Throwback Thursday: Thai Coconut Island 2005

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Here’s one from the archives, April, 2005, to be exact! This restaurant remains quite enjoyable.

Thai Coconut Island, Dining Out for April 7
By Andrew Coppolino
For Nightlife

Cooks looking for a nosh after long hours in a hot, busy kitchen, often seek Thai — few want rich meats, starches, creams, and heavy sauces mounted with butter.

Rather, cooks, desiring a respite from the hectic pace of their own kitchens, often look for exquisitely crafted yet simple fresh food. Thai offers contrasts of texture, heat, and the commingling of sweet and savoury, all complemented by unique herbs and seasonings.

Thai Coconut Island on Hespeler Road in Cambridge is, indeed, an island and respite in the agglomeration of fast-food joints, steel forests of traffic lights, and endless and mundane plazas that are the blight of conurbation that characterize our cities.

You walk in, not to cheesy bamboo themes and grass-skirts or any such, but rather to a cool, relaxed and minimalist chic atmosphere with contemporary music playing softly in the background and waitstaff in simple black pants and burgundy shirts.

Business partners Sunny Houmphavong, his mother Sathaphone (she is principal owner along with his aunt Bouavone Sisombath) and uncle Meng Sisombath call it “Urban Thai Cuisine” with north-eastern flavouring.

The building infrastructure—vents, ducts, pipes, girders and beams—are left exposed and painted black. Softer tones of beige and taupe match the tile floor and highlight steel and bronze-coloured lighting fixtures. The only drawback is a too bright sound and the echoes that reverberate (true urban chic?) among the 20 or so linen-less tables.

Several salads, appetizers, pho, soups (such as Tom Kha Kai with lemongrass and galangal, an Asian ginger), vermicelli, curries, pads, and 15 vegetarian dishes fill out the menu.

At dinner, Spring rolls (2 for $3.50) are a fresh, crisp balancing of spiced vegetable and noodle. Grilled meat balls (2 for $3.50) are odd balls: marinated pork is not tangy as advertised, though nicely grilled. Sweet and sour sauce is a blend of sugar syrup base accented with fish sauce producing a rich glaze punctuated with peanuts.

Lemongrass seafood ($12) is well-constructed, though it could have withstood the weight of more seafood and a greater touch of lemongrass.

I had a durian shake ($3.50)—truly one of world’s most unusual fruits. About the size of a football (with menacing spikes), the raw durian assaults the olfactory senses of some with such malice that it has been banned from importation by some airlines because of the odour it emits.

Blended and mixed into a shake, however, it produces a slightly sweet, slightly savoury (perhaps mild vanilla) drink which complements the spices and flavours on the island.

Gang ka re ($7) of yellow curry, coconut milk, potatoes, onions, and Thai Jasmine tea is excellent. Mango Chicken ($10) was a decent enough serving size and colourfully presented on a trendy square plate but needs a touch more seasoning to move it from the realm of the average.

At lunch (ask about portion sizes because you could end up getting too much), shrimp rolls (2 for $3.50) served cold in rice paper with mint, vermicelli, and crisp romaine were delicious: three or four of these would be a satisfying meal for me.

BBQ pork rolls (2 for $3.50) with the same stuffing are satisfactory, but can’t equal the shrimp.

Lunch mains were diametrically opposed in culinary quality: Spicy salmon with Thai salsa ($11) sounded exciting, but overly pan-fried salmon (though a generous portion) was merely heat with a too muted flavour.

Yet the salmon was forgotten with a taste of superb Pad woon sen with beef ($8): glass noodles (transparent “cellophane” noodles made from mung bean paste), egg, and Chinese cabbage is a small mountain of steaming food with a terrific blend of crisp, aromatic cabbage, tender beef fragments, balanced spices, and a rich mouth-feel.

Superlative: this and a pot of tea on a deserted island, and you’re set.

Open Sunday to Tuesday 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.; Wednesday to Saturday 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. Take out available. Wheelchair accessible. Cards. Liquor license pending. Visa, Master, Interac.

Thai Coconut Island
580 Hespeler Road, Unit 8
Cambridge 622-3200

Assessing food, atmosphere, service, and prices, Dining Out restaurant reviews are based on anonymous and unannounced visits to the establishments. Restaurants do not pay for any portion of the reviewer’s meal. [Andrew Coppolino can be reached at]

Listen to Andrew Coppolino and Dining Out Thursday at 8:50 a.m. on 98.5 YOUR FM. He can be reached at apcoppolino@

Been There? … Try These
• Pho Nam-Thanh Restaurant, Cambridge (650-9181)
Food and fuel … food as fuel: good value, great pho (noodle) soup. Quirky location co-habiting with a gas station. Bright, simple, unassuming with friendly and helpful service.

• Mongolian Grill, Cambridge (624-4555)
Not exactly far eastern cuisine, but the fresh vegetables, hot grill, and variety of spices coupled with the spectacle of Enormo-Grill is fun as you queue up to have your self-serve ingredients cooked for you.

• Reader Robert Hyde of Kitchener sent me an interesting counterpoint in the bring-your-own-wine issue regarding his recent Australian trip: “We took advantage of their (BYOW) program (when we) went to an Italian restaurant in Melbourne which was only licensed to provide a corkage service. I went to the wine store across the street, (and) came back with a decent red which the restaurant served with pleasure. The corkage fee was $2.50 Australian (CAN $2.42). Quite a difference.”

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