Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Casual Dining - Trang Vietnamese Restaurant

It's getting close to Christmas, which means lots of parties and get togethers through a very busy and social time of the year.  We had been invited over to my boss' house with the rest of my team for an afternoon of nibbles, espresso martinis and champagne.  The timing for the get together was from 2pm to 5pm (ish), which is a bit of an awkward time, too late for lunch and too early for dinner, so I knew that I would have to plan carefully to get the most out of our Sunday afternoon.

I wanted to visit somewhere that was local, would have some great food but would be a little different from the cuisine that I had been consuming lately.  I had a list of casual dining places that I wanted to visit over the next couple of months, so it was just a matter of running down the list to see what would take my fancy. About a third of the way down my very rough list I came across Trang Restaurant over at West End, which has a reputation as being one for the most popular Vietnamese restaurants in Brisbane.

Trang restaurant is located on Hardgrave Road at West End and is in a little strip of shops and restaurants right in the middle of a residential part of the suburb.  The strip of shops used to the Rialto cinema a very long time ago, but in the early 1990's it ceased being used for theatre and live gigs and was transformed into shops and restaurants.  The little strip of shops looks a little dodgy nowadays, but it really fits in with the charm of West End, which fortunately has not been completely gentrified.

I'd heard that Trang was one of the most popular dining spots in West End but it wasn't until we parked the the car and walked to the restaurant that we started to get a feel for how popular.  I thought it would be a leisurely Sunday afternoon meal but the place was packed, with the outside seats being most popular (it was a lovely sunny day) and the inside seats were filling up fast. Trang is like most Asian restaurants I have been to with a very minimalistic approach to the furniture which included tightly squeezed together tables, with not much room between groups.

We were squeezed over at the back of the restaurant right next to the wall and by the time the accompaniments box with sauces, cutlery, chopsticks and napkins were placed on the table, it was a little squishy.  It became even tighter once the table right next to us was filled, with the couple so close to us I could have whispered in their ear!  We were given the menu, which was quite thick and schmick and professional looking.  Looking over the menu there were many many options that were both familiar and unfamiliar to me, in fact there were so many options that we got a little bit of analysis paralysis.  To make it easier, there are about a dozen options on the Chefs Recommendation section right at the front of the menu and this is where we ordered our meal from.

While Trang is a Vietnamese restaurant, it actually has a large Chinese selection from the menu and our first dish of deep fried wantons was definitely Chinese.  There were eight wanton's included in the dish, which were quite small.  What they lacked in size, they made up for in quality, these were superbly deep fried but extremely light at the same time.  The pork filling was still moist but had the lightest and crunchiest texture you could imagine.  The thick and sticky sweet chilli sauce was perfect with the wonton and each was a little delicacy.  I was lucky that SC was not feeling overly hungry, so I was able to eat five of the eight..... Score. 

Next up was a favourite of SC's in the prawn and pork rice paper rolls.  I have to admit to not being a huge fan of rice paper rolls, but I was pretty impressed with the Trang version.  The rice paper was so thin it was practically translucent, you could see all of the ingredients with no problem at all.  The ingredients were really fresh and there was a good ratio of the pork, prawns to vegetables.  Best of all, there was not an overpowering flavour in the mix, there was a risk of the mint overpowering the dish, but it was nice and subtle.  There was a lovely hoisin dipping sauce with the rolls, which was also thick and sticky and covered in nuts for some extra crunch.  For a bloke that doesn't normally like these rolls, they were pretty good.

Our first main was the crispy skin chicken, which was again more of a Chinese classic than a Vietnamese dish. We were actually thinking of getting the sizzling Mongolian beef but SC was dressed for a party in a bright yellow sun dress and didn't want to take the risk of getting beef sizzle all over her and ruin the day.  The Chicken was just OK, the skin was crispy as advertised but there was nothing special about it at all.  The special fried rice that came along with the dish was not very good, with the rice being over cooked and quite dry.  What was really nice was the ginger sauce that came with the chicken and was great for dipping the chicken flesh into, unfortunately there was not a lot of chicken flesh on this dish.  I thought this dish was a little over priced too, so not a winner.

Our last dish was the calamari with salt and pepper, which again was a Chinese dish.  I normally love salt and pepper calamari from Chinese restaurants, in fact the version at Superbowl in the Valley is superb.  I didn't really rate the Trang version, it was really dry and the calamari was pretty over cooked, in fact it was pretty chewy.  I think I could have survived with the dry taste from the calamari if it was succulent, but I just thought the whole dish was over worked.  Perhaps a lovely dipping sauce would have helped with the dryness, but I guess not over cooking it would be the only saving grace for the calamari.  We ended up leaving most of this dish.

We left the restaurant feeling a little flat.  I had hoped for so much more and had actually had to talk the place up to convince SC to get along before we went to our Christmas nibbles.  We really liked the starters we had, but the main dishes, which should be the stars of any meal, were not up to standard, even for a Vietnamese / Chinese restaurant.

We also found that Trang was quite a bit more expensive that some of the other restaurants that produce similar quality (or better food).  Our two entrees and two mains came in at over fifty dollars, and we didn't have any drinks, only water, so yeah we thought it was a bit rich.

I know that Trang is a well loved and popular dining destination in West End, but I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps I didn't get the best of my experience with the dishes we selected, but since they were all on the Chefs Recommendation page, I can only assume they are the better dishes on the menu?  Being a casual diner, the service was just about what you would expect, quick and efficient, with our dishes coming out fairly quickly.  I'll ponder over this one and consider whether I wold go back for a return visit......  At this point I think I'd try somewhere else first.

Well, at least we had a lot of fun at the Christmas nibbles afterwards!

The best dish was the rice paper rolls, although SC thought the rice paper rolls at the Jan Power Markets were better
It was quite busy and there was quick turnover of customers
Trang is typical of some Asian restaurants, its more utilitarian than anything else
The chicken was just a bit boring but was saved by the yummy sauce
There is no doubt that Trang is popular, its been voted as an I Love Food award, but I'm not sure its good
Trang Restaurant on UrbanspoonTrang


  1. Next time, try the beef pho and combination pork chop broken rice. Those are classic Vietnamese dishes that they would execute just fine, rather than Chinese dishes which aren't their specialty. :)


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