David Thompson is back. And he's not happy. Yet.
David Thompson is looking for a good root. High-grade turmeric, to be exact. The chillies and limes he has found in Perth, meanwhile, aren't as fragrant as what he's used to back home in Bangkok, while the coconuts in the kitchen smell like "an old man". In short, things are proving interesting for the Sydney-born chef as he prepares to open his first restaurant on Australian soil in 20 years. "Nothing's the same," he laments. "I don't have my ingredients. I'm going to die."
But if anyone can pull it off, it's David Thompson, one of the most respected interpreters of the food of Thailand in the world. At least that's what his partners at Long Chim are hoping, anyway. Opening 1 December at Perth's newly restored State Buildings, Long Chim - the second restaurant under that name following the opening of a Long Chim in Singapore in February - marks the return of one of Australia's favourite food exports. And while Thompson might be dissatisfied with some of the contents of his shopping basket, it's a pleasing sign that compromise won't be on the menu.
What can diners expect from this homecoming? Space, first and foremost. Seating 170, Long Chim isn't what you'd call a small or intimate restaurant - and that's before you factor in the courtyard.
Although Thompson made his name cooking Thai royal cuisine at Sydney's Darley Street Thai in the 1990s, Long Chim's menu is grounded in Thailand's more robust Chinese-influenced street food: smoky stir-fries, luscious roast meats and plenty of things grilled over charcoal, all spiked with no small amount of spice.
The restaurant will be making its own coconut cream, plus the durian ice cream has made the journey across the Gulf of Thailand, too. But perhaps most exciting is the news that Long Chim will be producing its own kanom jeen, Thailand's fermented rice noodles and a cornerstone of the lunch menus at both the Singapore restaurant and Nahm, Thompson's flagship restaurant in Bangkok.
"I want Long Chim to be faithful to the streets, markets and, occasionally, gutters of Bangkok," says Thompson. "It's not going to be gentrified cooking, but food that's as raw, rude and robust as what you'd find in Bangkok."
Although Thompson has a clear vision of the restaurant's direction, it's very much a case of easing into things. When Long Chim opens next month, it will serve a restricted menu before launching the full monty in January. The kitchen will be open from lunch through till late seven days a week and Thompson will be calling Perth home till at least March. He has cancelled commitments in Europe - including speaking at the Madrid Fusion culinary conference - to give his new restaurant his full attention.
"It's a long commitment, but it's important to get it right," he says.
"I don't want to f--k around and not put in the right amount of care and diligence to Perth and Long Chim. In six months' time we'll find our feet. And our roots."
And what of those tantalising rumours that Thompson is looking to open additional Long Chims throughout the country? "I can't tell you," he says, nodding his head.
Long Chim, basement, State Buildings, cnr St Georges Tce & Barrack St, Perth, WA