Sometimes, when you've spent all your pennies on things (for Queen Viv: an overseas trip, for us: home renovations and a new computer) you may want to eat out but you don't want to spend a small fortune. Which let's be honest in Sydney, is quite easy to do. So I consult my oracle, aka Queen Viv, and she suggested Yen's Vietnamese in Waterloo. It's her go to for a quick lunch or a quick dinner.
We've driven on this street so many times and hadn't even noticed it. It's busy this evening and people are huddled over steaming bowls of pho or heaped plates of freshly cooked noodles and seafood. We take a seat at a table for four but it is underneath the air conditioner so when another table leaves, we take up residence there. The menu is just over one page long and features almost sixty dishes with pho, bun, noodle soup, fried noodles, seafood, beef chicken and pork dishes. There are some specials also on the walls (along with apologies for a $1 price increase) and the service is warm and lovely although the temperature inside is cold.
Our order came out quickly. With just the right amount of sweetness, the coconut juice came with large pieces of young coconut meat and a refreshing juice.
This was an order for Karen who is a celiac. With the amount of soy and home made chicken stock they couldn't guarantee that the menu items were suitable for her. The waitress was so lovely and went out of her way to make sure that the rolls were gluten free. The next night, lured by the promise of more addictive pho, we visited with my parents Rose and Ronald and this post is made up of both visits. The rice paper rolls are soft and made fresh to order. The chicken and prawn filling is delicious and it comes with vermicelli noodles and a hoi sin and garlic based dipped sauce with a little sprinkling of ground peanuts.
As Queen Viv is a regular she knows the menu well and suggests that we order the quail. Marinated and crispy fried so that you can practically eat the whole thing and nibble on the larger bones, you squeeze some lemon juice in the salt and pepper mixture and then dip the quail in. There is an explosion of flavours, salt, tangy and soy and we wish we had ordered the serving of six.
The banh khot, usually one of my favourite items come here less crispy and larger than what I've had. The taste is very much of coconut milk with bits of pork mince and prawns and whilst they're pleasant, they're not the little crispy sensations that I've had in the past.
The pho comes as a large bowl filled with rice noodles and we took the waitress's recommendation of the beef and chicken pho. It comes with the regulation bean sprouts, purple basil and chilli and the soup itself has a generous amount of noodles and meat with thin slices of white onion. The smell of star anise and the herbs hits you as soon as it is set down and we go back for bowl after bowl of this wonderfully delicately fragranced soup with the slippery noodles.
The ginger chicken claypot is redolent in aromatic ginger with a rich, sweet sauce not unlike a caramel chicken sauce with hints of black pepper, fish sauce, eschallots, garlic and brown sugar. The ginger is pronounced and the thick sauce and retro bucket of steamed rice are welcomed this chilly winter's evening and every drop of sauce is savoured.
I seem to have quite a serious addiction to the pho here with the fragrant, delicate broth and wonderfully slippery rice noodles. The stock and noodles were as good as yesterday's although this one was their pho special with beef tripe, tendon and halved beef balls. The tripe provides texture and the tendon is sliced in layered squares and I did like the beef balls the best out of the three but I did prefer yesterday's with the beef and chicken the best for the contrast in flavour of the two meats.
Always one of my favourite dishes, the banh xeo pancake is made with rice flour and is filled with mince, prawns and yellow mung beans to form a delicate lacey pancake which you cut into four and fill with vegetables. Served alongside is a plate of lettuce and fresh mint and the nuoc cham sauce which you spoon over it.
Ordered because I thought my mother would like it, the marinated pork chops are flavoursome and come three to a serve, cut like bear claws. The meat which is still on the bone comes alive when dipped in the nuoc cham sauce and is a good accompaniment to rice.
We order crispy fried egg noodles with seafood and vegetables which was similar to Chinese chow mein although I liked the sweetness in this sauce and I found myself going back for second and third serves before finishing off the plate!
There's no dessert on the menu but that's just fine as we are too stuffed to contemplate eating anything else. The bill is more than reasonable and we happily hand over the cash. We make our way out into the blustery cold and I suggest to Mr NQN that we come again for more pho the next night.
So tell me Dear Reader, do you have a cheap and cheerful local restaurant that you go to regularly? And how much do you typically spend on a night out?
Yen's Vietnamese Restaurant
29 Botany Road, Waterloo, NSW
Tel: +61 (02) 8399 0598
Open 7 days from 10am-9pm