The problem with Sydney's Vietnamese cuisine is that it looks so fresh and vibrant in photos, we can be lured, by platforms like Instagram, into thinking a restaurant is going to be great, then arrive to find the dishes lacking in flavour. I have no such complaints about the offerings put out by Angie Hong, mother of Executive Chef Dan Hong, who you’ll likely know from Mr Wong, Papi Chulo, El Loco or Ms G’s.
Arising some years after Angie Hong sold the last of her Thanh Binh restaurants, this short-term, night time pop-up at White Taro in Surry Hills affords you a rare opportunity to eat at her dinner table. A surprisingly long menu provides plenty of choice for meat eaters and vegetarians alike in this tiny, homely corner-store cafe.
In Sydney Vietnamese is practically synonymous with fresh rice paper rolls, but here you should hit up the Vietnamese Deep Fried Rice Paper Rolls ($12/3) instead. With the perfect combination of crunch and chew, these golden, caramelised rice paper-wrapped batons of lean pork mince and crab meat are bursting with flavour. Accompanied by a veritable forest of fresh and lightly pickled vegetables, and a classic ‘nuoc cham’ dipping sauce, they eat so freshly, they belie being fried.
The wine list is limited to seven choices, but it’s hard to complain when they all come in under forty bucks a bottle. The Lillypilly Gypsy Rosé ($33/bottle, $9/glass) drinks with the cuisine slightly better than the overly dark and earthy Curious Creatures Pinot Noir ($38/bottle, $9/glass).
Both wines go with beef, and if you’re a beef-lover, the Bò Lá Lot ($18) here is a must-eat. Little fingers of lemongrass infused wagyu beef mince are rolled in betel leaves then charcoal grilled. They’re beautifully presented in a tangle of edible flowers, julienned vegetables, and crunchy peanuts against a tangy, pungent chilli sauce.
White Taro Fried Rice ($16) with namesake strips of crisp taro is a nice foil to the lemon-pepper intensity that is ‘shaking beef’.
Grass-fed beef elevates Hong’s version of Bo Luc Lac ($24) into something quite memorable one, especially when contrasted with the fresh tomato slices that are fanned along the plate.
The salty astringency of our lemon pepper beef cube dipping pot inclines us toward a mouth-reassembling Kumquat Pannacotta ($14). It’s another visual feast, with wobbly pannacotta crowned by shiny citrus jelly, surrounded by a pool of creamy yellow passionfruit curd under a coconut cardamom crumb. Your eye is caught by the brightly coloured quenelle of raspberry sorbet, though it’s the tart rings of dehydrated kumquat that captivate me. This beautifully presented dessert attracts the envy of our friendly table neighbours, and their convivial warmth combined with a very reasonable bill, see us launch back into Surry Hills smiling.
67 Albion Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9211 0108