With exciting new restaurants bursting onto the Canberra food scene, it is easy to overlook old suburban favourites. But sometimes the been-in-business-for-years restaurant at the local shops is the best choice. And cheapest.
One pay-day Thursday we ventured out in search of a quick bite to eat. “Food van,” we thought. But dreams of gourmet hotdogs and other delights were dashed by the reality of trying to find a car park. Hungry and time pressured, we decided on nearby yet not at first obvious solution: Tu Do Vietnamese Restaurant at the O’Connor shops.
I flagged down the waitress once we arrived pointed at an entrée and two dishes: Vietnamese rice rolls ($8), peppercorn chicken ($15) and lemon grass and chilli pork ($15). “Could these come quickly?” I asked. And they did. The rice rolls, an unfussy serve of four prawn filled rolls with a caramelized soy/peanut sauce, were on the table in less than five minutes. And the other two dishes followed soon afterwards. The peppercorn chicken was not quite the fancy French-influenced dish I had expected, but still packed a punch. The pork was also not quite the grilled version I expected, but also reliable. My date and I devoured hungrily. There were no leftovers.
It was unpretentious, robust, real food. In a no-frills setting. I shared photos on Facebook. This prompted a string of comments, which surprised me as this small restaurant hidden in the O’Connor does not feature in the social media campaigns on trendy Canberra cuisine. Yet those who had been there reminisced fondly.
We came back to dine again recently. We arrived just after 6pm mid-week, and a good thing we did as the restaurant was full by 6.30pm. We ordered more Vietnamese rice rolls and bowls of the iconic Vietnamese pho soup – one rare beef and one chicken. This menu combination was a popular choice: everyone seemed to eating pho, many with Vietnamese rice rolls (although some with sinful looking stuffed chicken wings that brought on an attack of food envy). I counted at least six bowls of steaming soup as we threaded through the packed tables to pay out bill, each bowl christened with its unique combination of Thai basil, mung bean sprouts, lemon juice, chilli or chilli sauce. (Word of warning, the tiny chopped chillies are hotter than you might think so add sparingly.)
My bowl of pho soup was not the best I have eaten – the beef was not as rare as I would have liked and it was slightly too thick. But it was obviously house made and warming on a cold night. With $12 bowls of noodle soup and other cheap goodies, this must be heaven for a cash-strapped student from the nearby Australian National University. And probably not coincidentally, many of the patrons looked like uni students who were semi-regulars in the know.
What: Tu Do Vietnamese Restaurant
Where: 7 Sargood St, O’Connor
Opening hours: 10am-3pm and 5pm-10pm; closed Mondays
Phone: 02 6248 6030