Chao Ba @ Chatswood Concourse, Jan 2016

Chao Ba is the latest restaurant to open at Chatswood Concourse, offering up a menu of modernised and upscaled interpretation of Vietnamese street food. A lot of the tables were already taken or reserved when we arrived for dinner so we were seated inside, which on a hot day was a little stifling and uncomfortable.

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We started off with some Small Plates – Banh Bot Loc, which was tapioca shrimp dumplings and Bahn Beo Hue Imperial, steamed rice flour cakes.
The dumplings were small pieces of sweet shrimp wrapped in translucent tapioca skin, which had an interestingly jelly-like texture. They were accompanied by a delicious sweet and slightly savoury sauce, chives and crunchy fried onions.

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The Bahn Beo Hue Imperial was a delightful mix of sweet crushed mungbeans, salty dried shrimp, crunchy pork crackling and fried onions on soft pillows of rice flour cakes. The textures and balance of flavours were spot on, and the colours on the plate made for a pretty presentation.

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After the impressive start, we moved onto the mains. It was way too hot for Pho, so we ordered the Mi Xao, crispy egg noodles with sauce and a choice of meat, seafood or vegetables. The dish was fairly big and I was very pleased that it came with more than enough of the tasty, thick soy sauce to infuse the noodles. If I had to nitpick, the only thing would be that beef we ordered it with was a tad overcooked.

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We actually wanted to try the Banh Xeo, which was crispy rice flour crepe with pork and prawn, but they had run out, so we chose the Chim Cút Chiên Bo instead. It came with 3 pieces of pan-fried buttered quail on a nest of the fried egg noodles. The quail was crispy and seasoned well, but a little tough. I also couldn’t taste the lemon pepper sauce that would have tied an otherwise dry dish together.

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Usually my philosophy is to sample more from the savoury menu and skip dessert, but the sound of the Che Chuoi Chung, a banana and sago dessert, was intriguing. The texture of the soft banana and pearly sago worked surprisingly well together, along with the crunch of the roasted peanut topping. That combined with the warm creamy coconut milk made it an absolute winner.

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The food on Chao Ba’s menu is innovative, interesting and not only looks, but tastes pretty good. The service is professional and friendly and although the bill can add up quickly, the food worth indulging in. I’ll be back to try one of their delicious sounding salad options and the pho (weather permitting!).

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