In January Jessica Nguyen’s restaurant, La Sen, will have been in The Spot for three years. That’s no mean feat in such a competitive restaurant zone, where eateries sporting a global collection of cuisines vie for the attention of locals and moviegoers to the Randwick Ritz.
The older-style space has had a cheerful yellow and grey makeover that has been enhanced by the addition of a wooden ceiling panel.
From it leafy green fake ferns, that, when added to the vase of namesake lotus flowers and seed pods, add something organic to the long, dark and narrow space.
With Sydney’s yo-yoing weather kicking out a doozy of summery day, our first thought was beverages. Nothing could be more satisfying than an ice-cold Coconut Lime Crush ($7). It's faintly green with aromatic fresh mint, with enough lime to help the coconut from being too sweet. You’ll also find three different Vietnamese beers on their short list. While they’re all quaffable hot weather brews, I preferred the slightly nutty Hanoi ($7) while my dining companion liked the hoppier Saigon ($7). Wine drinkers will find corkage here is a very reasonable $2.50 per diner, making it very budget-friendly to select your own wine.
The La Sen menu is reasonably extensive, packed full of your perennial Vietnamese favourites. Crispy Pancake ($18.90) has been given a clever update, by switching out the more usual pork and prawn for a generous portion of roast duck. The golden pancake is crisp and oil-free, with a faintly coconut tinge; while the duck-heavy interior is balanced with snapping fresh bean sprouts, making it fresh and juicy to eat.
The duck is so successful, we decide to double down with the La Sen Red Duck Curry ($25.90). It’s a vibrantly red bowl of coconut-based curry. The colour is clearly achieved with crustacean, and the salty dried shrimp flavours keep the coconut from being over-sweet. The quality of the seasonal greens is excellent, running from crisp beans to broccoli and snowpeas.
They make the Water Spinach Wok ($16.90) we chose to accompany the curry with, a bit redundant. However I did like these intensely garlicky greens with their surprise red scuds with seeds intact giving my palate an energetic wakeup call.
With the advent of warm weather, I’ve been on a bit of a vermicelli bowl bent, so I road-tested the La Sen All-In-One ($18.90). It's a generous collection of sugarcane prawns, pork skewers, spring rolls, and juicy, grilled pork meat. This diverse collection of toppings is enhanced with fresh and pickled vegetables. The carrots struck me as particularly well-pickled - achieving balance without being over-sweet. It’s probably my favourite vermicelli bowl thus far this year.
La Sen Restaurant
41 Perouse Road, Randwick
Ph: (02) 8065 5207