Is this the best new restaurant in Australia?

Review: Paste, Mittagong, NSW

The story

Chef Bongkoch ‘Bee’ Satongun met her future husband, Jason Bailey, in Thailand. He was a chef and she worked for the company too, but not in the kitchen. Bee was a secretary! Having always loved food, thanks to her mother taking her around the markets from a very early age, Bee wanted to become a chef. To do that, she and Jason moved back to Australia and Jason began teaching her the ways of the kitchen.

He is obviously a wonderful teacher, and she a good student, as the happy and ambitious couple aimed to move back to Thailand, to open a Thai restaurant in Bangkok. They ate nothing but Thai food, painstakingly studying the evolution of Thai cuisine, discovering century-old recipes and long-forgotten techniques in the process. The end result, Paste, was not the only labour of love they were working on, with Bee finding out she was pregnant soon after they arrived in Thailand.

The restaurant opened in 2013, and after a slow and slightly stressful few months, Paste found its groove and people did come. Lots of people. In 2018, the Michelin Guide published its first guidebook for Thailand, and awarded its first stars. One of the stars shone on Paste, thrusting Bee into the spotlight. Later that year she was named Asia’s Best Female Chef in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards, sealing her reputation as a culinary star. Paste in Bangkok held its star in 2019, and retained it in 2020.

But Bee and Jason did not want to stop there. They had a dream that Paste could work in Australia, and with Jason hailing from the Southern Highlands, the chase was on for a venue to launch their incredible Thai restaurant here. The ideal place was found, an old Italian restaurant in Main Street Mittagong, with the owner deciding to pack away his apron and retire.

Paste Australia opened in June 2020, with a fresh, clean, almost Nordic style interior. Bookings have been coming in thick and fast, so book well ahead. But whatever you do, go. Every mouthful is a celebration of the flavours and traditions of Thai cuisine, with an Australian twist.

The food

The photos speak louder than words. So here are some shots of what we devoured at Paste Australia in Mittagong.

Roasted duck, curry paste & sawtooth coriander served on rice crackers

Paste, Bangkok Michelin Star, Paste Mittagong, Southern Highlands

Watermelon salad, ground salmon with fried shallots & toasted galangal powder

Paste Mittagong, Paste Bangkok, Michelin Star, Bee Satongun

*signature dish from Bangkok

Tropical Pomelo Salad – Australian slipper lobster, pomelo, shredded betel leaves with Thai chilli and herbal sauce

Paste Mittagong, Southern Highlands, Chef Bee Satongun, Michelin Star

*Signature dish from Bangkok

Phuket southern yellow curry with premium Australian blue swimmer crab , hummingbird flowers Thai samphire *signature from Bangkok

Paste Mittagong, MIchelin Star, Michelin Star Bangkok, Thai food, Southern HIghlands, hug Thailand

Ocean trout in infused coconut with lime leaf, turmeric and lesser ginger

Paste Mittagong, Paste Bangkok, Chef Bee Satongun, Southern Highlands, Hug Thailand

Chocolate Dome encased in a passionfruit glaze

Paste Mittagong, Paste Bangkok, Michelin Star, Hug Thailand

Thai tea mousse and Coconut Noodles

The verdict

Paste Australia is worth the drive down from Sydney, across from Wollongong or up from Canberra. The staff are extremely knowledgeable – we changed our order on the advice of Paul and the dish he recommended (the fish) was my favourite.  The interior is not typical Thai, but the soundproofing, Nordic quality styling create a lovely ambience. One of my pet hates is not being to hear people across the table from me because the restaurant is too loud. But that was not a problem here.

The wine list is extremely impressive and does include several wines from the Southern Highlands alongside other Australian wines from the Barossa, Margaret River and Adelaide Hills, with wines from France, Argentina and Marlborough, New Zealand.

The verdict is to book now – this place is going to be hard to get into and it will be worth every cent.