If you are vegetarian, or know someone who is, the name Au Lac is a name that will come up in conversation as one of the best (or the best!) places to eat in Canberra. For many years it has been a restaurant that has been enjoyed in the northern suburb of Dickson, however, due to their popularity, they also opened a second outlet just outside Woden Westfield shopping centre in September 2017 - so the south side of Canberra could enjoy their food too. They specialise in cooking Asian dishes in the vegetarian way, with soy products replacing meat and all the dishes loaded with vegetables and hits of flavour. The beauty of this vegetarian restaurant is that it is so good, that devout meat-eaters also want to eat there too!
The name Au Lac is considered to be the ancestral kingdom of the Vietnamese people. It existed in the third century BC and for Buddhists, it was a peaceful and treasured place. This is how the Au Lac restaurant feels when you walk in the door - calm, peaceful and quiet...well, at least until the lunchtime crowd rolls in!
Au Lac, a calm and sophisticated restaurant in Woden. Top right: Entrée - Eggplant Fritters ($7.90)
On my visit, I went with a group of friends for a Christmas party lunch, so I was able to see a wide range of dishes delivered to each person. The prices are extremely reasonable, with most entrees around $7 and mains around $15 and all meals are generous in size. For entrée, Spring Rolls were the popular dish of the day, as well as Eggplant Fritters, however I chose the Fresh Cold Rolls for $6.50, which were fresh, healthy and had a particularly delicious dipping sauce.
This restaurant is ideal for anyone who works nearby and has limited time, as the entrees were delivered quickly and while we were still eating them, the mains were then added to the table. It was a feast for the eyes to see such an array of colourful, fresh and healthy vegetarian meals on the one table. Both the meat-eaters and vegans on the table were happy to try the soy "meat alternative", however, some weren't so sure about the texture of it after they tried it - although everyone agreed the flavours were fresh and flavoursome.
I chose the Au Lac Pho Soup with soy chicken, which was a new flavour for me as I had never tried pho (pronounced "fur") before. Only recently I discovered Vietnam House, a few doors down and was curious about pho, as many people in that restaurant had been slurping away at their steamy bowls of noodles. As my friend next to me ordered the Royal Noodle Soup, we both shared a plateful of bean sprouts, basil leaves, chilli and lemon to add to our soups, to suit our tastes.
Au Lac Pho Soup with Soy Chicken - Special Vietnamese Pho broth in vegan style, dressed in thin slices of soy chicken, crunchy tofu and rice noodles. Served alongside a plate of bean sprouts and basil leaves ($12.50)
As someone who had never tried pho before, I can't compare it to other phos in Canberra, however, I was impressed by the Au Lac vegetarian version. The soy chicken and the tofu were the flavoursome highlights and the bowl of noodles underneath seemed to go on forever - I had to leave half of it before my waistband burst a button! For $12.50 it really is well-priced and generous in size - guaranteed to fill you up and warm you up in winter.
Our visit to Au Lac in Woden was an enjoyable one - the staff were friendly, the décor was sophisticated, the food was exceptional and the general atmosphere was just one word - happy. The staff were happily chatting to people and delivering meals, the other tables were happily appreciating their meals and everyone inside the restaurant was enjoying the whole Au Lac experience.
As mentioned, the name Au Lac is a peaceful and treasured place for Buddhists - and it has become the same for the people of Canberra - both north and south.