When Alissa and I want a quiet Saturday night in but are ill-prepared or can't be bothered to cook, deciding on a place for an impromptu dinner out can be a real challenge. We invariably want something a bit more than just the regular local haunts, however having only just decided to eat out, the places that take bookings would be largely booked out already, and wait times at hip places with a strict walk-ins policy will be many times longer than the meal time itself. The last Saturday of August was one such night for us, and all the options didn't gel - I wasn't in the mood for pizza or Indian or Thai, and we'd just popped into Kai for ramen and udon the night before so Japanese was out of the equation. Having watched a Hanoi-oriented episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations earlier in the day, I was craving Vietnamese food but couldn't be bothered facing the crowds in Northbridge or the long drive to our favourite Bun Cha restaurant Little Lang Nuong in Girrawheen. That's when I remembered Thach's Quan Restaurant (also known simply as TQR), a Vietnamese restaurant on Stirling Highway in Nedlands across the road from Pata Negra.
With Nedlands only a short drive down the Freeway, Alissa and I tried our chances without making a booking, as there were a few other nearby options we could fall back on. Arriving around 6pm, we were fortunate enough to get a table on the proviso that we were okay with a quick dinner as the place was entirely booked out! A couple that walked in 15 minutes after us were not so lucky.
The restaurant's interior design was strikingly colourful and idiosyncratic, a bold 'more is more' colour palette and aesthetic that Alissa and I both appreciated; I was wearing a vintage multicoloured lumberjacket while Alissa wore a purple coat with a fluffy colour, so we blended in nicely with our surroundings!
Being more familiar with the street food single dish style of Vietnamese food, the more banquet/shared dishes style of TQR's menu initially proved slightly overwhelming, so we decided to ask one of the friendly waiters for suggestions. He thankfully steered us away from the Mixed Entree plate (saying it would probably be a bit much for two people), and suggested we try one of their signature dishes - the TQR Black Pepper Squid. Consisting of deep fried pieces of squid cooked with spring onion, onions, finished with salt and pepper and served on a bed of Vietnamese-style salad, this was similar to the Salt and Pepper Squid served at Chinese restaurants, but better than any versions I can remember eating elsewhere. The squid itself was fried perfectly - you could tasted the cleanness of the oil, and the superb crispiness of the batter coating made for a nice contrast against the succulent squid within. The usual fried garlic and onions gave the dish a lot of flavour, but the real coup for us was the inclusion of the minty Vietnamese salad beneath. It provided a nice freshness to the dish, with the leaves of mint in particular bringing additional flavour and interest to the equation. I've never seen it done like this elsewhere, and the results speak for themselves.
Less impressive were the TQR Special Spring Rolls. Not because they were bad mind you - they were house-made and of the pork and vegetable variety common to Vietnamese restaurants - it's just that in comparison to the Squid that preceded it and the mains that were to come it stuck out as the most ordinary dish of the lot, about the same standard as what you'd get at any other good Vietnamese restaurant in Perth. Given how full we were by the end of the meal, we could easily have skipped this dish, and would do so if we were to return.
One dish that you definitely should not skip however would be Tooth Fish Steaks of crispy fried Tooth Fish served in light soy and ginger dressing. This was an amazing dish; Alissa and I literally said 'woah!' in unison when it was put as the table as it looked absolutely delectable. We could literally hear the crispiness of the outer later as we cut it with the spoon, and the tooth fish meat inside was so soft and tender that the contrast with the crisp exterior was only heightened. The flavours and seasoning were spot on too, with the ginger on top giving it a lovely spiciness, while the use of light soy sauce meant it had the sauce's distinct flavour without being overly salty as dark sauce would have been. The melange of sweet, gingery and salty made for a truly memorable dish; it was the dish of the night and one that is a definite must-try.
Almost as good was our other main of the TQR Crispy Duck - boneless crispy duck with skin served with plum sauce. When it arrived, we again marvelled at how crispy the dish looked. Looks were definitely not deceiving, and upon tasting it the crispiness level would be comparable to the crispiest extra crispy KFC you've ever eaten, with the duck meat encased within being well seasoned, flavoursome and had a wonderfully sticky unctuousness that made it just melt in your mouth - recalling the wonderful mouth feel of our beloved ribs at Varnish on King. To round it all off, the plum sauce provided some nice savoury sweetness. It reminded me a lot of Yam Duck (like what we ate at Daisy's Cafe in Jandakot), but even better.
The Verdict: Excellent
With everything being fried, it may not fit the usual image of healthy Vietnamese food, however our dinner at Thach's Quan Restaurant was utterly satisfying. The Black Pepper Squid, Tooth Fish and the TQR Crispy Duck would all be highly recommended dishes and when a restaurant has such a mastery of crispiness, even a real calorie counting curmudgeon would have to concede that this was good food. In style, it was very similar to Lido in Northbridge, but I would say that TQR's food was a lot more impressive and unique. At roughly $90 for two entrees, two mains and drinks, it was a fair bit more expensive than the average Vietnamese, but when considering the high rent for such a blue chip location, the fact we probably chose two of the more expensive dishes as mains and the quality of the food on offer, its not wholly unreasonable - and is probably considered a cheap eat for the Western Suburbs set anyway! Based on the strength of the dishes we ordered and the enticing sounding $33 Banquet Menu (alas, minimum of 4 diners or we would have ordered it), Alissa and I will definitely have to come back for a second round.