When I first saw Dakbla's sign go up a few years ago, I wondered where this strange word came from, and why it had been chosen to christen a restaurant. Now that I'm a regular at this Hardgrave Road eatery, I know that 'Dakbla' is the name of a wide, lazy river in Vietnam's Central Highlands -- and that co-owner Dinh grew up in a city on its banks. I also know that Dinh and wife Chi have created a warm, friendly restaurant that serves dishes not just from Vietnam but also from a range of other Asian countries.
Dabkla's menu includes 150 items, with all my Vietnamese favourites well-represented. Entrees include transparent Prawn and Pork Rice Paper Rolls for $7.90; crunchy, deep-fried Vietnamese Spring Rolls, also $7.90; and San Choy Bao Roast Duck (flavoursome duck wrapped in lettuce leaves) for $8.90.
Do-it-yourself rice paper rolls ($13.90-14.90) come with your choice of beef, chicken, pork, or sugar-cane prawn.
Satisfying pho (noodle soups, $10.90) come in sliced beef, beef ball, and chicken varieties. Another favourite soup of mine in winter is the Vietnamese Stewed Beef Noodle Soup, which features tender, slow-cooked chunks of beef topped with fresh Thai basil, bean sprouts and chives. Also $10.90, it comes with a wedge of lemon and a salt-and-pepper mixture that add an extra tang to this fragrant dish.
Summer noodle salads (which combine rice vermicelli noodles, bean sprouts and tasty sauces) are also $10.90, and can be ordered with beef, chicken, pork, spring rolls, or a combination of these. The Vietnamese Duck/Bamboo Noodle Soup ($16.90) is another impressive salad dish, comprising a steamed duck salad with a side soup that features vermicelli and young bamboo. Be warned -- this is a big meal, and I have seen grown men struggle to finish it.
All these Vietnamese classics are well-executed. In addition, Dabkla offers plenty of Chinese dishes: chicken and sweet corn, or wonton, soup for $6.50; hofan (fat) noodles with beef, chicken, or seafood ($13.90-$18.90); and various chow-meins and stir-fries (again $13.90-$18.90).
Rounding out the menu is an eclectic selection of dishes from other Asian countries. These range from Thai Salads ($13.90-$18.90 for beef, duck, prawn or squid) to Lemongrass Tofu Salad ($12.90), Malaysian Satay King Prawn ($18.90), and Singapore Pineapple Fried Rice (served in a fresh half-pineapple for $14.90). I haven't tasted these, but you might like to give them a try if you grow tired of the Vietnamese and Chinese choices.
I am familiar with Dakbla's delectable roti bread, which is light, flaky and wonderfully sinful. It can be bought on its own, or comes as an accompaniment to the Fresh Pippies (market price) and the very good Stewed Beef ($12.90). I'm not quite sure where these dishes originate, or if they're a combination of cuisines, but they make for satisfying and tasty meals.
Other interesting dishes include the Canh Chua (a clear tamarind soup with silver perch, pineapple, okra and yam stems for $22.90), and the finger-licking Suon Rim (stir-fried pork ribs with garlic, capsicum and pineapple, $16.90).
Vegetarians are well-catered for at Dakbla, with more than 16 options ranging from $5.50 to $18.90, including plenty of tofu dishes, Nasi Goreng rice, and a birds-nest vegetable dish (a 'nest' of fried noodles cupping tasty mixed vegetables).
Dakbla's decor is attractive and calming, with paintings on the wall and a warm, intimate feel. Dinh, Chi and their staff are friendly and helpful, and offer special touches like free sweets for children after dinner. I've dined with children at Dakbla a few times, and the kitchen has also been happy to modify dishes to suit young palates (for example, taking the chilli out of the Spicy Squid dish without hesitation). Transport is convenient, with the 199 bus stopping nearby, and alcohol is available a few doors up at the Chalk and Cheese bottleshop.
Dabkla is one of my three favourite Vietnamese restaurants in West End (Green Bamboo and Quan Thanh being the other two). Its menu offers many appetising dishes, with some real stand-outs. Service is attentive, and Dinh and Chi are smiling, gracious hosts. And, finally, if you're interested, the inside cover of the menu provides a small geography lesson that explains the origin of that unusual 'Dakbla' name.