You have to be doing a lot of things right consistently to run a successful restaurant in different locations for over 22 years in this area, and Spice it up Thai is one of those places that just seems to have a formula that appeals to a wide range of people. It’s as popular as ever now it’s back in its original home territory, virtually on my doorstep in Mullumbimby, where, 15 years ago, it first became such a hit when it was housed in the Mullumbimby Golf Club.
However, the story goes back even further than that, with Head Chef and owner Matt initially doing his apprenticeship with Arn in the very busy River Thai restaurant, that occupied the now abandoned buildings on the banks of the Brunswick River, before the new bridge was constructed. Matt still remembers being sent out as an apprentice to scale the snapper on the sandfly-infested riverbanks! When Arn sold, Matt moved with him to Red Hot Thai in Kingscliff, before opening his own place in Brunswick Heads in 1999, which he sold in 2004 and went to work, again with Arn, on Koh Chang Island at Arn’s Saffron by the Sea resort.
As a westerner producing Thai food in the resort’s kitchen, Matt says ‘My every step was scrutinised, right down to my freckles’, but the experience honed even further his knowledge of Thai cooking, and it was also where he met his wife Elle. One of the regular guests at the resort was Joe Cummings, who created the first Lonely Planet guidebook for Thailand in the early ‘80s.
In 2006 Matt returned to Australia with Elle, enthused with what he still calls the ‘culinary joy’ of creating fabulous Thai dishes, and shortly afterwards they took over the kitchen at the Mullum Golf Club and their popularity took off. After our children were born, my wife and I found that they loved pad thai, they loved making a mess, and they loved roaming around the Golf Club, particularly the most dangerous bits. I developed a new style of eating, specifically to shovel as much Thai into myself as possible before I leapt up to wrangle children – to this day I find it hard to linger properly over my favourite vegetarian dishes; the Pad Prik Sod – chilli, vegetables, basil, tofu or the Som Tum – Thai green papaya salad. Those dishes are still on the menu, as Matt says, ‘Our aim is to keep the dine in and takeaway product that we’ve been providing for over 15 years consistent – it makes people confident that we will provide bring those mouth-watering flavours they expect.’
Whilst they later moved to the Bowling Club, and then to the Ocean Shores Country Club for a while, they are now back in Mullumbimby and their new location is what they have dreamt of for some time, slightly downsized to a 40-seater restaurant. ‘It’s perfect for us to do what we do best’, says Matt, ‘deliver fresh traditional Thai flavours cooked by professionally trained chefs and brought to your table by the locally trained front of house team.’
Matt said he feels blessed to receive so much support from locals and overseas visitors over the years, but at the end of day he thinks people just follow the dishes they love: like the very popular Whole Snapper with Dry Curry sauce, or a Pad Thai Tofu or Beef Massamun.
‘Our number goal is that the customer is happy,’ says Matt. All the dishes can be served mild (great for kids), medium or hot. Hot is, in my opinion, seriously hot. All the curries and salads are GF, and there are many vegan options available, making it easy for everyone to be happy. Also, the restaurant is very well set up for takeaway, making it a natural choice for locals in these times when a lockdown could strike at any moment – keep a good Riesling, Vouvray (chenin blanc), Gewürztraminer or Pinot Gris in the fridge door to go with your Thai food, just in case.
Spice it up Thai
103 Stuart St Mullumbimby
Open from 5pm Wednesday to Sunday.