Wednesday, September 20, 2006

La Mint

The great thing about the SMH Good Food Guide being published each year is that it gives me fresh enthusiasm to search out the restaurants I either never managed to get to in the previous year, or didn’t know existed. Like I need any more encouragement? I think only dedicated eaters read the GFG like a novel. I make notes and lists like I was reading it for a research article. Sad, isn’t it?

My first choice for the year was La Mint in East Sydney (page 83). I based my list on ‘restaurants that are open for lunch on Mondays’ to narrow it down. To further refine the choice my dining companion added ‘perhaps something spicy? – and not too expensive?’ After ruling out the ones I’d already visited, and after an aborted attempt to eat at Darbar in Glebe (page 46 – note: despite what the GFG says it’s not open on Monday for lunch) we headed in the general direction of Woolloomooloo via Crown Street. A little dog leg brought us to La Mint. Looked nice. Open. Parking Station next door. Man sobbing hysterically in front entrance being comforted by friend. We were hooked.

Constant traffic from the back of the rent-a-car depot, and delivery trucks quadruple parked on each side of the road, makes this bit of Riley St a little difficult to negotiate, so the parking station was a godsend. La Mint’s dining room is very cool. GFG hints at its Saigon chic. The water feature at the back is particularly pleasant as it tinkles away melding with mod Viet pop floating through the speakers. At the front of the room is a high bench table with high stools, as well as a few outdoor tables to watch the passing parade.

There are standard as well as intriguing menu items, among them the snails in lemongrass and garlic butter. Maybe next time. The guy at the entrance is still sobbing. We went for a basic selection of things to put La Mint through its paces. The mixed entrée plate ($25, left) is substantial and comprises all the popular choices like fresh spring rolls with prawns (2, cut in half), fried pork mini spring rolls (4) and coconut prawns (4) accompanied by an aromatic salad and dipping sauces. It would easily feed four people, so at the price it’s excellent value. The prawns are crisp and juicy, the pork rolls delicately flavoured and crunchy but if I had a criticism, the fresh rolls were light on prawn and heavy on vermicelli, making them quite filling and a touch bland. The salad was so aromatic with mint and parilla it almost made up for it.

To share for a main we ordered the chilli salt squid (yes I’m on the verge of entering the 12 step program at chillisaltsquid anonymous) and grilled scampi with lemongrass butter ($25). The squid comes in 2 sizes, and we chose the ‘light’ serve ($16, left) which was more than generous. It was fantastically tender and well spiced with fresh chilli and green onions fried to garnish the dish and provide even more flavour.

The scampi (we had the salad option, below – there’s also a nage of vegetables and broth on the menu) presented two plump grilled crustaceans on the half shell atop a salad similar to the entrée plate, but with a more pronounced lime and fish sauce dressing. Sweetly mouth watering, the lemongrass butter complemented the flesh brilliantly, and as a combination, lifted the scampi out of the Italian cuisine monopoly is seems to enjoy, into an Asian barbecue essential. (Note for home recipe list – make lemongrass butter for next seafood barbie).

La Mint is an Indochinese oasis in the predominantly Italian restaurant district of Riley and Stanley streets, and hopefully it will gain a good following. I’ll certainly be back to try some of the more adventurous and unusual offerings they present. The wine list is sturdy and very well priced, and the food on this visit didn’t disappoint in any way. The service is friendly and helpful, and eventually the guy in the front stopped sobbing. Probably after a soothing helping of Vietnamese culinary love.

And an added treat: a parking voucher from the restaurant will reduce your $15 parking fee to $5. What a bargain indeed! 1 down, 299 to go.

La Mint
62-64 Riley Street,
East Sydney (near William St.)
(02) 9331 1818


Blogger Julia said...

Thanks for the heads up. I get their menus in my mailbox from time to time and I really wanted to try it. Viva Vietnamese!

1:09 PM  
Blogger Reb said...

Well from just one visit, Julia, it seems like the go. Pretty happy with the food and tab!

1:53 PM  
Anonymous Ellie said...

Looks like a brilliant spread - the entree platter looks absolutely amazing!

11:00 PM  
Blogger Reb said...

Tasted pretty good too Ellie!

8:00 AM  
Anonymous jules said...

I have to confess to reading the GFG like a novel too...need to get my hands on the latest edition

7:06 PM  
Blogger Reb said...

It's full of thrills and spills, Jules ... well it left Martin Boetz in tears anyway ...

7:20 AM  

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