New to the Glen Osmond Road foodie strip, Ancient Viet fills a cavernous space between an Italian joint and an Indian restaurant that seem to have been here forever. But there’s no one eating lasagne or curry tonight: everyone is lining up for Vietnamese – which must really irritate the neighbours. By 8pm the place is full of inquisitive new diners, and the ’80s saxophone is drowned out by the sound of full tables of families and old friends.
Beneath a baffled timber ceiling hung with conical lightshades and decorated here and there with faux plastic orchids and kitsch teak carvings, Ancient Viet doesn’t serve what you’d call authentic street food. There’s no pork-blood pho on the menu, nor any chicken giblets in sight. But the food is traditional, generous and zesty, and the dining experience is utterly endearing.
The menu offers a suite of good-value banquet options, charmingly labelled in fine English-as-a-Second-Language style: ‘The Superb’, ‘The Couples’, ‘The Splendid’… But we make our selection from the main listings. The Ancient Viet Fortune Platter entrée arrives laden with skewered chicken, crunchy spring rolls and wantons and an outstanding king-prawn ‘sensation’ salad, infusing us with enough coriander, mint and lemongrass to get us through the week. Super-polite waitstaff offer tap water, their lack of upselling strategy as refreshing as the salad.
Our mains include a feisty rang muoi (salt-and-pepper squid: ‘classic and yet among the favourites’) and a super-saucy ga xao xa ot (chilli lemongrass chicken), which is heavy on the onion but just as liberally lashed with ginger and lemongrass. Both are munificent and filling.
The wine list offers a couple of crisp Vietnamese lagers, including a 450ml Bia Ha Noi, and wanders across South Australia from the Clare Valley to the Coonawarra. No surprises, but no duds or rip-offs either. A few interstate interlopers include a 2012 Voyager Estate sauvignon blanc semillon, which pairs up pertly with our mains.