"Hallo! You still waiting? You come and sit in the VIP room!"
We had been waiting for a table for six be cleared at Selina, a combination Lao and Thai restaurant, when a young man appeared beside us, smiling with enthusiasm.
Feeling somewhat pleased at this extension of hospitality, we nodded as we followed him... out the restaurant and to a tiny front room next door.
"Extra special. For you. Private, you see. Not so crowded."
The narrow room held two long dining tables, clad in hot pink tablecloths. A multi-generational family were already eating at one table, finishing off the last of their green papaya salad, stir-fries and rice. The room seemed pleasing enough, so we nodded amiably and squeezed in.
We were venturing forth on hitherto unexplored gastronomic terrain. We were in Fairfield for Laotian food, our first foodie foray in both the suburb and the cuisine. Located in Sydney's west, Fairfield has a strong Lao community and we spotted about eight Lao/Thai restaurants in the area.
Within seconds of us being seated, a young girl appeared from the kitchen, setting down a complimentary platter of cabbage leaves and mint and ready to take our order. We politely requested more time as we thoroughly checked out the display book menu of photographs and prices.
On her third visit back to us, we were finally ready. It seemed barely three minutes had passed before she returned bearing our dishes in rapid succession.
Cabbage leaves and mint, presumably used to wrap mouthfuls of food as well as to cleanse to palate
Hot and spicy mussels $8.00
The mussels were first out. They weren't as hot and spicy as I expected, but still juicy and relatively tender.
Green papaya salad Lao-style $6.00
Green papaya salad Thai-style $6.00
Yes, the green papaya salad monster strikes again. We couldn't decide between the Lao version and the Thai version and ending up ordering both "for research purposes".
They are both remarkably different. The Lao version was like Loch Ness, dark and murky and announcing its arrival immediately with the unmistakable pungent smell of fish sauce. It was salty, intense and extremely fiery. I had had the Laotian green papaya salad recently, but this was much stronger.
Although we'd ordered the Thai-style salad mild as well (I've cottoned on to the infinitely hotter Thai heat scale), this was pleasantly hot for our palates. The dressing was sweeter, milder, tangier and covered in crunchy peanuts. The Thai version won hands-down in terms of table consumption.
Rice arrived in a gorgeous bamboo basket which I recognised from the Snapper, Spice and Rice festival I'd been to. This dining room version was much smaller though and irresistably cute. Sticky rice was packed into a plastic bag and into the basket which was surprisingly flexible.
The hot sticky rice was delicious and the rice warmer, despite appearing so flimsy and light, kept our rice impressively piping hot for the duration of our dinner.
Lao pork sausage $6.00
BBQ marinated ox tongue $6.00
BBQ marinated beef $6.00
If you like your sausages soft, moist and barely biteworthy, you'll like Lao sausages. I liked the shiny crispy skin on these but found their squidgy interiors a little fatty for my liking.
The ox tongue was lean and typically squeaky in texture. Strips of barbecued beef were more-ish dipped in the mild chilli sauce.
At this point, the family on the other table had left and whether it effected the absorption of soundwaves, suddenly the music became apparently LOUD. In between mouthfuls of beef and ox tongue I inexplicably felt my chin start dipping in time to the music. It was like eating on the dance floor of a nightclub.
We weren't quite sure whether the giant speakers in our dining room were the only ones available for musically-dependent kitchen staff, or whether the room got converted to a rave party after 10pm, but I soon found myself chewing in time to the resonating sub-woofer.
As I began to yearn for the quiet ambience of next-door, thankfully the volume was eventually turned down. Perhaps they realised these VIPs weren't hard of hearing.
Fried crocodile in Cambodian traditional style $12.00
Fried rice ball with pickled ham and sausage $6.00
I've had crocodile before and usually found it disappointingly tough. Unfortunately this reputation remained unchanged. The marinade was sweet and spicy, but the flesh itself was hard and rubbery.
I was extremely pleased with the fried rice balls though, which sounded so intriguing on the menu, I ordered it on a whim. The rice was indeed the hard rice crust incurred when cooking rice with the absorption method in a pot on the stove. I used to love eating this rice-cracker like delight fresh from the pot as a kid, and it was a nice flashback to childhood.
Here though, the rice crust is broken into pieces and fried with plenty of oil, giving extra crunch and a golden hue. The rice is combined with chopped pieces of ham and sausage, much like fried rice. The meat I could have done without, but the rice itself was addictively delicious.
There were other interesting dishes including bamboo shoot salad ($6.00), raw prawn spiced salad ($9.00) and chicken feet salad ($6.00).
At prices like these, the only limit is the size of your stomach.
8/9 Dale Street, Fairfield, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9725 6999
Open 11.30am-10.30pm 7 days
This review has been submitted for Dine and Dish #5: Asian Persuasion. Check out Sarah's wrap-up of Asian eats around the world coming soon The Delicious Life.
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12/04/2005 05:22:00 pm