Ten years ago, it was very small. Set back a few metres from the battered footpath, open windows let in the smell and fumes from the passing traffic. You put up with it because there were few other places in Bali where you could enjoy anything that even vaguely resembled Thai food.
The room, that was the site of the original Kin Khao restaurant, in Seminyak, has slowly evolved. First, the windows were glassed in, air-conditioning added and finally the room was extended to the edge of the footpath. Now, in it?s new guise as the Lemon Grass restaurant it is still serving Thai cuisine, but the room is now clean, cool, and very relaxing.
Lemon Grass serves reasonable Thai food. Even though it does not always hit you with those explosions of flavour, you associate with Thai cuisine. The extremes are sometimes missing, but you are still left with simple, harmless food, which is quite enjoyable, and reasonable value. Moreover, it can be enjoyed in a very pleasant room, with attentive staff who are eager to please. What more could you want?
The inevitable Satay can be ordered as either beef or chicken, and arrives with a very average peanut sauce. Tod Man Pla are patties made from a mixture of minced fish, green beans and spices.
Poh Piatod are small spring rolls, the pastry far too heavy, under-stuffed with either chicken or a vegetable mixture, and served with more of a chilli sauce than the usual tangy sweet chilli version. Pla Muk Tod are calamari rings, bread-crumbed and deep-fried, then served with the same sauce, as is the Goong Ma Praw [king prawns rolled in roasted coconut, then deep fried].
The ubiquitous Curry Puff, never to be found in a restaurant in Thailand, but an essential in every suburban Australian Thai menu, can be ordered at Lemon Grass. Minced Pork combined with Thai spices, wrapped in what should be a very light puff pastry. Here there is not much stuffing and the pastry is far too heavy, but the accompanying cucumber relish almost makes up for it.
A quick word of warning! Always the check the small list of daily specials, usually inserted in the front of the menu. Some of the best dishes at Lemon Grass can be found on this small sheet. Examples of which are entrees Kai Bo Bai Teui [grilled pieces of marinated chicken wrapped in pandanus leaves] or Thung Thong [mixture of ground pork, green beans, garlic and coriander stuffed into golden money bags]. There is also a wonderful Yam Ma Kheua Yao. This dish has three separate parts; ground pork, slices of eggplant and grilled prawns. All parts should be taken together, and the combination of chilli, fish sauce and lemon makes you think you really are in Thailand.
A good selection of soups is headed by two of Thailand?s most famous products! That hot and sour Tom Yang Goong, and the ambrosial Tom Kha Gai [chicken simmered in softly spiced coconut milk].
They call them salads, but I guess that is only because they are served cold. A reasonable Yum Nuea [slices of beef, tossed with toasted ground rice, lemon juice and coriander] and a Yam Woon Sen [glass noodles combined with minced pork, prawns, coriander, chilli, fish sauce, lemon juice, onions and a sour shrimp paste] exhibits great Thai tastes.
The Larb [minced meat with lemon juice, chilli powder and fish sauce] can be ordered as Chicken, Beef or Pork. Larb is a dish that you seem to either love or hate! It is usually a bit too sour for my personal taste, but not so at Lemon Grass. Gai Pad Met Ma-Muang is stir-fried chicken pieces with roasted chilli, shallots, onions and capsicum. Nuea Pad Prik is also stir-fried and consists of beef slices with mushrooms, capsicum, onions, chilli and garlic.
Moo Priew Waan, is that Thai-style sweet and sour pork, with pineapple, onions, cucumber and tomato chunks. Moo Pad Khing is stir-fried pork with ginger, onions, shallots and mushrooms.
The slightly disappointing curries are available as Red [Gaeng Dang] or Green [Gaeng Keow Waan]. They can be ordered with Beef, Pork or Chicken. Whilst the even milder Gaeng Gari [Yellow] with potatoes and onions is available as Chicken or Beef. Gaeng Mussamen, that normally very aromatic peanut curry from Thailand?s muslim south, is surprisingly only served with beef, together with pineapple [?], potato and onions.
The highlight of the current menu, on that special list at the front, is the Nua Gai Pad Prik Bai Salamai. Slices of lamb stir-fried with garlic, oyster and fish sauces, chilli and mint. Wonderful!
Choo Chee dishes start with red curry paste, but finish up with a pleasant sweetness, and are particularly suitable for seafood courses. At Lemon Grass, the Choo Chee Pla uses a deep fried Tengeri Fish as it?s central piece, and is served with kaffir lime leaves. Goong Pad Krapaow is a stir-fried dish of prawns with basil leaves, fresh chilli, onions, garlic and green beans,
A good selection of Vegetarian dishes are separately listed, and that famous Thai dessert Mamuang Khao Nieo [sweet mango slices with sticky rice] is always available. There is even a small selection of non-Thai dishes for that awkward member of the group! The wine list is small but quite reasonable [selections and prices] for Bali!
A visit to Lemon Grass is totally non-threatening!
All in all a pleasant enough experience. The food is simple and reasonably priced. Overall, what is sometimes missing is that exuberant ?taste of Thai?. Some of the flavours at Lemon Grass lack that little bit of oomph! That burst of flavour that you automatically associate with the partaking of a Thai meal.