Shop 2, 48 Canley Vale Road Canley Vale, New South Wales 2166
|Opening hours||Sun-Mon 10am-10pm; Wed-Thu 10am-10pm; Fri-Sat 10am-11pm|
|Features||Vegetarian friendly, Licensed, BYO|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9724 9156|
"A whole chicken?" my wife exclaims as I ignore the 10-page menu at Hai Au Lang Nuong and order an entire bird for the two of us. I don't budge. It's been months since we last ate at this Vietnamese grill restaurant and I've spent every day leading up to our return thinking about eating their grilled chicken again.
It's so easy to be hyperbolic when writing about food, especially when the bulk of your articles are almost literally entitled "The Undisputed 10 Best Meals For 10 Bucks". But I can say without hesitation that my absolute favourite barbecue chook is the one at this beloved Canley Vale restaurant.
Owner Ben Nguyen opened Hai Au Lang Nuong in 1998. A refugee, Nguyen left Saigon in 1988 to join his father in Australia. The two were joined by his mother and brother in the years that followed.
Opening a restaurant was partly dream fulfillment ("just my obsession since childhood, I always wanted to bring the food from Vietnam to Australia") and partly "so everyone in the family could work together".
Hai Au Lang Nuong's bright and eclectic decor is the perfect setting to get a big group together to tackle as much of the enormous menu as possible. "All the dishes are from different regions of Vietnam." says Nguyen. "Every region is different."
When pressed to choose a favourite dish from the 100 available on the menu, Ngyuen tells me, "The shellfish. I try to incorporate Vietnamese street dining in a way that appeals to everyone."
You'll find excellent Vietnamese classics such as sugar cane prawns and whole fried fish in a sweet and sour sauce alongside less common fare like a coral trout head steamboat with taro and banana blossom.
But the most popular dishes are cooked on the enormous outdoor barbecues out the front of Hai Au Lang Nuong, which provide a constant stream of smoke and incredible aromas to anyone within a 100-metre radius.
The range includes grilled seafood, from small periwinkles and cockles in salads and sauces to whole grilled fish, but the star of the show is the grilled chicken, an organic chook that's been marinated in garlic and lemongrass, wrapped in banana leaves and grilled until the skin is caramelised.
You'll find it on a menu under the heading "Chef's Special Grilled Perfection" and I'd have to agree: there's nothing I would do to improve this chicken. It is perfect.
Hai Au Lang Nuong's customers must agree, too. The grilled perfection menu used to be available only at weekends but its insane popularity has led Nguyen to light the barbecues more often. "Every night of the week," he laughs. "The customers are demanding!"
Must-order dish Grilled chicken with sticky rice $40
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