Sunday, 25 January 2009

Cam Ranh

My quest to visit as many of Brisbane's Vietnamese restaurants as I can this time led me to Cam Ranh at Darra. We had tried to get into Que Huong, but it looked packed and when we arrived a Chinese dragon was dancing through the restaurant to the sound of some great drumming. I was starving, so we walked around the corner to Cam Ranh instead.

It turned out Cam Ranh was pretty much full as well, but they did find us a table out on the footpath. As soon as we sat down, a thermos of jasmine tea was brought to our table, which was really thirst quenching on a steamy summer night.

My attention was quickly grabbed by the hand written sign on the front door, which said "Mud Crab $35/kilo". Last time I had mud crab at an Asian restaurant it was about $60 a kilo, so the price at Cam Ranh sounded like a bargain.

The menu at Cam Ranh is enormous, with over 200 dishes to choose from, covering both Vietnamese and Chinese food. The menu is broken down into entree, soup, Pho, Hu Tieu (clear rice noodle soup), Mi (egg noodle soup), congee, rice, rice vermicelli, rice paper rolls, chow mein, Hofan noodles, pippis, clam, sweet shell (I wasn't exactly sure what that was), oyster, soft shell crab, mud crab, fish, lamb, chicken, duck, beef, pork, prawn, scallop, calamari and vegetables. You could eat here every week for a year and not even get close to trying all the dishes.

Before arriving at the restaurant, I'd already decided I'd have a soup for entree, so it was just a matter of picking one. There were about 25 to choose from, which meant it wasn't the easiest of decisions. After weighing up interesting soups like crab meat & asparagus, Pho tai gan (rice noodle soup with tendon) and Hu Tieu tom thit (prawn & pork clear rice noodle soup), I ordered the Pho tai (rice noodle soup with sliced beef). Sometimes I just can't go past a good bowl of Pho.

The Pho tai came out in a big bowl, with plenty of flat rice noodles. The soup was served with a separate plate which contained bean sprouts, sliced red chilli, basil and lemon. That way you can make the Pho as hot or as tangy as you like. I loaded it up with a handful of bean sprouts, a few bits of chilli and plenty of basil. As hungry as I was, I didn't manage to finish it. The soup had a lovely beefy, slightly salty flavour and was great. The other reason I didn't finish the Pho is because when I was about half way through the bowl, my huge plate of mud crab arrived at the table.

We also ordered a serve of the rice paper rolls with vegetarian spring rolls. Again, this turned out to be a big serving. The fillings were rice vermicelli, lettuce, mint, bean sprouts, cucumber, pickled carrot and radish. I made up a couple of rolls (I can't resist a rice paper roll on a hot summer night), but we still got nowhere near finishing the plate.

There are so many choices for main course on the menu, I won't even try to go through them. Some of the dishes that appealed to me were pippis in XO sauce, soft shell crab in salt & pepper, Vietnamese fish hot pot, duck in Son Dong style, camp fire beef with rice paper salad and the chilli scallops. Although they all sounded great, I couldn't go past the Singapore mud crab. I know it's not Vietnamese, but it's not every day you walk into a restaurant with such good value mud crabs, so it would have just been wrong of me not to order it. If Singapore mud crab isn't your thing, there were about 8 other mud crab options, which are no doubt equally as delicious.

When I ordered the mud crab, the waitress asked me if it was just the 1 kilo. Maybe she thought I needed a bit of fattening up, but there was no way I was going to get through 2 kilos by myself.
As it turned out, almost everyone else in the restaurant seemed to be eating mud crabs. The three young Vietnamese kids sitting at the table next to us with their parents were tucking into a huge platter of mud crabs, which was just making me hungrier by the minute.

Anyway, as with all the rest of our meals, my mud crab was huge. We found out later when we paid that it was all one crab, that was actually 1.2 kilos. I don't think I've ever eaten so much crab in my life before. The mud crab had been broken into plenty of manageable bits, and was absolutely coated in the Singapore sauce. There were no crab crackers, so you either had to dig the crab meat out with a chopstick (which worked pretty well) or just crack them in your teeth, which is what all the locals were doing. The mud crab was excellent. It hadn't been overcooked, and had plenty of crab flesh. There was so much that, despite my best efforts, I just couldn't finish it. I hadn't even ordered any rice. By the way, the reason there's no photo of the mud crab is because my hands were covered in sauce by that stage of the night.

I've already mentioned that my mud crab came out before I'd finished the Pho. Actually, both our mains arrived while we were still munching away on our starters. It was a hot night, so neither of them were going to go cold, but it didn't give our stomachs a chance to have a break before the next round of food.

Our other main course was a soup with tofu, herbs and vegetables, which my wife had ordered from the steamboat section of the menu. Although this looked great when it arrived, it turned out to be full of pork, which wasn't mentioned on the menu. When my wife checked with the waitress, she was told that it wasn't meat, it was pork. Anyway they were good enough to take it away and replace it with a plate of stir fried vegetables in oyster sauce. There were plenty of snow peas, Chinese broccoli, carrot, mushroom and corn, which were piled up on the plate. I didn't actually try any, because I was too preoccupied with my mud crab, but I'm told it was very tasty.

I eventually admitted defeat on my mud crab. By that time both my hands and probably half my face were covered in the Singapore sauce (not to mention my shirt). Luckily for me though we still had the hot water bowl from the rice paper rolls and we'd both been given hand towels, so that was all cleaned up pretty quickly.

By this stage of the night we hadn't actually managed to finish one of the dishes we ordered, so dessert wasn't an option. All up, our dinner was $72, which included a lychee drink and a fanta. When you consider that my mud crab was $40, the food at Cam Ranh is great value.

Cam Ranh is BYO, and there is a bottle shop just around the corner. The inside of the restaurant looks very similar to many suburban Asian restaurants around Australia. It was definitely preferable to the footpath where we sat, which was pretty much devoid of any ambience at all. But the food was good, and that's why we'd made the trip out to Darra in the first place.

If you're looking for a new Vietnamese restaurant to try, Cam Ranh would be a good start. It has such a huge menu that it would be the perfect place to take a bunch of friends and order a whole heap of food you've never tried before. Or you could just order about 5 different mud crabs in and be in seafood nirvana for the rest of the night. Be warned though, if everyone orders a dish each, you'll never get through them all.

Although the decor and surroundings at Cam Ranh are pretty basic, and service is of the quick, no fuss variety, the food is good. I'll definitely be going back, even if its just for more of their delicious mud crabs.

What does all this mean? A huge selection of Vietnamese and Chinese food, with an emphasis on seafood, at very reasonable prices.

food bling ratings
Food - Good
Service - Ok
Ambience - Not much out on the footpath
Value for Money - Great
Wine - BYO
Vegetarian - Ok

Cam Ranh
23 Railway Parade
Darra 4076
P - 07 3375 4348

Cam Ranh on Urbanspoon


Sarah said...

Holy crap that sounds good. Great review :)

Eatout Brisbane said...

Hey, have you been to Green Tea, Fortitude Valley yet?

food bling, Brisbane said...

yep I've been to Green Tea a few times. I love it. Just haven't got around to putting up a post yet. Very friendly staff, and a few Vietnamese dishes you don't come across that often in Brisbane

Ann said...

cam ranh was also called "hello my friend" cause the old owner used to say that all the time to every locals will know about it. glad you enjoyed it there

food bling, Brisbane said...

Thanks Ann I need to go back to Cam Ranh soon for more mud crab.

Btw - your blog looks great! I will have to try out some of your great Vietnamese recipes.

Anonymous said...

This is as reported a top spot for crab.