Quan Thanh Vietnamese and Chinese Restaurant at West End is a favourite with in-the-know locals for a simple reason: it produces good, reliable food every time you visit.
One of the best of West End's numerous Vietnamese eateries, the Quan Thanh (pronounced 'kwon tarn') is on Hardgrave Road, just along from the similarly named Kim Thanh. It has a pleasant outdoor eating deck at the front (lovely on a sunny winter's afternoon or a warm summer evening), and a fairly plain but presentable indoor eating area. Service is brisk and efficient.
But what about the food? Well, for a start, there's plenty of it. The Chinese side of the laminated menu boasts around 90 dishes, while the Vietnamese side adds another 50 or so. Items range from $5.90 spring rolls to the most expensive item, a sweet and sour soup with king prawns or fish for $23.
In between, you're spoilt for choice. If you favour Chinese, you can get the usual beef, chicken, pork, lamb, or seafood stir-fries in a range of sauces (black bean, garlic, oyster, chilli, satay, etc) for between $12.50 and $15.50. A good version of the traditional chicken and sweet corn soup is available for $5.90, as is a wonton and barbecue pork soup for the same price.
The salt and pepper calamari is a yummy (if deep-fried) treat at $14.50, and one of my friends reports that the salt and pepper quail (entree for $6.50) is also good. The sizzling dishes (like sizzling Mongolian lamb, $15.50) are always good fun, as they are brought hissing on their cast-iron platters from the kitchen, leaving a trail of spicy smoke as they pass.
If your preferences lean to Vietnamese (as mine do), you also have plenty of choice. On a cold day, try one of the beef noodle soups (choose from sliced beef, beef ball, pork and beef, beef brisket) for $10.50 to $11.50, which come with a side of fresh bean shoots, mint, and lemon. In summer, rice vermicelli salads (which team rice noodles with your choice of meat or tofu) are perfect, served again with sprouts, mint, and a homemade sauce. My favourite vermicelli salad is the combination, which includes sliced lean pork, spring rolls, and sugar cane prawns ($12.90).
I also love Quan Thanh's rice paper wraps, where you are presented with a bowl of hot water, a platter of fillings, and a stack of rice-paper 'pancakes', which you quickly soak and then use to construct your own transparent spring rolls. If you haven't tried this, be brave and give it a go. After the first few disasters, you'll get the hang of it -- and the rolls still taste good, no matter how messy they are, or how undignified you feel while eating them. Filling choices include tofu, pork, beef, and prawn (grilled or sugar cane) for $11.50 to $15.90.
Vegetarians have around 15 choices, with my picks being the rice paper wrap with fried tofu ($11.50), and the salt and pepper tofu ($9.90). Vegetarian versions of the rice vermicelli salads are also good.
I'd skip the short desserts list (unless you have a secret thing for fried ice-cream). Much more interesting are the exotic drinks available for just $3.50, many of which are substantial enough to be a dessert in their own right. The fresh lemon soda (a home-made fizzy lemonade) is great on a hot day, and some of the others just beg to be tried, if only for curiosity value. I'd love to hear from anybody who's tasted the jelly, tapioca and coconut milk offering, or the seaweed and lotus drink.
Quan Thanh is BYO, and Chalk and Cheese bottleshop is just next door (with an auto-teller out the front). Transport is also easy, with 199 bus stops nearby. Takeaway is available at slightly lower prices than those quoted above. EFTPOS minimum is $15, and they only do one bill per table. Make sure to get there early (or make a booking) if you want to find a seat on a Saturday night.
Two things to add. First, Quan Thanh has recently expanded to another shopfront just down the way, specialising in Chinese and Malaysian. Second, tables inside the original restaurant are SUPER NOISY on weekend nights so don't go there for quiet conversation. Try to get a table outside if you're after some serenity ...