We managed to sneak in here without a reservation last night during Au Lac’s Chinese New Year celebration, which coincided with Sebastian’s birthday festival – why celebrate on just one day? Â We were some of the first diners so we were in and out before the in-restaurant lion dancing.
Starters were soy chicken nuggets (for Sebastian) and soy chicken satay sticks (for Mel and I).Â Both were very nice, as usual.Â For mains we had braised tofu & vegetable with cashew nut, fried soy fish with spicy salt & chilli, and rice vermicelli with BBQ soy meat.Â The cashew nut dish is a staple because it is quite mellow and has things that Sebastian enjoys.Â The soy fish was probably a bit spicier than usual, which causes no complaints from Mel & I.
We discovered the rice vermicelli dish on a recent visit.Â Â It is both simple and excellent.Â It contains vermicelli, bean shoots, lettuce, cucumber and some BBQ soy meat balls.Â It comes with a small bowl of spicy sauce that adds a nice amount of zing.Â I think we will be eating this dish a lot.
Au Lac is always an excellent place for Canberra vegetarians to eat.Â Last night is the busiest we have seen it and it got uncomfortablyÂ hot – probably due to both the number of people who suddenly arrived and the doors being open in preparation for the lion dancing.Â That said, this is very unusual and we were very grateful to be given a table ahead of such a busy night without a booking.Â Au Lac is one of Sebastian’s favourite restaurants.Â Mel and I like it too…Â 🙂
Yesterday Mel and I had lunch at Vietnam House, which is part of the strip of restaurants outside Woden Plaza. The menu in the window showed a nice variety of vegetarian options so we thought we’d give it a try. We were a little taken aback when we couldn’t find the veggie section in the menus we were handed when we were seated. We got a waiter’s attention pretty quickly and she got us the “other” menus. Perhaps they offer a cut-down selection in their lunch menu, without any obvious veggie options? All that said, things got better after that… 🙂
We got an entrÃ©e of fresh vegetarian rice paper rolls. They took a little longer than expected to come out. However, they were definitely fresh. Quite tasty, though perhaps not the best I’ve ever had.
For mains we had braised vegetables with satay sauce and tofu with lemongrass & chilli. These appeared quite quickly after the entrÃ©e plates were taken away. The first was very good: nicely stir-fried crisp vegetables and a tasty satay sauce. The tofu dish was sublime! Thinly sliced tofu served sweet, salty and spicy in all the right amounts.
We would probably go back for the tofu dish alone. The other dishes were also very good…
Au Lac is a vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant in Dickson that does soy-based “fake meat” or, as it is known in our house, “psycho chicken”. This is one of Sebastian’s favourite restaurants and Mel has learned to love it too, despite her previous protestations against meat substitutes.
Last night we started with shredded tofu rolls, soy chicken nuggets and vegetarian spring rolls. Sebastian loves the nuggets, though he requests plum sauce instead of the sweet chilli sauce that comes with them by default. Last night he also said he wanted the spring rolls, though Mel & I ended eating most of them. The shredded tofu rolls are one of our staples – standard Vietnamese cold rolls with some sort of tofu-like filling added. All the starters were great, although Sebastian didn’t eat all of his spring rolls.
For mains we had stuffed beancurd in delight sweet & sour sauce, fried soy fish with spicy salt & chilli, and Shanton chicken. The stuffed beancurd is a really nice sweet and sour dish with a variety of veggies. The stuffed beancurd itself is done in 1/2 balls and has a texture vaguely reminiscent of meatballs. Au Lac’s soy fish is yummy stuff. I’ve never been a fan of fish but this has the elements that I did like when I used to eat fish sometimes. The spicy salt and chilli coating was tasty but not overpoweringly spicy. The Shanton chicken is one of their crispy soy chicken dishes – nicely done – with a reasonably spicy Shandong-style sauce.
Last night’s meal was very nice and went well with a couple of glasses of the Pinot Gris that we BYOed. We had a nice variety of dishes, though we did end up with too much food. Au Lac builds nicely presented, flavoursome dishes around the fake meat, so it is worth the effort. The food is generally very good but at the more expensive end of the scale for an informal vegetarian meal.
I had the day off and was doing some late Christmas shopping (usually I don’t shop in December!), so Martin and I decided to have lunch together. This place used to be in Dickson and we ate there a couple of times a number of years ago, but I had not been here since it moved to Kingston. However, Martin had and he said it was pretty good. It was a hot and fairly humid day, but Martin talked me into a hot pot. Unfortunately I ordered the wrong one, so it wasn’t really what he expected, but it was still pretty good. But, back to the beginning! We started with fresh rice paper rolls which were pretty good! I would think that it would be pretty hard to get these wrong, so I will be very disappointed the day I get a bad one! Along with the Hoang Hau hot pot, we also had crispy spicy bean curd. The bean curd was crisply deep fried and smothered in lots of yummy chilli, garlic, shallots etc – one of my favourite dishes. The hot pot was a mix of veggies and bean curd with a sauce – simple and delicious. Next time I will be sure to order the correct hot pot dish as Martin says it is much better! I guess that means I will be going back!
This is one of those places that serves what I call ‘psycho-chicken’ (quest que cest fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far – better sung to the tune of that Talking Heads song Psycho Killer – although I am not sure that it this stuff actually is far better)! Psycho-chicken, also known as soy meat, is not really my thing, but Martin talked me into going here under the guise of supporting the vegetarian restaurants in Canberra. Although as I pointed out to him, this place bills itself as ‘authentic vegetarian Vietnamese cuisine’, and I am not 100% convinced that soy meat is authentic! Anyway… We started with some cold fresh rolls – which are normally one of my favourite things, but these ones did come with a slice of some kind of soy meat in them which kind of ruined it for me. Apart from that, they were delicious, and I love these with the peanut/satay sauce instead of sweet chilli sauce – I must remember that for those times that I make these at home! For our mains we went with tofu with lemongrass and a combination veggies with crispy noodles. The tofu with lemongrass was billed as hot and spicy on the menu and it was reasonably so. Not that it mattered because it was absolutely divine – I could have eaten a truckload of this! The tofu was deep fried, so it was light and crispy and it was smothered in chopped up lemon grass and chilli and other spices and was served with fried onions and red capsicum on a bed of cabbage (I think). Yum! The combination veggies came with combination fake meat on a giant bed of crispy noodles, swimming in sauce. I told Martin that he would have a lot of fake meat to eat, but I did actually try some of it. As I said before, it is not my thing, but there was one type that I probably could tolerate – the question is – which meat was it supposed to be? I’m not sure I could be bothered trying a variety of dishes to figure it out! Needless to say, I avoided most of the fake meat, but the veggies and noodles were ok. I am not sure whether or not to recommend this place. The non-fake meat dishes are good, and the fake meat dishes are also good, if you like that sort of thing. The fake stuff kind of tastes like chicken, but I think that is about it. The texture, however, is fairly accurate, and having been vegetarian for more than 10 years, it is something I can live without it!
If you are a regular veggie bites reader, then you will know that while I like the concept of Vietnamese food, I am yet to find a Vietnamese restaurant that really thrills me. I am not sure that this place thrilled me, but the food was good and cheap! I am pretty sure that Martin and I ate here a few times a few years ago, but I can’t remember whether we had a bad experience, or whether we just forgot that they existed! Anyway, some of my work colleagues really like this place, so we went here for a work lunch. We all had a veggie spring roll – they are much bigger than your standard spring roll – about 3 times the size actually, and they were really hot (temperature, not chilli). But they were really good! They came with a choice of sweet chilli sauce or hot chilli sauce – of course – being a chilli head, I preferred the later! I ordered the lemongrass and chilli veggies with tofu, while my colleagues ordered meat dishes. The meals were huge, and really quite yummy! I managed to eat most of mine by myself, while three mains were enough for the four others to share! In fact I thought mine was so good that I decided to grab a take away menu on the way out, however, it is a little disappointing as the dish I ordered doesn’t appear on it (in fact I am sure that quite a few dishes that were on the eat in menu do not appear on the take away menu!). Well, maybe I will head back there one day and try a few other veggie dishes and write them onto the take away menu myself!
I have yet to find a really good Vietnamese restaurant that I really like – maybe I am just not a huge fan of Vietnamese food – I always find it just a little disappointing – maybe I expect too much! We haven’t eaten here for a number of years, so when we had to head over that way, we decided to try some take away. We ordered spring rolls, red cooked bean curd, sate veggies and bean curd, and stir fried noodles with veggies and bean curd. The spring rolls were great, the red cooked bean curd was ok, but didn’t have a huge amount of flavour, and the noodles were very bland (especially so with boiled rice the next day for lunch – or so Martin said!). I think the highlight of the meal was the sate. I have yet to find a Vietnamese sate that I really like, but this one was great. I’m not sure that it is enough to entice me back though! There are other things I would like to eat!!
This is the second time that we have had home delivery from here – I think this place only does takeaway and home delivery, they are a tiny little ‘shop’ in Ainslie shops and there is no room for tables! There are not many really good, traditional Vietnamese restaurants in Canberra, not that I have seen anyway! I wouldn’t call this one traditional, but the food isn’t bad. In fact, while eating I called it average, but Martin informed me that it was a bit better than average! The spring rolls are weird, most of the filling is mushed up, but then they also contain whole peas – explain that to me!! I don’t think we would bother with spring rolls again in the future. The veggies with bean curd and lemon grass was the highlight of the meal – when I opened the container, it looked like sweet chilli sauce had been poured on the top at the last minute, but the flavour of lemon grass was strong and sweet – just the way I like it. The sate veggies were ok, I think I prefer Thai style satay to the Vietnamese style. And finally the rice noodles were a bit bland, but certainly edible. I would like to re-try a few more of the other Vietnamese restaurants around Canberra to see if there is much difference.