Centre Rd Bentleigh is the home of what I would consider safe suburban eating. There are dozens of restaurants along this road and I would say that the difference between good and bad dining is quite small with few "surprises"
Driving along Centre rd almost daily, the little cafe of Sumalee never leapt out as a place to try. In fact I couldn't figure out what sort of food it actually served, I had heard it was Thai, but the fitout was very non-Thai. Based on recommendation we decided to give it a try and see if it would play in the safe Centre rd broad mid point of the Centre rd bell curve or breakout one way or another. Prawn Pandan
Initial impressions once inside is that Sumalee feels nice, lots of little decorative touches that give the place a bit of personality. Once seated and looking over the menu I was beginning to get uncomfortable, the menu seemed to have plenty of Thai sounding dishes, but the detail looked a bit concerning. Lamb Shank Massaman? This was looking like it would certainly stray outside the common part of the bell curve but which way?
To commence we ordered the Prawn Pandan which I can't say I have had before which is a shame since they were fantastic. Crisp rice cake with a fragrant soy cooked prawn perched on top is a long way from the standard spring roll or satay stick. Crispy caramel pork belly
The mains continued to surprise in a pleasant way. The crispy caramel pork belly was cooked perfectly and while the scallops would have been nicer with a bit more caramelisation, they were certainly not overcooked. The presentation was not typical of a Thai restaurant and certainly better than what one would expect for a sub $20 meal.
Lamb shank massaman curry
The lamb shank massaman curry also offered similar pleasant surprise. Generous chunks of broken down lamb in a light nutty masaman sauce with sweet potato was a winner. The portion size and richness made it challenging to finish, but it rates as one of the best massaman curries I have ever had.
Once we were finished, the owner came up for a chat and asked our opinion. The only criticism we had was the crispy pork skin was bordering on too salty, she took the advice on board and told us that it was the apprentice's first night serving this dish so she wanted to ensure it was all good. When so many places serve food with indifference and any criticism or feedback treated with contempt this was refreshing to see.
So which side of the broad Centre rd Bell curve does Sumalee sit? Very much on the right hand good side. Definately worth trying if you are local.