73 Addison Road,
South Australia 5013
BYO : accepted CORKAGE $20 PER 750 ml bottle
CHEF : Ben Phan [family]
FRONT OF HOUSE : the fabulous Maria and Linda Phan [family]
OWNERS : Family Phan
ANN OLIVER 25 FEBRUARY 2023
THE WALLS AT THE VIETNAM ARE PLASTERED WITH 34 YEARS OF ARTICLES AND AWARDS
It’s been a very long time since I have eaten at a restaurant where 99% was absolutely delicious. Even more amazing I probably went to The Vietnam for the first time thirty years ago, and have been back a couple of times since, and here we are on a Sunday night in a restaurant that is filled to capacity and absolutely pumping. Whilst I think it is much easier to run a pumping restaurant than a quiet one this family has been doing it for 34 years. That takes a special kind of stamina.
The Vietnam is a modest venue in the burbs. The walls are plastered with 34 years of accolades. The owners, now retired, live across the road and restaurant manager Maria regales us with hilarious stories of the owner telephoning her and asking why people have been standing at the door? Why hasn’t this or that been done…blah? The owner probably sits with binoculars watching the restaurant operations? Hilarious, but it reminded me of New Orleans Commanders Palace, where some time ago, the owners lived next door and were able to look straight into the restaurant enabling them to have a close eye on the running and proffer instructions by telephone. However, The Vietnam remains run by the next generation of its founding family, and endorses my opinion that owner operated restaurants are mainly just that much better.
It must be said their menu is humungous and their chef, a member of the family, must be a genius to remember every dish on their menu. If you can find the menu or their wine list on either their web site or Facebook please let me know. In desperation I went down grabbed a quick delicious lunch of prawn roll your own cold rolls and checked their menu to make sure I had this review right. It goes in sections starting with banquets then into Vietnamese food and then into Chinese food and then into desserts. The Chinese section does include some Malaysian favourites like Char Kway Teow but we were there for the Vietnamese favourites.
THE FABULOUS MARIA MAESTRO OF THE VIETNAM
MAKE YOUR OWN COLD ROLLS PRAWN
UGLY DELICIOUS RICE HOTPOT
You can always recognise a modestly priced restaurant that has a wine industry following. They always take BYO and they can usually muster a few decent glasses and this is certainly the case at The Vietnam on both counts. Their wine and spirit list is staggeringly extensive, with a huge range of Whiskies, Gins and beers just as a start. In fact, there would be very few city restaurants that could boast such an extensive Gin selection. The wine section is smaller, but a well-chosen and wines by the glass also offer choice at very modest mark ups.
Our visit was organised by one of our besties, Amrik Singh, Jasmin Indian Restaurant [in my top five favourite Adelaide restaurants], who with his family has been a regular for most of those 34 years. Wisely we passed the ordering to him.
It’s about 7.30 pm, it’s noisy and on a slightly too large table we need to lean in to hear each other….but the fragrant smells of tasty food assail one. Given the packed restaurant one could have fairly expected a bit of a wait, but everything just flowed first three or four dishes quite quickly and then at a somewhat perfectly slowed pace.
Spring rolls were gobbled like a pack of greedy gannets our hunger having been heightened by the swirl of food aromas. In my opinion spring rolls are mainly awful but these just hit the spot. Fried eggplant in a glassy thin crispy batter….exquisito! A little bit of chilli but mainly from a fragrant slightly spicy dipping sauce….no hint of fishiness in the fryer oil which I thought quite astonishing given how busy they had been.
WARM PRAWN AND GLASS NOODLE SALAD
A warm prawn salad….glass noodles soused in a light warm fish sauce dressing laced with raw red onion and coriander [a generous number of prawns] was a favourite with everyone. Salt and pepper tofu, with an equally light and perfectly crispy batter. Roast pork belly, simply a generous slice chopped, nice and fatty good cracking, served on a bed of crunchy Iceberg lettuce with a mild chilli fish sauce combination for dipping. This is the only dish I wouldn’t order again, not because it wasn’t good but our duck shop does pork belly to perfection and it is never re-warmed.
I have to say the highlight of the meal, given everything was great, but the standout for me was the rice hotpot. Laced with sausage, meat, topped with an egg that cooks on the way out to the table and a generous dusting of spring onion it is a surprising dish. Mashed at the table mixing the egg and other ingredients it is rather gluggy and looks a bit like a mainly unattractive light brown blob. But the flavour! In some ways it reminded me of the dirty rice of the Cajun kitchen where rice is cooked in the cloudy scummy stock at the bottom of the stock pot that is normally turfed. There is a lot of temptation on their menu but one of these rice hotpots is a must.
Vietnamese coleslaw; red cabbage, cabbage, onion, spring onion carrot with a light vinegar and fish sauce dressing, loads of roasted and, ‘praise be’, chopped roasted peanuts and a lot of crispy salt and pepper firm tofu tossed through. By this time the restaurant crowd is thinning and our table of six is purring with appreciation.
I remembered the quail from a visit years ago and was fully prepared to be tricked by memory as to how good they were or were not. These fellas are quite chilli and pepper spicy hot [you can ask for a milder version]. Lovely plump quail they were grilled to perfection a little crispy on the skin and moist and tender everywhere else. No mad garnishes just more Iceberg lettuce and a simple vinegary dipping sauce.
By this time our table was starting to get defeated by the amount of food so I happily took the remaining two home and had them for breakfast. Last of all their BBQ chicken, a bit spicy, succulent and tender we were all pretty much defeated at this point to show proper appreciation.
A couple of days ago I snuck back in after swimming and had the roll your own prawn cold rolls. Three delicious fried prawn farce dumplings skewered with a sugarcane skewer, a pile of vermicelli noodles, a pile of perfect mint and coriander and the crunchiest Iceberg lettuce and a few house pickled vegetables. Add to that a mildly spicy sticky peanut-based sauce that stuck nicely to everything. I need to say I hate making cold rolls and would much prefer someone made them for me, but it was utterly delicious, miles too much for one person it is a dish meant to be shared and I had the rest for dinner tonight…minus the cold roll wrappers…LOL! I must have looked very inept because the wonderful Maria volunteered to show me how to roll them!!! The truth is I am happily out of practice.
Sometimes restaurants like The Vietnam get forgotten with the passage of time but, rest assured The Vietnam is still pumping with the skilled hands of the next generation at the helm and long-term staff like restaurant manager Maria who seemed to know everyone by name, seemed to understand perfectly what the customers expected. Absolutely nothing was too much trouble and whilst we might put some of this down to the oh, so charming Amrik Singh who organised our table I took good account of everything happening around us and it seemed to me that every guest was equally well cared for.
$60 per person food only, corkage was waived, a not uncommon practice for regulars of 30 plus years like the Singh family . Today Maria said, see you soon, if only I could just eat at the restaurants I love instead of several before I find a restaurant good enough to review.
Organising a table of 6-8 would give you the advantage of trying many dishes. When I was there on a Friday lunchtime the phone didn’t stop ringing with bookings, so, bookings are essential and if you go early, remember, you are not expected to hog the table for the entire night. When food that good is also that inexpensive they need the numbers to make it add up.
ANN OLIVER 24 FEBRUARY 2023
COPYRIGHT © TEXT AND IMAGES ANN OLIVER 2023
MAINTAINING 34 YEARS