Luke Nguyen's Fat Noodle Restaurant opened at the Treasury Casino in the city in late 2012. After giving it a few months to settle in, I recently headed there for lunch with a friend to sample its Vietnamese cuisine.
I have to say that the casino isn't somewhere I'd usually go for food, except in the dead of night when its eateries are some of the only choices open in the city. But I'd read many positives about Nguyen's new venture, which is the second Fat Noodle to open (the original is in Sydney's Star Casino), and I was looking forward to dining there.
First impressions were very good. Just to the left as you head in the main entrance to the casino, Fat Noodle features a striking backlit circular frontage and massed woks and chopsticks suspended from the ceiling.
The inventive decor works surprisingly well in the casino's heritage surrounds, with more than a whiff of stylish 1920s' Asia about it.
We were quickly greeted and seated at a comfortable table for two, surrounded by other diners who were happily chomping and slurping their way through warm offerings on a rainy day.
The menu offers Vietnamese with touches of Chinese, Thai and Malay cuisine. We had a choice of small plates in the $9-14 range (along the lines of spring rolls, salt-and-pepper tofu, prawn and pork rice paper rolls, and Vietnamese chicken salad), rice-based dishes from $16-19 (chicken, pork ribs, prawns and more) and wok-cooked meals, again in the $16-19 range (beef, mee goreng, pad thai etc).
In addition, seven noodle soups were on offer, with the star of the show Nguyen's signature Fat Pho Noodles, which features Angus sirloin in a slow-cooked 20-hour broth ($18). More unusual offerings include roasted duck soup ($19), pork congee ($15), and abalone and chicken congee ($10). A note at the bottom of the menu proclaims Fat Noodle's commitment to quality Australian produce and points out that (thankfully) they don't use MSG.
My friend chose the Fat Pho Noodles, while I opted for the beef sirloin wok-tossed in garlic and black pepper with jasmine rice. While we waited for our food to come, we enjoyed a beautifully fragrant cup of complimentary jasmine tea. If we'd wanted something more exciting, Fat Noodle serves lots of interesting softdrinks (all $4.50) and plenty of beer and wine options (all under $10 for a bottle or glass).
Our meals arrived quickly, served in modern Asian style on rectangular platters. Both looked great, and we got straight into them. My friend, recently returned from Vietnam, pronounced her pho 'great' and 'authentic', though she would have liked a bigger bunch of herbs on the side (the basil was far less than what you'd get at one of my favourite West End Vietnamese restaurants).
My sirloin was very, very good, though this dish would probably be better shared or accompanied by some vegetables, as it really was just meat, rice and a few greens (I know, I should have read the menu more carefully). Still, the meat was tender and succulent, a far cry from the cuts that you get at the hole-in-the-wall joints I usually frequent. My friend concurred, noting that the sirloin and brisket in her pho were also tender and fresh.
Strangely, the rice accompanying my meat was a little dry and grainy (dud rice in an Asian restaurant?), but not so bad as to spoil my meal.
We finished our meals in half an hour or so and were out on the footpath again well within our one-hour lunchtime. I saw plenty of other diners doing the same, a testament to Fat Noodle's efficient kitchen.
Our verdict? Well, we agreed that Fat Noodle is a fantastic addition to the city's dining options, and an affordable one at that. Yes, it's more expensive than more downmarket Asian options (and serves are probably smaller), but you can still walk out for under $20 a head.
till late at night (11pm most nights, 1am on Fridays and Saturdays) and it would be perfect not just for lunch but to grab dinner before or after going out in the city or at South Bank.
While the heart of the menu is traditional Vietnamese, Fat Noodle's commitment to quality produce nudges it towards the 'fine dining' category. And, with its slick decor, good service, and the happy buzz you get in eateries that are doing most things right, it's definitely one I recommend trying.
I tried the signature pho dish when the restaurant first opened and it was the worst pho I have ever eaten and being Vietnamese, I've had a lot of pho from many places.. I actually only ate half of it. Save your $18 and head out to Pho 99 at Inala of you truly want an authentic pho experience.
I tried the prawn and pork rice paper rolls and there was hardly any pork in them, just a moutful of dry veggies. I also tried the hainan chicken and rice - certainly nothing outstanding and extremely small portions for the price you pay. I would not recommend this restaurant. Heaps of Vietnamese restaurants around Brisbane offer much better food.