Than Nuong Charcoal Vietnamese is a newly opened restaurant in Woolloongabba, near where blocks of new developments are just coming up. It is not a particularly lively stretch of Logan Road, especially in the evening, but that will likely change as the new apartments are completed. We were invited to visit Than Nuong Charcoal Vietnamese by the owner, and, partial to tasty charcoal-grilled food, we were pleased to take up the offer.
On the ground floor of one of the completed apartment blocks, a row of lit red and yellow lanterns at the front of the restaurant caught one’s eye from across the road. A lighted sign clearly indicated that it was Than Nuong Vietnamese Restaurant and Bar.
As we walked in, we found it to have a surprisingly large seating space inside, and more tables in a covered area outside. Although the restaurant is along Logan Road, there wasn’t too much traffic in the evening, so being seated outside would have been alright. There was enough room inside to accommodate a few groups, with tables joined together for a couple of separate groups the evening we were there.
It has simple but modern settings and decor, using a dark colour palette. The shiny black tiles lining the service counter offset the matte grey concrete-looking floor tiles and the glossy black ceiling. The white bent plywood chairs against the dark wood laminate tables also added some contrasting brightness to the space. There were pretty glass jars of LED fairy lights at most of the tables, adding a more modern, but still warm, decorating touch than candles.
We were soon seated, and a bottle of water and menus brought to the table. It must be pointed out that the bottle of water had a tag around its neck stating that it was filtered water. While we are not usually finicky about such things, this water had a lovely crisp, clean taste, and was also pleasantly chilled.
The menu was presented in a folder, with lists of food options tucked into one side of the page, and a booklet of drinks on the other side. As the many bottles of spirits behind the counter will attest, they do indeed have many drink options for those so inclined. The food pages in the two menus we received weren’t entirely the same. Both had the sheets showing the entree options, the mains from the charcoal pit, and the salads and pho, but one also had banquet options. These, in fact, appealed to us more, as they came with a few of the meats that we saw in the Mains from the charcoal pit section, and we were keen to sample a range of them. In the end, that was what we wound up ordering, selecting Banquet number 2, which had more entrees, and slightly different meats.
As we waited for our meals, we found our appetites piqued by the aromas of lemongrass, fish sauce, and meats cooking wafting out of the kitchen. There was no music playing, but we could hear the sizzle of food cooking. The conversations of other patrons made an accompanying backdrop.
The entrees were all brought out in quick succession, filling the table space. Banquet 2 was listed as coming with Hokkaido scallops, Oysters with ginger and shallots, Soft shell crab, and Vegetarian spring rolls.
The oysters must have been changed for extra scallops instead, as we received four on a square plate, with salt and pepper in a pinch bowl in the centre. The scallops had an enticing fragrance as they were brought to the table, exuding notes of garlic and ginger. The scallops were large and meaty, and had a little smoky flavour. In each shell, they swam in a savoury broth that complemented rather than overwhelmed the natural flavour of the scallops. They were topped with chopped spring onions and chopped peanuts, adding a little more flavour and texture.
The soft shell crab pieces, half of a little crab each, were served on a prawn cracker base, and were drizzled with a pineapple and lemony dressing. The dressing had freshness, with balanced sweetness. As a tip, we would advise you to eat them early, before that sauce soaks through and makes a hole in the crackers. The soft shell crab had a crunchy batter that was not soggy or oily. There was more crunch still from the prawn cracker (the bits gotten to before the sauce had soaked in), and there were also bits of diced cucumber that added more bite.
The spring rolls had a good, crispy outer layer. The filling was tightly packed with a mix that included carrot strips, vermicelli noodles, black fungus, and split beans. It came with a generous amount of sweet chilli sauce dip. This was not excessively sweetened, and had a bit of kick, without being too hot. As spring rolls go, they were well done.
The mains for Banquet 2 were listed as Lemongrass chicken, Wagyu steak, Betel leaf beef, and salad, rice paper, rice noodles, and dipping sauces. These also filled the table when brought out. The meats were served on one plate, the wagyu steak sliced into strips, as was the lemongrass chicken, and the betel leaf-wrapped beef lined up in a corner. Another plate was absolutely filled with a pile of shaved cabbage in one quadrant, sliced pickled carrots and radish in another, vermicelli noodle nets in another, and fresh mint leaves in the last. There was also a little stack of starfruit slices, which we had not seen as part of a wrap before. Placed at the end of the table was a contraption we had never seen before. It was a semicircular container, which held the circular sheets of dry rice paper, and water in a separate section.
As we looked at it all, trying to work out where to begin, the restaurant owner, David, came and asked us if we needed a hand, and said he could show us how to make a roll. We gladly took him up on his offer, and he soon returned with clear gloves on his hands. He showed us what that semicircular container was for, taking one of the dry rice sheets from the stack, and putting into the section with water, then rotating it so that the entire sheet had been dampened. He placed that on one of the plates, explaining that in a few seconds, that would soften. He then began layering ingredients onto the sheet, starting with a couple of strips of the meat, then a little from each of the salads and noodle nets. He expertly tucked the ends of the now-softened rice sheet in, and folded it into a compact roll. He was clearly well-practiced. Our attempts were not quite as tidy, but it was a fun process nonetheless. Another tip we will offer is to make sure that you have got all of the parts of the rice paper wet, or you will end up with crunchy bits, but not in a way that will make it better eating.
The wagyu beef was not very strongly flavoured, just a little smoky, but it was nicely tender, cooked just right for this, and not chewy or sinewy at all. The lemongrass chicken was tender, fragrant and flavourful, with distinctly lemongrass flavour, and a pleasant sweetness. The betel leaf beef was juicy, and the leaf wrapping it just crisp, without being burnt. The last time we had betel leaf beef was at a festival in Inala, and those in comparison were overcooked, and more like chewy sausages. The betel leaf beef here was much nicer, with spices and a little sweetness.
The dipping sauce was a mix of tangy and sweet, and added a moreish punch of flavour to the rolls. As we found out, it was a combination of mainly lemon juice, fish sauce, and sugar. The proportions have to be right though, as just putting those things together won’t guarantee you a delicious outcome.
Dessert was listed on the banquet menu as simply cake and cream. We were brought two similar but slightly different plates, one with a wedge of passionfruit slice, and one with a slice of apple crumble. Both also had a slice of red dragonfruit, a generous dollop of cream, a sake cup of umeshu, and a wrapped sweet. The many components certainly made the plates look bountiful.
The passionfruit slice had a smooth, dense, creamy texture. Sweet tooths might appreciate it, but it was a little on the sweet side for us. The Apple crumble had a cinnamony oaty crumble on top, a layer of sweet cooked apple pieces, and a denser cakey tart layer below. The red dragonfruit was a strikingly vibrant colour, and its natural flavour and texture was simple but pleasant. The umeshu was sweet, fruity, and floral. It definitely suits dessert, but one shouldn’t underestimate the alcohol content. It was easy to drink, and it would be easy for one to have too much. We discovered the wrapped sweet to be a black sesame candy, and, if, like us, you were absolutely full by then, you can pocket it for later..
All in all, we enjoyed our meal at Than Nuong Charcoal Vietnamese. The food was delicious, and the interactive part of making your own rice paper rolls (even if they didn’t turn out quite as professionally) was fun. Having had the entrees meant that we weren’t ravenous by then, so didn’t mind the process of making the rolls. Thoughtfully, moist towelettes were also provided so patrons could clean their hands before getting into wrapping their rolls. The banquet was good value, and we certainly plan to return with friends.
Food: 3.5/4 (excepting dessert)
Price point: Banquet 2, which we had, was $52.90 per person. The other option, Banquet 1, was $34.90 per person. They have slightly different lunch and dinner menus. Entrees at dinner are $9.20 to $17.40. Mains from the grill are $18.90 to $37.90. Pho is $17.60 to $29.80, depending on sizes and components.
Value: Good, for the banquet.
Address: Shop 5, 159 Logan Road, Woolloongabba
Phone: 07 3062 7229
Website: Than Nuong Charcoal Vietnamese