It has been a long time since we ventured back to Marrickville, a Sydney suburb in the inner west that is teaming with restaurants from Italian and Greek to Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian and casual pub fare.
It has been a few years between visits but on this Saturday afternoon, we are back at one of my all-time favourites, Old Thanh Huong on Illawarra road in the heart of Marrickville.
This restaurant has quite an extensive menu that covers most of the popular Vietnamese dishes but they also have a selection of well executed Chinese dishes too.
I used to enjoy coming here for just one dish – the pho dac biet or special beef rice vermicelli and my intentions will be no different today.
Since our last visit years ago, I notice the restaurant has gained a new coat of paint on the walls and the menus though not exactly looking new, are still new to me from what I can remember.
The restaurant is always crowded as I remember it to be where it is common to share a long table with other diners.
Decor is minimal but service at Old Thanh Huong is snappy because you come here to eat, sip your Chinese tea and go.
Once your orders are in, you can prepare your choice of dipping sauce from the tray of condiments and sauces on each table.
We start with some deep fried spring rolls that are nice and crispy although Mysaucepan and I both agree they are a long shot from what we believe to be the best deep fried spring rolls in Sydney.
To attain a level of greatness, the skin of a Chinese / Vietnamese deep fried spring roll need to be very crispy on the bite and there is a big difference between a crispy texture that shatters entirely into small crispy bits as opposed to one where the inner layers are still a little chewy.
Mysaucepan‘s perennial favourite is the bun bo nam bo. A light bowl of sweet savoury dressing is poured onto a bowl of rice vermicelli mixed with grilled pork, beef, julienne cucumber, bean sprouts, crunchy peanuts and mint leaves.
Not quite to my liking as I find this dish is undecided on being either a salad or a bowl of luke warm noodles with some tasty pieces of meat.
I find the mix of mint leaves, raw bean sprouts, peanuts and cucumber to be best re-concocted as a Vietnamese salad, so thanks but no thanks.
Pho is absolultely one of my favourite comfort foods because the broth is hearty, flavoursome and not too heavy.
The familiar sight of that plate of bean sprouts, mint leaves and a wedge of lemon will be something I will miss whenever I am away from Sydney for a while.
And for me, adding a good dose of fresh and fiery bird-eye chillies to XO chilli sauce with a squeeze of lemon juice is the ultimate dipping sauce for a piping hot bowl of pho.
Check out this bowl of pho dac biet or special beef rice noodles!
Slices of raw beef, brisket, tripe, beef meat balls and soft beef tendons in a bowl of piping hot and clear beef flavoured broth garnished with diced shallots and coriander – definitely another dish I would be thinking about as my last if I was ever on death row.
The thin slices of soft and pinkish raw beef would slowly cook in the hot broth as you stir it, imparting even more flavour into the soup. I love the brisket for its slightly firmer and stringy texture while the tripe and beef meat balls is firm and crunchy. The tendons are soft and gelatinous, like chewing a piece of savoury lolli in your mouth!
Dipped into that savoury, sour, spicy sauce, every morsel is a blast of flavours in the mouth, not to mention the perfect device for activating your sweat glands.
Thank goodness for the box of tissues on each table because you will be constantly pulling tissues from the box as you go through this wonder bowl. Luckily, the air-conditioning in this restaurant is also quite effective on this sweltering summer day.
The rice noodles are silky soft and perhaps too easy to eat as I tuck right in.
I would rank this bowl of pho dac biet here to be one of Sydney’s top 3 among such a depth of good Vietnamese restaurants in the city that serves pho. Times have also moved on as I remember this bowl of noodles to be $6.50 some years back.
This bowl of noodles is total comfort on a cold winter day and although Sydney is currently in the height of summer, I could care less as each mouthful brings me closer to heaven.
So dear readers, which is your favourite pho in Sydney?
Old Thanh Huong
356 Illawarra road
Marrickville, New South Wales
Tel: + 61 2 9558 0863
Business hours: Lunch and dinner Thursdays to Mondays. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.