Hai Au Lang Nuong in Canley Vale Picture by FIONA MORRIS
Hands-on fun ... Hai Au Lang Nuong in Canley Vale. Photo: Fiona Morris

Weekends at Hai Au Lang Nuong are all about the barbecue.

A large charcoal-fired ''barbie'' is set up in the Canley Vale restaurant, near a large window opening out to the street. It lets out lots of lovely smoky aromas, enticing passers-by to stop and watch the action.

The chefs work hard, rotating long metal baskets over the coals and shouting orders to the kitchen from a microphone suspended from the ceiling. Chicken wrapped in banana leaf is pulled from the metal structure and swiftly chopped into segments by a chef armed with a meat cleaver. Whole fish is cooked this way, too.

It's already clear what the main focus of our ordering will be.

The Vietnamese restaurant is packed, full of family groups with children and groups of friends. A good number of floor staff bustle about, providing prompt and efficient service.

It helps that essential items, such as chopsticks, bowls, tissues and a tea canteen, sit on each table.

The decor is busy and no-frills, with tiled floors, fluorescent lighting and photos advertising dishes. The ad-hoc decorations include straw hats and dried flowers.

Our family group starts with two crowd-pleasers for junior diners: spring rolls and

roll-your-own sugar cane prawn. Our table is soon filled with water bowls, rice paper and trays of fresh fixings - herbs, vegetables and noodles. The goi ngo sen - a prawn, pork belly and lotus-stem salad - is a highlight of the meal. It is citrusy and sweet with red chilli for heat and peanuts and fried shallots for texture.

The soups and steamboats on the menu are tempting but, after watching those chefs in action, we can't go past the barbecue, which is fired up here from Friday to Monday only.

Given the rate at which plates emerge from the barbecue area, it's a big draw for many diners. Tender pieces of free-range chicken are served with a mound of sticky rice and bowl of sweet chilli sauce. A whole silver perch is topped with shallots and lemon slices.

We use our chopsticks to dive in, adding a rich, sweet and slightly spicy tamarind sauce to the fish, and wrapping it in another round of rice paper and accoutrements.

The fish is perfectly cooked but doesn't have a great deal of flavour, hence the sauce.

The barbecue action continues with a cook-your-own affair, bo la lop nuong than. A sturdy bucket is brought to the table, filled with glowing embers and topped with a metal grill. We put two skewers of beef parcels wrapped in peppery betel leaf on to cook for a few minutes. After allowing them to char nicely, we turn them. These also get the rice-paper wrap treatment, with a few pieces of fresh pineapple alongside the vermicelli and herbs.

A weekend dinner at Hai Au Lang Nuong is a hands-on, fun experience for young and old, with the added attraction of the barbecue theatre out the front. Watching other tables grill their own meats and roll their barbecued goodies with practised ease, all indications are this is a regular casual Saturday-night outing for many local families.

Menu

Weekend Vietnamese barbecue plus other classic dishes.

Value

Very good. Entrees $8 to $15; salads $15; steamboat $10 to $30, soups $15 to $25; barbecued chicken and fish $20 to $40.

Recommended dishes

Goi ngo sen (lotus-stem salad), ga chay bo nuong than (barbecue chicken), bo la lop nuong than (grilled beef and betel leaf).

HAI AU LANG NUONG

48 Canley Vale Road,

Canley Vale, 9724 9156

Monday-Friday, 10am-10pm,

Saturday and Sunday,

10am-11pm