes in a big jasmine bowl and there was plenty of it.
You might be tempted to side-step dessert seeing items like 'chocolate fudge cake' and 'berry cheesecake', but there's only one you should have eyes for - the mango and sticky rice. We've had this dish before, we've never had a version this good. Sweet, warm, sticky rice; cool, achingly ripe mango slices; a creamy coconut sauce. You know when you're totally stuffed but you can't stop lifting the spoon to your mouth? That.
What about the drinks?
The wine list is predictably banal, but we did spot Kung Fu Girl Riesling, which is as good as it gets with this type of food. There's a couple of commercial Thai beers and a couple of Irish ones, and Thai iced teas as well as soft drinks. It would be nice to see a similar amount of effort put into the drinks as is obviously going into the food.
How was the service?
Lovely - very accommodating to our needs and happy to make recommendations, but obviously thought we wouldn't be able for the spice and/or fermented fish levels of some of the dishes and tried to veer us towards others. It might be worth saying up front if you want the real Thai deal - unless you're spice averse, and they'll be happy to point you away from the dishes potentially requiring a fire extinguisher for your mouth.
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And the damage?
We had enough food for three with copious amounts of leftovers for lunch the next day, as well as one beer, and the bill came to €99. We could have ordered less - but where's the fun in that.
We always think the mark of a really good restaurant is when we want to go back immediately, and we already have meal number two mapped out here. We'll be righting the wrong of not ordering that laab moo, trying the mixed seafood salad with glass noodles (a recommendation from our server that we just couldn't squeeze in), and ordering a different whole deep-fried sea bass for comparison (probably in hot and sour soup). Full Moon Thai is one of the most interesting, credible Asian restaurants that's opened here in a long time. "Different"? - yes. "Same same"? Not in our book.