343 Illawara Road
Marrickville, NSW 2204
I love restaurants that do one thing, but do it well. And when it comes to Banh Cuon Ba Oanh? It’s all in the name.
For the uninitiated, banh cuon is a wonderful little Vietnamese dish of steamed and rolled rice noodles, not unlike the ones you get at yum cha. But instead of being served with tea as a mid-morning snack, banh cuon is traditionally served for breakfast, though you’re certainly welcome to have it for dinner here, if you don’t find yourself tempted away by the other home-styled northern Vietnamese dishes.
Behind the cheerful yellow façade is a true family-run restaurant, and more often than not you’ll see the eponymous matriarch herself, patiently stretching out the batter by hand, and laying it tenderly into the bamboo steamers. Admittedly the service isn’t as friendly as I’d have expected of such a homely place, but given how casual the place is, I’m not feeling inclined to complain.
It’s been a long time since I last had banh cuon, and the Steam Rice Noodle Rolls and Steamed Pork ($11) was a marvellous homecoming. Lusciously silky smooth with just a hint of tackiness in the freshly steamed sheets, it’s a simple pleasure having them dipped in the salty-sweet fish sauce with a mouthful of fresh herbs. If you’re after something a bit more substantial, there are also slices of surprisingly light, yet satisfyingly meaty steamed pork sausage on the side. The portion was also remarkably generous; there’s no chance you’ll leave hungry.
Stray a little off the beaten track, and you’ll find the Yellow Sticky Rice with Braised Pork ($11). The starchy, fragrant mixture of sticky rice and broad beans, scattered generously with pork floss and fried shallots, was good enough to eat on its own. But of course, don’t go ignoring the rich braise of pork sweetened with cinnamon, which goes wonderfully with a couple slices of the homemade cucumber pickle.
Banh Cuon Ba Oanh is the quintessential family restaurant. Although the experience is no-frills, there’s a whole lot of heart in everything from the tiny steam-filled kitchen, to the bright paper lanterns adorning the ceiling. I was also very impressed with the portion sizes, which were big enough (and carb-heavy enough) to keep you going for days. It may not be the most glamorous of meals, but there’s something very special in knowing that you’re eating a meal that’s been passed down for generations.
Rating: 13/20 – smooth and silky
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.