It was a Tuesday, it was busy, and we were in the "overflow" room trying to work out what the decor reminded us of. Institutional dark brown wainscoting, faded mustard and dark green walls, dusty 70s prints - a country railway station? An old Kalgoorlie schoolroom? A village hall?
Then I heard mein host, Minh, telling a customer that the restaurant had been here for 33 years, so everything began to fall into place. Nothing seems to have changed - and I suspect that includes the menu - since the 70s when Leederville was in the country.
It's comfortable enough, with well-spaced, commodious, tablecloth-bedecked tables and attentive, polite, efficient service. The food, though, is at times something of an enigma. There is no pho, which is a Vietnamese staple, and the menu promises more than it delivers.
We kicked off with the spring rolls ($6.20), which were fire hot with a fissile crust filled with fish sauce-flavoured crabmeat and pork. If anything , the rice paper was a bit on the thick side which muted the flavour of the filling. Samosas ($5.20) were nicely perfumed. Chicken wings ($5.60) - or rather wing - stuffed with pork, mushroom and mint was a tad dry having been overcooked, which made the skin as brittle as Brighton rock. The special fried rice ($10.50) was packed with goodies - pork, bean sprouts, prawns, capsicum and crisp water chestnuts - certainly worth the money.
For mains, we tried the braised garlic beef ($18.50), which was pleasant enough. The beef was tender and thankfully not buried under a mountain of vegetables but there were no outstanding flavours. Caramelised prawns in fish sauce and tomato sauce ($22.50) seemed like a daring combination but neither my beloved nor I could taste the fish sauce or the tomato sauce.
Beef-prawn grilled ($19.50), described as minced pork and prawns wrapped in thinly sliced beef, grilled and served with satay sauce, again promised a lot. The beef was tender but, like the chicken wings, the filling was a shade dry. It was sauced with a pretty good satay sauce, though, with crunchy peanut pieces much in evidence. Vermicelli chilli combination ($16.70) comprised dry-fried rice vermicelli noodles with Chinese greens, chicken and prawns. It was agreeable enough but could have done with more chilli, soy sauce, ginger, garlic . . .
There is a sense that this restaurant is catering to the less adventurous Western tastes that characterised Perth diners of 40 years ago but with a menu that has a number of unconventional- looking dishes.
Obviously, there are still a lot of folk for whom this is a winner, as the place is normally packed. For me though, my beloved summed it up with the observation that they could afford to go a lot heavier on the MSG.
Anna Vietnamese Restaurant
Address: 175 Oxford Street, Leederville
Phone: 9444 3122
Open: Monday-Thursday 5-10pm, Friday-Saturday 5-11pm, Sunday 5-10pm
The buzz: Inexpensive, comfortable, middle-of-the-road Asian/Vietnamese food with a menu which has some less orthodox dishes. However, they could do with a bit more oomph.