Sugar Cane Vietnamese Restaurant


date of visit: Friday 24 Sept 2010

Like our visit to the King’s Head Hotel, another Friday night, another unplanned restaurant visit. We settled on Vietnamese very early in the piece and toyed with heading down Gouger Street, before wandering down King William Street to check out Sugarcane. Our logic was that if it was full or didn’t appeal we could nip around to The Greek on Halifax. OK – that’s slightly weird logic, if you’re after Vietnamese food, but bear with me.

Sugarcane is a very visually appealing restaurant – when it finally warms up there’s an outdoor seating area (it’s far enough down King William Street for sitting outside to be contemplated) and the restaurant itself is large, reasonably spacious and with decor that, while perhaps not to everyone’s taste, is clean and coherent with a definite Asian theme.

The meal started in a promising manner, when the restaurant door was swept open for us and we were ushered to a table. Well, the door part is true … and we were whisked through the restaurant only for the waiter to reaslise, suddenly, that there was no table for two ready. We were instructed to wait while a table was sorted out – and of course, while waiting we managed to confuse at least one other waiter who also tried to fix us a table.

Confusion was very much the theme of the service throughout the meal. One waiter had a minor panic attack when he realised we’d been seated for a while but did not have drinks. He could have stayed calm and taken an order … but he rushed off to get us water and then forgot to take a drinks order. Another waiter eventually took the drinks order, by which point we were ready to order food … which was a mistake, because our food order ended up confused. My entrée and main arrived together, leaving Andy foodless. While quite a few waiters observed us with food at our table but not touching it, none approached us and when we did attract attention, the waiter rushed off only to rush back to find out what we had actually ordered.

As the restaurant wasn’t packed (I’m always prepared to cut some slack if I can see staff are genuinely run off their feet) I can only assume that someone at Sugarcane doesn’t take customer service seriously and certainly isn’t instilling good customer service practices in the staff.

While service is a large part of the restaurant going experience, we can’t ignore the food. Although billed as a Vietnamese restaurant we were a little disappointed by the route the menu took. While I can’t claim to be an expert on the regional cuisines of either China or Vietnam the menu has, to the untrained eye, a very definite Chinese feel. In fact, every dish has its name written out … in Chinese. Not a jot of Vietnamese roast pork in sight, although there are hot pots.

My original order was to start with pork and prawn cold rolls followed by a beef salad, while Andy was going to start with a chicken pancake and enjoy Mongolian sizzling pork for his main course. After a long period of contemplating my food, we ended up with all the food on the table at once. Of these dishes, the beef salad was definitely the stand out – very fine slices of beef, barely cooked, with a lime and chilli dressing, tossed in amongst green salad. The level of heat from the chilli was good, the salad was fresh, and the dressing was light and oil free … perfect for mopping up with a bit of rice when everything else was finished. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I came home and looked for recipes so I could make this myself (perhaps with a hint more coriander and mint though …).

I was less impressed with the cold rolls: they were too heavy on the noodles and too light on the mint. Very definitely in the OK basket rather than something to write home about.

Both of Andy’s dishes were too sweet for me although Andy didn’t have a problem with them (I am very picky about sweetness in savoury dishes). The chicken crepe was served in the same style as crispy duck pancakes – without the crispy or the duck, as the chicken was in a plum style sauce. The Mongolian sizzling pork was dished on to its sizzling plate at the table, covering the table (and, to a limited extent, us) with a fine spray of hot fat. From Andy this dish rated a ‘quite nice but nothing special’.

That does quite a good job of summing up the whole experience. Aside from the shambolic service, everything was ‘quite nice’ but certainly not special enough to warrant a return visit.

Bottom line: $66 for 2 people, 2 courses, 2 beers and green tea.

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King’s Head Hotel



date visited: Friday 10 Sept 2010

The sole criterion for Friday night’s dinner was that it was on King William Street, as that happened to be on our way to the car. We made it past the smells and bright lights of Gouger Street and were tempted very briefly by La Trattoria (until we saw how packed it was!) before deciding a peek at the King’s Head menu was in order.

The King’s USP is that it’s strictly South Australian. That’s right – all South Australian produce (they bend their own rules a bit for cocktails, so spirits drinkers can relax). Of course, this caused a bit of a problem when one of our first requests was for a James Boags … but things were righted by the arrival of a Coopers Lager. We grabbed a table in The Den, which is the à la carte restaurant, but you can also eat in the bar. We had no reservation and there were seats free, but the restaurant was sufficiently busy to warrant booking for future visits.

The service was incredibly friendly and it was certainly efficient. Perhaps a little too efficient, if you were after a leisurely meal … our main courses arrived as the plate from our entrée was being cleared! However, the efficiency did translate to speedy drinks service – I find nothing more irksome than being seated in a restaurant and waiting an age for a waiter to decide to take your drink order!

We started by sharing the arancini. Four generous balls of roast pumpkin and sage that were just the right temperature for picking up and eating, but hot enough for them not to be stodgy and the cheese to still be melty.

For main course I chose one of the blackboard specials – spaghetti puttanesca. The pasta was perfectly cooked (in that it was still toothsome) and the saltiness of the olives and anchovies offset the potentially sweet tomato sauce perfectly. I did think that the dish itself lacked some essential chilli (I’m confident a puttanesca pasta sauce is meant to have some heat to it!) and also found the mound of dressed rocket on top of it utterly superfluous. Still, it did mean I ate some greens, so it’s not all bad.

Andy ordered the fish and chips, which he was a little underwhelmed by. He passed comment that the batter was excellent but that the chips were under par, apparently being the standard oven type.

It’s interesting to note that The King’s chef is Sam Worrall-Thompson, son of UK celebrity chef Anthony Worrall-Thompson which is reflected in the British gastro-pub style menu. The menu covers pub basics (yes, there’s schnitzel and even pie floaters) as well as more interesting dishes, so most people should be able to find something to eat. And the execution of the dishes, based on our sample size of two, seems more than competent but perhaps a little uneven.

I know I’m not raving here, but the experience was definitely good enough for us to say we’d return. The Den is a comfortable dining space that is definitely a cut above most pub restaurants, the service is sharp and the food represents good value for money. Most main courses hover around the $20. We left having spent around $65 – not bad for the food as well as three drinks.

Interesting, good value pub food

Rating:3.5 stars

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