52a John Street Cabramatta, New South Wales 2166
|Opening hours||Daily 9am-9pm|
|Features||Vegetarian friendly, BYO|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9727 9729|
There are green things everywhere at Thanh Binh. Plastic bowls stuffed with them. Sawtooth coriander. French and Vietnamese mints. Basil. Cucumber matchsticks. Cheeks of iceberg lettuce. Perilla as far as the eye can see.
Why so much green, you ask? Because I ordered too much. I can always tell I have, because of the disapproving way the waiters look at me. That, and the fact I've been moved to a family-sized table, the better to fit all my dinner. But no judgment, right?
No, I didn't think so.
So there's a right way and a wrong way to build your own ricepaper roll, filled with layers of soft vermicelli rice cake, sweet bouncy sugarcane prawn and a mountain of herbs.
Clearly, I do it the wrong way. In fact, one of the gents on the floor takes pity on me and shows me how to do it properly. It's all in the layering, and the way you dip the edges of the rice paper into the hot water gradually, not all in one. I'm obviously now an expert.
The eagle-eyed enthusiasts among you might recognise this Cabramatta institute as Angie Hong's first restaurant (there's another Thanh Binh in Newtown), which she bought in the early '90s.
Mother of chef Dan Hong (Ms G's, Mr Wong, king of sneakers), she's now famous for her Monday Hong Dinners, which started as a way for the well-known hospitality family and their friends to take a break from running kitchens and sit down and have a meal together at home.
The three-course dinners in Angie Hong's home have gained such a reputation that you can now book in and enjoy her hospitality as an Airbnb experience at $120 a pop. Another time, if only to see photos of baby Dan Hong around the house.
But tonight, I'm here for the finger-scorching salt-and-pepper quail, crunchy and burnished and finished in a thicket of crisp-fried onion, chilli and green onion. And thin, pork-filled spring rolls, deep-fried and wrapped in herbs, ready to be dunked in nuoc cham, the ubiquitous Vietnamese dipping sauce.
A banh xeo lands. The massive turmeric-stained Vietnamese pancake is beautifully thin, with the right amount of rice flour crunch, filled with fresh bean shoots, gently steamed pork belly and tiny prawns.
When it comes to the pho, I have to admit I've had better-flavoured rare beef soup in Cabramatta. But still, the broth's nicely clarified and I haven't seen the accompanying salt, pepper and lime dipping sauce make the rounds too often in Sydney.
The laminex setting might be a little lo-fi, but this is well-honed Vietnamese food in high def. Take two tables full of food and call us in the morning.
Est. October 1993
Famous diners Gough and Margaret Whitlam, former Governor-General Bill Hayden, actor Hugo Weaving, writer-director Baz Luhrmann.
Signature dish Banh hoi chạo tom: roll-your-own ricepaper rolls with steamed rice vermicelli cakes, sugar-cane prawns, fresh herbs and salad greens and nuoc cham, $20.