A Taste of Hue in the Heart of the City: Cash Only Diner

Cash Only Diner, Sydney

Cash Only Diner is a restaurant in the middle of Sydney's CBD on the corner of Clarence and Barrack Streets. The name Cash Only Diner suggests a casual sort of place, perhaps a hole in the wall sort of restaurant or quick diner where you can drop in for a coffee for breakfast or quick burger for lunch. However it isn't really any of these things. For starters, it's really more a restaurant than a casual drop in diner. Currently it's only open at night and they also take credit card, not just cash and the menu is full of spins of Vietnamese classics from the Hue region.

Cash Only Diner, Sydney

Cash Only Diner's focus on food from Hue in Vietnam is because Hue is where owner Chau Tran's mother hails from. He and Bryce McDonough opened up Cash Only Diner in 2020. The name is a tribute to hole in the wall eateries with hand written signs at the counter. The restaurant itself is more polished with an open kitchen, exposed brickwork and an industrial feel reminiscent of a Surry Hills converted warehouse space. Service is friendly and they show Sophia and I to a table for two. It's a little dark so we opt for one of the high bar seats next to the windows (it's all about the light and photos). Sitting in the window seat will mean that all night long people will stop and look at the food we are eating.

Cash Only Diner, Sydney

I suggested Cash Only Diner to Sophia for our dinner because I follow chef Bryan Zhu on Instagram ever since Mr NQN and I went to Rice Pantry in Marrickville and really enjoyed the food there. He is now one of the chefs at Cash Only Diner along with head chef Bobby Trang Nguyen. The menu is big and that makes deciding difficult but Bryan had recommended some dishes. This is Hue cuisine but reimagined and a little bit extra - for example the VN pate comes with pork floss and tobiko and there's a Tomahawk steak for $140.

Cash Only Diner, Sydney
Banh Xeo $24

Sophia and I both love banh xeo, the crispy pancake filled with bean sprouts, pork mince and prawns. In this version the school prawns are cooked until super crispy. However Sophia remarks that she would have loved more pork in this. I really enjoy this especially wrapped up in a very crisp lettuce leaf with shiso and fresh mint and nuoc cham but damn as I've never managed to master eating this without spilling some on myself.

Cash Only Diner, Sydney
Betel Leaf Beef $22 for 5

The betel leaf beef is wild betel leaves wrapped about beef mince and then deep fried and served with mam nem. The beef is tender and juicy and the betel leaf is one of the milder tasting leaves (as opposed to shiso IYKWIM) but the mam nem is a powerhouse of flavour. This pungent fermented anchovy sauce is for those that likes their saucy funky and punchy although the betel leaf wrapped beef is tasty on its own too.

Cash Only Diner, Sydney
CO Spring Rolls $19 for 3

The spring rolls are both of our favourites and they're 3 spring rolls cut in half that are possibly the crunchiest spring rolls you may ever eat. I definitely recommend grabbing a lettuce leaf, a shiso leaf and some mint and wrapping a spring roll and then topping with nuoc cham. The bites are very crunchy with this one.

Cash Only Diner, Sydney
Kickin Wings $18 for 4

We wanted to order the banh khot (one of my favourite ever things) as Sophia had never tried them but they aren't available this evening. So we go with the kickin wings instead. They're very crispy deep fried wings doused in a delicious mixture of fish sauce and tamarind. Make sure to dip those wings in the sauce at the bottom of the bowl too.

Cash Only Diner, Sydney
CO House Pickles $6

Our waiter was knowledgeable and it was clear that he had tried a lot of the menu and was able to answer our questions. He also recommended the pickles because a lot of the appetisers were on the crispy or fried side. And he's right, the cabbage and zig zag julienned carrot pickles provide a much needed break from the fried food.

Cash Only Diner, Sydney
Claypot Fish Cá Kho Tộ $42

Claypot fish is a dish that I've tried at a cooking class in Vietnam and it is one of the most delicious things I've ever made (I should share the recipe soon-would you like it?). It's caramelised fish cooked in a clay pot in the most delectable sweet and tangy sauces ever. The fish used in this changes according to what is good and today's fish is salmon, so perfectly cooked so that it is cooked through but luscious. Make sure to get some rice for this.

Cash Only Diner, Sydney
Crack Rice $8

That's where the crack rice comes into it. Steamed jasmine rice is great but crack rice is even better and this a bowl of jasmine rice with a gooey yolked egg and chicharrons for crunch. It goes so perfectly with the claypot fish , especially that creamy yolk and crunchy chicharron or pork crackling (hence the name crack rice).

Cash Only Diner, Sydney
Stir Fried Broccolini $22

We love our veggies and normally I would have ordered the apple and green mango salad but Sophia doesn't like green mango so we opt for the stir fried broccolini. It's perfectly cooked with lots of garlic, oyster sauce and a showering of crispy shallots. And since when is broccolini this moreish?

Cash Only Diner, Sydney
All Aboard the Coconut Express $17

Desserts are always going to be a highlight here as ex MasterChef Alum Bryan was known for his spectacular desserts. Sophia chose the All Aboard the Coconut Express, a vanilla and coconut panna cotta with crumble, pandan creme, fresh lychees, raspberries and gelato. It's a huge dessert and could conceivably feed 2 or 3 or even 4 people. The panna cotta is so silky and luscious and the fruit on top is perfectly sweet. I'm going to be honest though, while I really, really enjoyed this, I was completely obsessed with the other dessert.

Cash Only Diner, Sydney
Feelin Corny $17

I chose the corn dessert because I love Che Bap, the Vietnamese corn pudding. This is a deconstructed version not served in a bowl but on a plate with corn custard, coconut sago, crushed up cornflakes, corn sponge, charred corn and fresh elderflowers and it's spectacular. Get a bit of everything on your spoon and it's perfectly textural. If you've never had corn desserts get ready to change your world.

So tell me Dear Reader, have you tried much food from Hue? And would you like me to share the recipe for caramelised fish?

This meal was independently paid for.

Cash Only Diner

1 Barrack St, Sydney NSW 2000

Tuesday to Friday 12–3 pm, 5–10 pm

Saturday 5–10 pm

Sunday and Monday closed

Phone: 0450 862 147


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