Luke Nguyen is a Vietnamese Australian chef and restaurateur best known for cooking authentic Southeast Asian cuisine with a modern Australian twist. He first rose to fame after opening Surry Hills eatery Red Lantern in 2002 with a menu featuring age-old family recipes. In 2010 he made his TV debut with Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam where he went on a culinary adventure in his mother country. Subsequent TV forays include Luke Nguyen’s Greater Mekong (2012), Luke Nguyen’s France (2014) and Luke Nguyen’s United Kingdom (2015).
Following his TV success in Europe, Luke Nguyen went back to his roots and launched a new season of Luke Nguyen’s Street Food Asia. He toured the streets of Saigon, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur discovering the origins of the most authentic, classic, humble and delicious Asian street food. For those of us who are unable to follow his food trails abroad, at least now we have the opportunity to taste some exotic street-style dishes inspired by his travels at Luke Nguyen’s Pop Up at The Star.
The dish Pad Thai shouldn’t be too foreign to you; in fact it is one of the most ordered Thai takeaway dishes in Australia. Luke Nguyen’s take on Pad Thai is a trip down memory lane to when I stood by the side of Khao San Road in Bangkok devouring a plate of the most delicious Pad Thai cooked from a run-down street cart. Now comes the modern twist – egg nest and deep-fried soft shell crab sprinkled with crushed nuts and chili flakes ($18). This simply takes the humble Pad Thai to the next level.
Another familiar dish transformed is Tom Yum soup. In Luke’s version the soup is served with rice noodles and a half lobster ($23). Yes you heard it right – a half lobster instead of prawns. The broth appears slightly milkier and creamier, and the result is incredible; it’s spicy, sour, rich, and the lobster meat is incredibly tender and sweet. It has to be in the top three best Tom Yum soup I had in and outside of Thailand.
Here is a confession — I am not mad about Vietnamese pork rolls. I find the bread too crusty and the pork too fatty. But oh boy I am glad I followed the staff recommendation and tried Luke Nguyen’s Wagyu Brisket Pho-Guette ($17). The beef is marinated and slow cooked until it shreds easily with flavours of soy sauce, star anise, cinnamon, palm sugar, and chili. This variety of ingredients and spices, topped with pickled bean sprouts, spring onion, coriander, hoisin sauce, and Sriracha hot chilli sauce, produces one of the best rolls I have ever tasted. Underneath the crust the bread soaks up juices from the beef marinade like a sponge. Every bite is a reminder of Luke Nguyen’s culinary skill in bringing a piece of Southeast Asia to Sydney.
If you are after something lighter, the rice cake topped with prawns, caramelised pork, and pork floss ($15) is a perfect starter to set the mood. Sweet and soy pork complements the soft and sticky rice cake like icing on top of cake. Pork floss is not uncommon in Asian cuisine and you really have to try it to appreciate its unique texture and flavour. Personally I love it!
For drinks you can choose from either the traditional Vietnamese iced coffee or not so traditional avocado and chocolate ice-cream shake, both $8 each. The avocado shake is nothing like everything you would have experienced. It’s like drinking liquid avocado but diluted by sweet and creamy chocolate ice-cream. It’s definitely unusual.
Luke Nguyen’s Pop Up at The Star is located at ground floor Café Court and open through to the end of November.
Luke Nguyen Street Food – Pop Up At The Star
Level G, Café Court, The Star
80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont, Sydney NSW
Sun & Mon: 11:30am – 9pm
Tues – Thurs: 11:30am – 10:30pm
Fri & Sat: 11:30am – 11pm
I Ate My Way Through dined as guests of The Star