Situated along Stirling Highway near UWA in Nedlands, Itsara brings back so many memories to me, some bad but mostly good ones. The first time I came to this restaurant was in 2010 for a monthly company dinner. Okay, the only bad memory was that I ate here for a work function and that in itself was a bad memory. No need to worry though, all else was good. I have had the chance to sit both indoors during my first visit and in the alfresco area during my second visit. The alfresco area is where you should request your table to be specially during summer because the cool air during sundown gives you that more relaxing feel. They have plants outside as well and it feels like you are in your backyard. It gave me that home-y feel. The inside, on the other hand, was dim lighted and more suitable for an intimated romantic dinner. If exotic artefacts are your thing, try requesting for a table below the huge golden dragon (or I think could also be a dragon crossed with seahorse) sticking out of the wall. My only complaint with the ambiance of the place was the incense smell, which I hate, penetrating throughout the whole restaurant. If you hate the smell of incense as much as I do then better sit in the alfresco area. At least you get a little bit of fresh air.
The restaurant opens at 6pm and when you arrive at 6:05pm on a weeknight during summer (like we did) you would be prompted to think “Why is no one inside? Is this place even good?” But once the clock strikes 6:30pm you will see the place begin to fill up. In some ways it was good that we arrived early (there were only 2 other tables filled) because our food came out promptly. The staff was friendly and service was efficient.
What made me go back to this place was the food itself. It was not like the traditional Thai food I always eat. Itsara calls itself a restaurant serving contemporary Thai cuisine. I would recommend ordering lots of starters to be eaten with plain jasmine rice rather than ordering the mains, which are curry based, because you can eat Thai curry at any Thai place. The starters were the “something different” that makes Itsara special to me. It is easier to go with a group so you can each order a different starter/entree and share them. Otherwise it makes it really difficult to choose which dish to order — everything looks and sounds good.
During my first visit I was able to try most of the dishes since we were about 15 people in a group who mostly ordered different dishes. The only main course curry dish I would recommend is the “Itsara Mingion Curry”. Sounds odd but the beef was so flavourful and tender and it surprisingly goes with the non spicy creamy curry.
This time around, my cousin and I order 3 starters, a Pad Thai, and a bowl of rice to share. We had the “Half Moon”, which was a crispy egg pancake with prawns, bean sprouts, peanuts, coconut, preserved turnip, served with a cucumber relish. It was crunchy tangy dish that I really enjoyed. We also had the “Fleeing Fish” made with what I think was barramundi fillets, mango, lemon grass, kaffir lime, ginger, lime zest and cashew nuts tossed in a sweet and tangy dressing. This dish goes really well with rice to soak up all the tangy dressing. My only complaint is that there was way too many cashews in it. My jaw became really tired from chewing all the whole nuts. Then we had the “Pretty Duck”. Given my love for duck meat, I may be biased towards this dish but the thinly sliced duck in this dish was very tender and smokey flavour made it taste even better. The char-grilled duck was topped with green mango, shallot, cashew nuts and a pineapple sweet chilli dressing. Another dish that goes well with rice. The final dish we had was “Pad Thai”, a classic Thai noodle dish, that was nothing special. Maybe it was made the traditional way but this noodle dish was something that I could have ordered from my corner Thai place for 2/3 of the price.
Then came dessert. There is only 1 dessert that would ever order from Itsara and that is their “Ginger and kaffir lime infused creme brulee”. This is by far one of the most refreshing flavours I have ever tasted and it was not overly sweet. I thought that incorporating Thai flavours into a traditionally western dessert was a very good idea. The flavours worked really well and you would not think that it is a weird combination. The dessert comes in a small bowl garnished with sliced whole strawberries and a piece of blueberry. It’s smaller than usual serving size will not leave you feeling guilty.
I would most certainly come back to Itsara. The creme brulee alone is enough excuse for me to come back. The prices were not overly expensive but do expect to pay more than that Thai corner place for a smaller serving. Average entree price is $16, average main course price is $25-$32 and average dessert price is $10.50. Our bill came to $88 for 2 people which was not too bad considering we were really full plus we had a takeaway for lunch the next day.
My rating: 7/10
My cousin’s rating: 5/10