Vanidols Asian Cuisine

Licensed/BYO $-$$
353 Elizabeth St, North Hobart
03) 6234 9307
Open: Dinner Tuesday to Sunday from 6.00pm.

Like the Ball and Chain, Lebrina, Le Provencal and perhaps a handful of others, Vanidols has been around and at the top of its game for so long that it has become something of a Hobart institution.

Opened in 1991, it was one of the pioneers of what was shortly to become the busy multicultural North Hobart strip. More importantly, its Pan-Asian offering of an “Indian Thai Indonesian” menu introduced many Hobartians to their first taste of coriander, lemongrass and lime and came at a time when Hobart had only one other Indian restaurant, Gur Petab’s in Battery point. And it was those exotic flavours and the excitement of the new that quickly established Vanidols as one of the city’s most popular eateries while its consistency over the years helped it retain its position as Hobart experienced a mini invasion of new Indian and Thai, takeaways, cafes and restaurants.

With that sort of track record, when Semana Sritawat-Dowling bought the restaurant twelve months ago, she very sensibly saw no reason to change a thing. So she hasn’t. The Thai chef is the same, the menu is the same and, under her delightful smiley front-of-house-management, it remains as successful and as busy as ever.

So why did my wife and I come away disappointed after a dinner and a repeat visit there last week?

Finding the extensive specials, banquet, chef’s recommendation and a la carte menus difficult to navigate, I simply asked Semana to bring us a selection of their most popular dishes. Having previously worked at the Mercury, she knew who I was and why I was there. But something seemingly got lost in translation and, apart from a fairly dilute and mildly spiced tom yum goong, we ended up with four similar-styled, meaty dishes – slow-cooked caramel pork, Thai beef salad, stir fry lamb cutlet pad cha and beef pad kratium prik Thai.

Although the meats were each beautifully tender, the sauces were all dark-flavoured, dull and heavy with none of the fragrant jump-out-at-you aromas or the fresh, bold flavours and lively spicing of Thai food that I think most people these days have come to expect.

Hoping for better luck with some curries, I returned the following day for a takeaway gaeng keow wan gai (green chicken curry) and a mussama nuer. Again they were middle-of-the-road OK but failed to provide anywhere near the vibrant palate excitement of the same dishes at, for example, All Thai in Sandy Bay or Royal Thai in the CBD.

And that, I feel, is where the problem lies – while Vanidols has essentially stood still, the Thai scene in Hobart and Hobart’s Thai palate have moved on. Today there are more choices and much more exciting and authentic Thai experiences to be had around town. But, while I see it as a problem and won’t be rushing back, OK, middle-of-the-road Thai is just what many others want and they’re the ones who will keep Vanidols pumping well into its third decade

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