I’ve lived on the North Shore my whole life so far, and often head south to the city on a weekly basis, and occasionally a little over to the west around the Ryde area for my gym classes and so forth. I haven’t explored Sydney half as much as I would love to, and so when The Sister suggested a day trip to Flemington with The Parents and her fiance, I was interested in taking up the opportunity to expand my horizons a little.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this sign as soon as we got out of the car at our destination, however…
The streets were lined with Vietnamese restaurants, Chinese restaurants, grocers full of exotic fruits and vegetables and for some reason the carpark was full but there really weren’t that many people around. We spent the first couple of hours browsing through the fish shops and grocers, and I was delighted to find one of my favourite root vegetables, taro, readily available at almost every grocer.
You also of course had your typical Chinese BBQ butchers, with the racks of ducks, chicken and pork all gleaming with their honey glaze. The Sister’s Fiance and me stood staring open-mouthed through the window at all the glistening protein, while he pointed out to me the what’s what of the trays of giblets and other animal bits.
After our shopping sesh, we started to feel a tad peckish and The Sister began to steer us towards Pho Toan Thang, which had a bit of a reputation for being one of the busiest Vietnamese restaurants in Strathfield. It was 2.00 pm and the place was still full, with a minimal line out the door.
The decor inside isn’t much to speak of. A clean tiled floor, clean white walls with a tiled edge, and blown-up copies of the menu mounted on the walls for easy viewing. You have a clean table and a squeaky but stable plastic chair. Do you really need much more for a quick lunch though?
There’s a tray of condiments at each table which contains two types of hot sauce, a jar of chopped chillies, fish sauce, soy and other things. You’re given a pot of tea on the house when you’re seated – don’t ask me what type of tea it was, I have no idea. It was brown in colour and tasted all right! Perhaps a roasted rice tea?
We had a look through the menu and I was quite excited as this would be my first ever taste of pho noodle soup. Luckily with the whole family here, we were able to sample a wider range from the menu and everyone selected different menu items.
Pho noodle soup traditionally comes with bean sprouts, fresh basil and lemons. We requested our bean sprouts to be blanched, as none of us were too fond of raw sprouts.
It was only a short wait before our dishes began to arrive, each hitting the table in quick succession. Mum’s Seafood Rice Noodle Soup ($11.50) was the first, a light noodle soup with lots of vege stems, a few prawns and cuttlefish pieces, topped with a sprinkling of sliced spring onion and fried eschallots.
Dad had also gone down the seafood path, requesting the Seafood Hot Pot with Rice ($13) which arrived with a quick warning from the waitress to keep his hands away from the scalding pot.
It was much like the contents of Mum’s soup, with a bit more and a few scallops as well. He got some food envy from the tables around us and someone asked the waitress what it was that he had.
Wanting to start my pho experience with something traditional, I had opted for the Tender Beef Rice Noodle Soup ($9) as I wasn’t sure how rare the Rare Beef Rice Noodle Soup was, and I had heard that the combination beef contained tendons and so forth – something I’m not overly fond of.
I was a bit surprised at how clear the broth was. I was probably expecting something a little cloudier, not so much like a consomme. It was still quite flavoursome, although I’m no pho connoisseur, of course. The rice noodles were gorgeously slippery, and the beef tender and very thinly sliced. With a generous squeeze of lemon and shredded basil, I hoovered up more than half of my bowl of noodle soup before I had to concede defeat.
The Sister and her fiance had both ordered rice noodle soups with meat on the side, and their plain rice noodle soups were the first to arrive, with a few refreshing leaves of submerged iceberg lettuce:
The proteins then arrived, all deliciously brown in their glory. The Crispy chicken ($10 with the soup) was a large, tender maryland that had just the right amount of crunch on the outside, while the meat was quite plainly salted. Combined with the plain pho though, you wouldn’t want too much of a flavour clash.
The lean Crispy Pork Chop ($10 with the soup) was cooked in a similar way to the crispy chicken – just the right amount of texture, crunch and flavour to be a good accompaniment with the light soup.
All of our servings were simply enormous and not one of us managed to finish our own servings, even when we helped each other out. As we made our way out, people continued to file into the restaurant at 3.00 pm, past the conventional lunch time. I also heard a few people order the tomato rice, which I may check out if I come here again.
Overall, a pleasant introduction to pho noodle soup and I’ll be using this experience as the standard for many more pho experiences to come :)
Pho Toan Thang
Shop A 95 The Crescent
Strathfield NSW 2135
(02) 9764 3687