Twelve Spices has always been a local favourite with my family; serving up a mixture of Thai and Laotian dishes, the food is always cheap, authentic and really good. Recently they’ve renovated the restaurant and I can’t help but think they are trying to keep up with a nearby competitor in regards to modernising the restaurant with contemporary decor (something which is quite rare in the Cabramatta/Canley area). I also noticed that there were a lot more non-Asians in the restaurant then what it was before the renovation; so I was afraid that the food would change and become “westernised” to accommodate the non-Asians but was pleased that the food remained authentic and exactly like what I had before.
There are several dishes that we always order here and ideally these dishes are meant to be shared and served with some sticky rice.
Papaya salad is a must at any Thai/Lao restaurant. Both counties have slight variations of this dish. The Lao one features green papaya, lime juice, crab paste (which provides a salty element to the salad), cherry tomatoes and chilli, topped with dried shrimp whilst the Thai one has the addition of fish sauce and tamarind instead of the crab paste and it’s topped with peanuts. These salads are made to order so you can specify how hot you would like it. I love it hot. One time I requested (I think) 6 chillies in my salad just for the sake of it and it was pretty hot to the point that my face was numbing but it was oh so good!
We ordered the Lao Papaya Salad (Tum Mak ) ($8.80) because my dad likes the little fermented crab that comes with crab paste and this time we requested for the salad to be mild. The salad is crunchy and the sour, spicy, salty and sweet flavours are perfectly balanced. A chunk of cabbage is provided as an accompaniment to mellow out the spicy flavour.
Another must have dish is larb ($9.90) which is a Lao-style salad made with finely diced beef with roughly ground toasted rice, tripe, shallots, coriander and chilli (made to the desired spiciness). We always have this salad raw and I think it should be the only way to have it in my opinion; it is “cook” by adding a squeeze of lemon juice over the salad. Think of it as eating steak tartare with the typical balanced Thai flavours. I love the addition of the ground rice as it imparts a slightly roasted flavour and crunch to the entire salad.
You could also have the same style salad with finely diced chicken or pork ($9.90), or duck ($12.90); which will be cooked of course.
The Lao sausages ($8.80) are homemade pork sausages served with Nam Jim. Nam Jim is a dipping sauce made of fish sauce, chilli, garlic, lime juice and palm sugar; it is a dipping sauce which encompasses the key flavour elements (sweet, salty, sour and spicy) of Thai/Lao cuisine. The sausage is packed with aromatic spices and herbs and pan fried until crispy.
This has got to be my all time favourite Laotian dish. You see, I was brought up eating many foods that would be considered “weird”. I have fond memories of my dad taking us to Lao restaurants in Fairfield when I was very young to have ox tongue with sticky rice until he started making them at home. Do not knock it back until you taste it. I don’t think it has a strong, gamey taste and the texture is very tender (when cooked properly – like all meat I guess) but it’s nothing like meat, if you know what I mean.
The ox tongue (Lin Yang) ($8.80) here at Twelve Spices has got to be one of the best ox tongues I’ve had at a restaurant. It is cooked to perfection, almost medium to well done, which means it remains juicy and tender. The Nam Jim is superb with these fat, juicy slices of ox tongue; all served with a bowl of sticky rice and I’m a happy girl.
This crunchy rice ball salad (Nam Khao) ($9.90) is such a great dish. It is a specialty Laotian fried rice dish where balls of rice are deep fried until crisp, broken up before serving and mixed with a Laotian-style sour pork, chilli, coriander, shallots and peanuts. There is an abundance of crunch to this rice dish, which I absolutely love and the sour pork provides a nice slight tang to the dish. However, I’m pretty certain that the serving size of this dish was bigger when I last had it, which was somewhat disappointing as this is possibly the best fried rice dish ever.
We decided to try something different on the menu and found a picture of tasty looking prawns on the front cover and it apparently turned out to be stir-fried tamarind prawns (Goong Makharm) ($14.90). The prawns were succulent and the tamarind sauce was nicely balanced with a hint of sweetness. Although it was nice, it wasn’t as outstanding as the other dishes we were having.
I’ve had this dish before (at another restaurant) and thoroughly enjoyed it. So I was pleased to see it make an appearance on the menu as (I think) it wasn’t available on the menu before and I was eager to try it again. Now I know that the raw prawn salad (Goong Dip) ($14.90) wouldn’t be on the top of every one’s list to try but when you think about it, it is like a ceviche. It is served with a chilli and lime dressing and some shredded lettuce; and another squeeze of lemon “cooks” it. The prawns were fresh and I really enjoyed the simple dressing; it wasn’t really spicy at all despite the fact that it may look it (although my tolerance to chilli is quite high).
When eating out with my family, we don’t really order desserts but it’s nice to know that Twelve Spices also offer daily dessert specials. It would be interesting to see what they serve as I remember from last time that all they had was fried ice cream.
So once again Twelve Spices doesn’t fail to impress and I will definitely have to come back again to try their desserts, more dishes eg Yum Pu Nim (soft shell crab with green apple and green mango salad topped with cashew nuts) and crispy chilli basil crocodile and of course have a few of my favourite dishes. Do keep in mind that you should always book on Friday and Saturday nights because this place was surprisingly packed when we rocked up as a table of 6 on a Friday night without a booking. Before we’ve never had the issue of waiting for a table because there would always be a table available but we were lucky to be seated.
I think this revamp and new management is definitely doing good things for the restaurant and I am pleased that the food has remained the same.