You can smell it from a block away. It’s the smoky hiss of charcoal and the tantalising aroma of slowly barbecuing fish and chicken wrapped up in banana leaves. Every Aussie loves a barbie, but this is food by fire, Vietnamese-style. It all happens on the weekend, when Hai Au Lang Nuong starts up the massive barbecue that faces onto the street, giving passersby a bird's eye view of all the action.
Inside Hai Au Lang Nuong, Canley Vale
This corner restaurant is hugely popular with locals, filled with Vietnamese families and big groups of friends. The decor is bright and lurid, a dizzying collection of mirrors, posters and giant TV screens playing Vietnamese pop videos. The shuttered windows are rolled open so you’re exposed to the street, an open-air experience that feels more Saigon than Sydney.
Oh!! Hot Chick
Ga Chay Bo Nuong Than charcoal grilled chicken $40 (Fri, Sat and Sun only)
The ga chay bo nuong than grilled chicken ($40 for a whole) is the big house specialty, an organic free range chook delivered fresh off the barbie. The skin is caramelised and a little charred; the flesh is mouthwateringly succulent and juicy.
If you close your eyes you get a faint hint of sweetness from the banana leaf wrapping. Dunk the chicken into the saucer of sweet chilli sauce and follow up with mouthfuls of the accompanying glutinous sticky rice.
Wrapping chicken with banana leaves
Banana leaf fish and chicken over charcoal
It’s not often you find bo la lop nuong than ($25) in Sydney restaurants: little cigars of lemongrass and black pepper beef wrapped up in glossy betel leaves and then speared onto a skewer.
Bo La Lop Nuong Than grilled beef with betel leaf $25
The real magic happens when you cook these on the charcoal grill at your table, charring the leaves so they release their spicy fragrance.
Cooking the beef skewers over charcoal
Barbecued beef skewers in betel leaves
Marinated deer $25
Marinated deer, crocodile, beef or ox tongue ($25 each) are just some of the DIY grill options on offer. Sear them well then make your own rice paper rolls, bundling them up with a bounty of vermicelli noodles, pickled vegetables and mint and perilla leaves.
Cooking the deer on the grill
Vermicelli and salad
Goi Ngo Sen lotus stem salad $15
Tom Kho Tau stewed scampi with Hai Au secret signature sauce $18
Bun Rieu crab and tomato noodle soup $10
The bun rieu ($10) is on the lunch menu but they’ll serve it at dinner if you ask nicely. It’s a heart-warming tomato and crab soup with vermicelli noodles, bobbing with crab roe, cubes of pig's blood and curls of squid.
Doi Truong Chien Don crisp pork offal $15
The adventurous should seek out the crispy duck tongues ($18) or the crisp pork offal ($15), fatty tubes of large intestine served with a spicy tomato sauce.
Extra crispy rice
The rice gets special treatment here too. Order the extra crispy version if you're happy to wait a little longer. You'll receive a crusty layer of rice, scooped from the bottom of a clay pot that is perfect for mopping up sauces.
Durian shakes and Vietnamese salads
Kem Khoai Lan Nuong grilled purple sweet potato $8 (Fri, Sat and Sun only)
If you still have room, you can keep on carbing with grilled sweet potatoes, cooked on the barbecue. It's a starch-fest that's best shared, garnished with condensed milk and peanuts and served with ice cream on the side.
Dining room at Hai Au Lang Nuong, Canley Vale
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Hai Au Lang Nuong
2/48 Canley Vale Road, Canley Vale, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9724 9156
Monday to Sunday 10am-10pm
This article appears in the June 2012 issue of Time Out Sydney in my monthly Food & Drink column Eat This! [Read online]
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6/21/2012 01:05:00 am