Do you get the feeling that the universe is sending you a sign? Belinda and I wanted to try a new restaurant. When she rang them they gave her a bit of a strange response to her question. That coupled with a lack of enthusiasm and a no bookings policy made us decide to give it a miss.
Then her niece visited the restaurant and waxed rhapsodic about one item so plans were again made to go back with Belinda and her two girls. So there we were early on a Sunday because they don't take bookings and we overheard them telling another diner that it was an over 18 venue meaning that Belinda's girls would not be allowed in.
"I don't think this restaurant visit was meant to be" we said to each other and decided to go to Thanh Binh instead. We don't have a reservation but at 5pm on a Sunday it's relatively empty although later it will fill up to half full. It's a large restaurant and the inner west outpost of the Cabramatta version (and from anecdotal reports, some thought that this branch was actually better). We take a seat and flip through the extensive menu. Service is polite and attentive.
I'm always lured by colourful Asian drinks and even though it feels quite Arctic outside, this ice drink is worth trying. The three colour bean drink is made with crushed ice, coconut milk and syrup with little pieces of beans and jelly noodles inside.
The ice herbal drink is another sweet icy drink with longan, barley and seaweed. It's not bad although it's hard to beat a drink with coconut milk in it and this one is slightly less popular at the table.
Our entrees come out quickly and they cut all of the rolls in half. They were nice enough to allow us to order five of each roll instead of having to double the order to six rolls. This has a tasty mix of prawns, pork, vermicelli noodles, butter lettuce and mint and is accompanied by a flavoursome peanut dipping sauce.
I try to be healthy and go for the fresh over fried spring rolls but before you know it, I have eaten three halves of these crunchy little numbers. They're given extra crunch by the tofu skin outer and filled with finely minced pork inside.
I always tend to compare the Banh Xeo to my favourite one at Bay Tinh and they never seem to compare as well. While this is good, I still love the crispy rice flour and mung bean pancake at Bay Tinh better (although it has been years since I last had it). This is filled with chicken and prawn and like many of the dishes, you fill the pancake with salad and herbs and dip it in the nuoc cham sauce.
The first course of the beef comes out and it is the beef salad that comes on curved black sesame crackers. The beef is flavoursome and given crunch from the bean sprouts and carrots.
This was Mia's choice and you assemble it all at the table. You are given rice papers, hot water, salad and grilled prawns with the shell still on. Dunking the rice paper in the water, we then add the prawn, salad and sauce and roll it up. The girls particularly enjoy the rolling process and it keeps them busy while they eat.
A gas cooker comes out along with extra bowls of lemongrass, vermicelli, two sauces and salad. They cook the thin slices of bbq beef in front of us and these get the same treatment as the grilled prawns by wrapping them up in the rice paper. Another alternative is wrapping them in the soft butter lettuce leaves instead. The beef is a bit plain by itself but springs to life with the sauce and the lemongrass.
Next up they place a bowl of herbed water on the cooker and we are instructed to cook the beef fondue ourselves. We're cooking this fondue in water rather than cheese. Once cooked, the beef and cheese are wrapped up in the leaves or rice paper.
Ruby's order of calamari arrives and I wipe off my hands with the wet towelette provided and go back to the chopsticks. The calamari is tender and perfectly seasoned with the chilli salt and this along with the plain boiled rice is comforting and moreish.
The fourth course is the beef congee which comes out in a large bowl. Congee is rice porridge, one of Mr NQN's favourite comfort foods and it's like a big warm hug. Although I can't say that I had a lot of it because we still have a few beef courses to go as well as a couple of others!
Beef cooked seven ways course 5 and 6 ($30 per person for all courses, serving for two people)
This is our last beef course and if you are paying better attention than we are, we are only given six courses and not seven. This was the diced rump (Bo Luc lac) and beef patties. I don't really go for the diced rump as it is a bit livery and the patties are a bit dry although better when dipped in the sweet vinegar dipping sauce.
The crispy skinned chicken is served on the bone with a glossy crispy skin outer and juicy chicken inside. The lemongrass is piled atop the chicken and it is full of flavour and texture.
The vegetables are the last to arrive and by now we are really, really full. They're cooked well, the carrots still having a crunch while the broccoli and bok choy have a good texture to them. We couldn't bear to have the food go to waste so we asked for most of this to be packed up for takeaway.
But of course you know dessert is a separate stomach! We originally asked for the sweetcorn pudding but this isn't available. We are persuaded by the waiter's suggestion of the creme caramel with sago coconut sauce. The texture of the wobbly eggy flan was light and soft and the sago coconut sauce was a great addition lending the dessert a distinctly Asian flavour to it. And with a dessert like this, who would quibble about a lost course?
So tell me Dear Reader, do you always make reservations when you go out or do you dine out on the spur of the moment?
111 King Street, Newtown, NSW 2042
Tel: +61 (02) 9557 1175
Mon - Thur: 5:30pm - 10:00pm
Fri: 5:30pm - 11pm
Sat: 12:00pm - 11pm
Sun: 12:00pm - 10pm