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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Phu Quoc, Cabramatta, Sydney

It's a struggle to make it to lunch in Cabramatta without first ruining your appetite.

The journey on foot down John Street is a chaotic din of sights, sounds and colour. Bright plastic stools, racks of tops for under $10, curls of incense smoke that tickle your nose, and shop upon shop crammed with bolts of fabric, leaning against each other in a mosh pit of polyester, lace and flannel.

But it's the visuals of food that whet your appetite. Huddles of fresh coriander and aromatic mint, the whir of a blender crushing ice and avocado, an army of plastic takeaway boxes packed
tightly with lemongrass pork and noodles, heart-shaped waffles tinted green with pandan, the glisten of toffee-coated bean cakes sprinkled with sesame seeds, the smell of durian, Vietnamese grandmothers hawking homegrown vegetables at makeshift street stalls, the crunch of fresh sugar cane being crushed between two rollers, and mounds of sticky rice in banana leaf packaging tied up with string...

These are a few of my favourite things.

By the time Howard leads us into one of his favourite restaurants, Phu Quoc, Shez, Suze and I have already succumbed to an avocado shake, a custard apple shake, a durian shake and a handful of freshly baked custard puffs.

Phu Quoc is a cool oasis of air-conditioned comfort, far-removed from the 32C heat outside. The restaurant is long and narrow, panels of mirrors erected on one wall to try to create an illusion of width. The tables and chairs are black metal, vases of silk flowers and a string of lanterns adding a surprise but welcomed splash of colour.

Goi vit $15.00
Vietnamese style duck salad

The menu is a mix of Vietnamese and Chinese dishes. We have to plead twice for more time to the eager but patient waitstaff. Third time's the charm and our order is scribbled on a notepad with a reassuring smile.

Our table comes with the usual Vietnamese restaurant furnishing: a medley of condiments that include sauces of chilli, soy, oyster and fish sauce, a canister of chopsticks, forks and spoons, and the requisite box of tissues that will act as serviettes. By the time we've poured our tea from the table thermos, our first dish arrives.

Goi vit Vietnamese style duck salad is a mountain of zing. Think fine shreds of cabbage, the crunch of julienned carrot, rings of red onion and thick-cut slices of juicy steamed duck, dressed with vinegar, fish sauce and lemon juice. Stalks of mint leaves add freshness and I love the tendrils of deep fried shallot.

Banh trang rice paper sheets and nuoc cham dipping sauce

A hot summer's day is made for salad. Banh trang rice paper sheets are the perfect pliable wrapping for meat and salad, the do-it-yourself spring roll rolled up tight and dipped in nuoc cham fish sauce.

Banh hoi cha gio $13.00
Steamed rice noodle with spring rolls
and banh trang rice paper sheets

Cha gio spring rolls might be the first thing you choose to wrap in your rice paper. These spring rolls are not made with the usual spring roll wrappers, but rice paper sheets, their starchiness lending an extra satisfying chewiness to them when deep-fried until blistered and golden. The filling inside is particularly meaty, a pork mince package that is ideal for its eventual salad companions.

Banh hoi nem nuong $13.00
Steamed rice noodle with pork balls
and banh trang rice paper sheets

Thit huong is the other pork offering we have decided upon today, sweet marinated pork traditionally pressed onto a skewer and grilled until caramelised on the edges.

Dipping the banh trang rice paper sheet into a bowl of hot water

Making your own rice paper rolls is a hands-on communal affair. The circle of brittle rice paper is briefly baptised into a bowl of hot water, then stretched flat onto your plate to soften whilst you assemble the ingredients.

Nem nuong and salad ready to roll

Layer on your choice of meat, a bed of lettuce, a few shards of pickled daikon and carrot, and as much mint and shiso as you please. Add a cluster of raw bean sprouts and a delicate weave of banh hoi steamed rice noodles, then roll up tightly, garnishing with a few stalks of flat garlic chives.

My rice paper roll with nem nuong

The translucent rice paper bundle is dipped into a saucer of nuoc cham dressing, a sweetened fish sauce dressing that moistens the noodles, refreshes the meat and will inevitably drip down your chin. In a good way, of course.

Banh hoi chao tom $14.00
Steamed rice noodle with sugar cane prawn
and banh trang rice paper sheets

Chao tom sugar cane prawn is the more elegant filling alternative. Prawn paste is packed around a length of raw sugar cane that acts as both a skewer and flavour agent. The cooked prawn paste has a subtle sweet flavour although the best part for me is chewing on the cooked sugar cane, relishing its honey-sweet juice, like nature's lollypop.

Sugar cane prawn

My salad-heavy rice paper roll with sugar cane prawn (I like my greens!)

The merry-go-round of fillings continues until we, one by one, fall by the wayside, satiated and sighing with contentment. Even when my stomach tells me it is full, I still can't resist finishing off the last of the spring rolls eaten with a handful of lettuce and mint.

And the bill? Less than $15 per head and there's still a few leftovers we can't quite finish.

Fresh food, fast service and amazing value.

View Larger Map
Phu Quoc on Urbanspoon

Phu Quoc
Shop 11, 117 John Street (enter from Hill St)
Cabramatta, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9724 2188

Open 7 days 9am-9pm

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17 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 9/17/2009 12:46:00 am


  • At 9/17/2009 10:23 am, Anonymous Katie said…

    I love rice paper rolls, they are absolutely delicious! I especially love making them myself, it's good fun.

  • At 9/17/2009 12:01 pm, Anonymous Simon said…

    I love the rice paper rolls when you're able to make them fresh. Do this at home from time to time and it's always a treat! :)

  • At 9/17/2009 12:22 pm, Anonymous clekitty said…

    I love Vietnamese cuisine. Things just seem so fresh and light to me. However, some people really can't stand fish sauce which to me is such a shame! My partner at first disliked it.. but when I started to make more and more Vietnamese meals requiring fish sauce.. he soon adapted his tastes! Much to the pleasure of my Vietnamese parents :D

  • At 9/17/2009 1:05 pm, Anonymous Belle@OohLook said…

    You need to start a food tour of Cabramatta asap! Everyone would have carry a durian and wash it down with self-made rice paper rolls at Phu Quoc.

  • At 9/17/2009 9:30 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Yum, I'm full but my tummy is rumbling, live in Cairns now and the one thing I miss about Melbourne is the food. Having lived in Collingwood and Richmond, Vietnamese food is high on the craving list, rice paper rolls in particular,

  • At 9/17/2009 10:08 pm, Anonymous Arwen from Hoglet K said…

    Somehow making things yourself is always more fun, and you can choose your own fillings. Looks great!

  • At 9/17/2009 10:13 pm, Blogger Simon Leong said…

    looks like a decent sized sugar cane prawn. i think thanh binh in cabra might make the biggest ones i've had.

  • At 9/18/2009 12:58 am, Anonymous Howard said…

    This is one of my fav restaurants in Cabramatta, mainly for it's wraps. The other stuff is good but most people come for this!

  • At 9/18/2009 1:02 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Katie - I'm a huge fan of rice paper rolls too - so much fun and I love that all that salad and mint makes a spring roll taste oh-so-healthy!

    Hi Simon - DIY rolls at home are the best. I find they're great for dinner parties and we find they make a great Christmas Day lunch too.

    Hi Clekitty - Oh well done you on your fish sauce conversion techniques. I've certainly learnt to embrace fish sauce - it's such a lovely dressing and flavour enhancer for almost everything!

    Hi Belle - What a great mental picture. I would love to see a whole trail of people carrying durian down John Street whilst they follow the tour leader with the umbrella! lol

    Hi Clareskitchen - Oh nothing worse than a food craving. I visited a few Vietnamese restaurants in Melbourne but privately I think the ones in Cabramatta win hands down. At least Sydney is a little closer to Cairns anyway! :)

    Hi Arwen - Absolutely. Rolling your own meal only adds to the fun. I like to cram mine with as much mint as possible. It's quite fascinating to watch how everyone has their own construction preferences!

    Hi Simon Food Favourites - There was plenty of prawn on the sugar cane. We were also really impressed with the portion of duck - there was so much duck draped over the top we couldn't even finish it! The travesty!

  • At 9/18/2009 1:20 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Howard - Thanks for the insider's tip and such fun to be shown around Cabra by a true local :)

  • At 9/19/2009 10:17 am, Blogger Yas @ hungry.digital.elf. said…

    Ohhh I love sugar cane prawns!
    I forgot where it was, but this vietnamese restaurant we've been to, we asked if they let us roll our own for banh hoi cheo tom. She said no because alot of non-asian people wouldn't be able to do that well and too much trouble during the busy hours LOL WTF LOL

  • At 9/20/2009 7:57 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Yas - lol. I can't believe they didn't let you roll-your-own! Was that in Cabramatta? How bizarre!

  • At 9/21/2009 9:56 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    EAting at Cabramatta is always cheap, is that why im fat? haha

    Most places in CAbramatta,you cant go wrong!!


  • At 9/21/2009 1:41 pm, Blogger Y said…

    Fantastic. I really should go to Cabramatta more often.

  • At 9/22/2009 2:20 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Sydneyguyrojoe - No such thing as fat - just food-appreciative! lol. Agree - Cabramatta is a treasure trove of good eats.

    Hi Y - It's a great day out. Good eats and good shopping. At rock-bottom prices too. Stomach and wallet both happy :)

  • At 4/16/2010 7:59 pm, Blogger Diem Nguyen said…

    The Vietnamese name of "sugar cane prawn" is "chao tom" not "cheo tom"

  • At 4/19/2010 12:05 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Diem Nguyen - Ahh thanks for the correction. Duly amended :)


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