Mmm, Vietnamese. One of the great cuisines of the world.
I had a little synchronicity event yesterday. The Dec/Jan edition of Delicious has a recipe for a Vietnamese prawn & glass noodle salad, which I instantly wanted to make. And when I dropped into a second hand bookshop (to buy a copy of Black Beauty as a Secret Santa gift for someone on an internet forum that I frequent) I found a Vietnamese cookbook. It's Lemongrass and Lime, and I just had to have it, because the pictures are so beautiful. Even if at one point it shows a picture of longans and labels them as mangosteens. Huh.
And the final touch was that the Bloke and I and a friend went for dinner to our local Vietnamese. We're back on the rice and spice train now - I knew the all-western kick wouldn't last long. Our local is "My Friend" at Watson shops. It's your standard Asian cheap and cheerful in style, with plastic tablecloths, BYO license, fake flowers, Vietnamese popular art on the walls, and a long menu. They do home delivery, and I was very glad of their chicken and sweetcorn soup while I was so repeatedly sick last winter. The bloke was also glad of it as I was not cooking, and he doesn't care to cook for himself.
The service is just fine for the kind of place it is: attentive enough without hovering, casual but competent. They give you a basket of prawn chips to nibble while you peruse the menu, which is a nice touch, and the food generally arrives in good time.
Their food is pretty good, too. It's not full-on gourmet, but it fills the local niche nicely. We had some truly excellent prawn and pork ricepaper rolls, a prawn and chicken hotpot, pork with cashews and snowpeas, and beef with lemongrass and chilli. Add in some garlic fried rice, some plain steamed rice, and whatever they charge for corkage for our 6-pack of beer, and it was $60 to stuff 3 people very full. There are minor flaws: they tend to overdo the sugar, soy and salt in their dishes, and at other times I've found their chicken stir fries to be too fatty for my taste. But the vegetables are fresh and crisp, and the pork is nice and lean, and it's served piping hot, and it hits the spot very well with a cold beer or three.
It's a very convenient local and I'm very glad we have it. I'd recommend it to anyone in the inner north area, though it's probably not worth specially trekking across from distant suburbs. I'm sure you have your own local cheap and cheerfuls.