Ivory Cafe

BYO $-$$   Hat icon
112 Elizabeth Street, Hobart
03) 6231 6808
Open: Lunch Monday to Saturday 11,30 – 2.30; dinner Tuesday to Saturday 5.00 – 9.00.. Takeaways.

Donna Liung Chen is a cheeky, charming and entertaining ball of energy with a memory for names and faces that would do credit to ten elephants. And it’s that bubbly personality that adds extra touches of spice and flavour to the Ivory Café’s already deliciously flavoursome food.

Donna and her then partner and now husband, Piya Vongpanich (aka Gum) opened their hole-in-the-wall café in 2010. Both came to Tasmania to study five years earlier, Donna from just south of Shanghai in China, Gum from Takupa, a small village near Phuket in Thailand, where his parents ran a local café. He says his childhood was spent accompanying his mother on early morning visits to the local market and then helping the family with some simple food preparation before school.

He says things were pretty hard when they first opened Ivory. “Instead of opening like some places with a famous chef, we were first-timers and unknowns. So it was a challenge”.

But word of mouth, bloggers and social media soon took care of that and Ivory soon came to be considered one of the best and best value Thai eateries and takeaways in the city. And, added a friend, “It’s not only good, it’s always fun”.

Gum says he cooks from memory of the flavours and spicings he grew up with in Takupa and later in Bangkok. “Everything on the menu is the sort of food we love to eat”, added Donna. “Consistency is important. So we make everything, from the dumplings to the curry pastes ourselves. Then we put the food on and simply hope the public enjoys it too”.

We certainly enjoyed what we had starting with a vegetarian curry puff with sweet chilli sauce and a refreshing cucumber and red onion vinaigrette. While the filling was nicely spiced, the encasing pastry was fabulous due, Gum said, to his making two doughs, one with water, the other with oil and then enveloping one within the other.

Then followed some good, hand-made pork and ginger dumplings which, while having only seven closing tucks instead of the traditional 18 of Chinese cooking, were fresher and more flavoursome than most around town.

Next came two curries, a mildly spiced black pepper curry with pork and a delicious and deeply complex red curry of duck with the flavours of Thai basil, Kaffir lime, chilli, coconut and Gum’s red curry paste all beautifully melded together. Both were specials and, unlike most places that make a curry sauce which you can have with your choice of beef, chicken, duck or pork, a chicken green curry and a beef Massaman are the only other curries among the more extensive range of stir fries and noodles on Ivory’s menu.

When I asked Gum about this, he said he prefers to cook each curry from scratch. “Even using the same paste and flavourings, a beef red curry should taste different to a duck or pork red curry. And you only get that, not by adding the curry to the meat at service, but by cooking the particular meat and the curry ingredients together from scratch. It’s complicated and time consuming, so we have two on the menu and then run two others as our weekly specials”.

However they choose to do it they’re doing it very well and I’ve happily become a Johnny-come-lately convert to the Ivory’s food and Donna’s charms.

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