My aunt introduced me to this highly affordable restaurant serving classic Laos & Thai cuisine a little over two months ago. Welcome to Spicy Aroma.
Street view of Spicy Aroma
This occasion was my second visit, and coming with most of my family members this time, I had the opportunity to try more dishes. Spicy Aroma is located on Canley Vale Road, in the suburb known as Canley Heights. The area isn't really accessible by train, and the main road is always extremely busy, making it quite difficult to find parking at times.
Interior of Spicy Aroma
On both this occasion and the previous time I visited, I noticed that there weren't a lot of customers frequenting the small restaurant, but just a few customers at a time, mostly consisting of couples. That day, my family and I were the largest group occupying space in the restaurant, but I noticed several people coming in and out to order and pick up take away. Despite its small size, it's probably always easy to get a table here.
The décor stays true to traditional Laotian & Thai heritage, displaying Laotian/Thai cloth portraits on the walls, and Buddha statues throughout the restaurant. Once walking in, we're immediately greeted by the elderly Laos lady who serves as both waitress and manager of the restaurant.
Sample menu at Spicy Aroma
After being seated, we were given several copies of the menu, and thus spend a few minutes deciding what to order. There's one specialty available at Spicy Aroma that I specifically came to eat, seeing as it's quite difficult to find in any other restaurant. Within 10 minutes, my family and I have settled upon our courses. Our orders are then taken.
Being large eaters, and ravenously hungry that day, we ordered a large amount of food so I wasn't expecting everything to come out quickly, however our first dish was delivered to our table within 10-15 minutes. The Laos Sausages ($10.90) is a favourite dish amongst my family members, and a popular dish in general. In contrast to regular sausages, the meat in Laos sausages is accentuated with herbs and spices, which gives the sausages a unique taste.
Laos style sausages - spicy and tender
The Laos sausages at Spicy Aroma were aromatic and delicious. They were served with a spicy dipping sauce on the side which was a nice addition, but a little bit oily. The meat inside the sausages was extremely tender and flavoursome, accentuated by the additional spices.
Laos style papaya salad
The next dish that was brought out was the Laos style Papaya Salad ($10.90). The Laos style Papaya salad is pretty much the same as Thai style Papaya salad, and includes all the same ingredients, except for the addition of crab paste. The Laos style Papaya salad is also much spicier and saltier than its Thai counterpart, but I find the spiciness much more exciting for my taste buds. The salad was a welcome addition to the table; refreshing and cool, however it was so spicy I could only take a few bites at a time.
Deep fried tofu with satay sauce - not one of their best dishes
The Deep Fried Tofu ($9.90) was of a light texture on both the outside and inside. Eating tofu on its own is always a little bland, so it was accompanied by a satay sauce. However, I found the tofu to be too heavy when paired with the satay sauce, as the sauce was quite rich. Despite being tasty, I wanted to leave room in my stomach for the multitude of other things that we'd ordered, so I didn't eat too much of the tofu. Admittedly, I also didn't think it was such a good choice, and probably would not bother ordering this again in the future.
Soft Shell Crab
We couldn't go past ordering the Soft Shell Crab ($15.90) which is another ubiquitous dish of South East Asian cuisine that my family loves. It's a nice dish when cooked well, but I've eaten lots of bad quality soft shell crab in my life, so when our soft shell crab was presented at our table, I could tell by its appearance that it wasn't going to be excellent. The colour of the crab was quite dark, so I could tell it was overcooked. When I tasted it, I thought the exterior was a bit oily, but the crab was crisp and light. We used sweet chilli sauce as a dip, which is a common combination that goes well with soft shell crab.
Baby Duck Egg
Interior of the baby duck egg
Finally, the dish I had been waiting for arrived. I mentioned before that they have a delicacy at Spicy Aroma that's not readily found at most other South East Asian restaurants. That speciality that I was craving was the Baby Duck Egg ($2.80 each). The baby duck egg is a delicacy eaten in some Asian cultures including Filipino and Vietnamese. Prior to my first visit to Spicy Aroma, I was unaware that it was also eaten in Thai & Laos cuisine.
The baby duck egg is a dish best for adventurous gourmands. As it includes a dead baby duck foetus, I definitely would not recommend this for the faint hearted. I first tried the delicacy a few months ago, when a friend took me to try the duck eggs at another establishment, however the taste varies depending on where you eat it. Baby duck eggs are always served with vietnamese mint; a large heaping of salt & pepper, and a wedge of lemon. The baby duck eggs come served in their shell, and I always really enjoy cracking open the top of the egg with a teaspoon to reveal the white interior. I squeeze the lemon wedge onto the salt and pepper mixture to create a sour, salty juice, which I eat with the interior of the duck egg and mint leaves. The tanginess of the lemon, salt and pepper mixture, in conjunction with the fresh aroma of the mint is a winning combination on its own, and works perfectly with the duck egg, which would be bland on its own. The other time that I ate duck egg, the foetus of the baby duck was perfectly visible when I scooped it out, but for some reason the duck foetus is not really visible in Spicy Aroma's version. However, on eating my second duck egg, I notice the faint outline of a head in my egg, but this doesn't faze me.
Fish 3 Season Sauce
The Fish 3 Season Sauce ($15.90) is a house specialty consisting of a tempura basa fillet cooked in Spicy Aroma's special sauce. Unlike the soft shell crab, the fish wasn't too oily, and was generously seasoned with '3 season sauce' which tasted like a mixture of sour, sweet and spicy flavours. It was thick, tasty, and extremely satisfying for a hungry person.
After all the savoury dishes we'd consumed, I was more than ready to go home with a full stomach, but my brother suggested sharing a dessert between the two of us. I found it hard to say no to this, and he ordered the Fried Ice Cream ($8.90) which took about 10-15 minutes to arrive at our table.
Disappointing fried ice cream
The fried ice cream ended up being quite a let down, and I wished he had ordered something else. It was served in the shape of a giant ball with whipped cream, and a few strawberries on the side. In terms of presentation it looked fine, but it was almost impossible to eat. Fried ice cream is meant to be soft and slightly melting on the inside, due to having been fried, but our fried ice cream was stiff and impossible to get a scoop of. In the end, the crumbed exterior ended up falling away in our attempts to scoop some ice cream, and we had to scoop it back it up. This made me think that the ice cream hadn't been fried at all in fact, but was merely coated in breadcrumbs. This was probably the worse aspect of dining at Spicy Aroma, and I would not order the fried ice cream here again. On the other hand, my uncle ordered the Coconut Craze ($8.90) consisting of sticky rice with coconut ice cream, which was a lot more appetising than our terrible dessert. Sticky rice was probably the safer option in this scenario, and it's something I would opt for next time.
Other than that, Spicy Aroma is a restaurant serving quality Laos & Thai cuisine at affordable prices. The service is fast and polite, and they have a large variety of dishes on offer. My family loves this restaurant because it's such great value for money.
Where: Shop 2, 202 Canley Vale Road Canley Heights NSW
Why: Cheaper than average Thai and Laos food that doesn't compromise on quality
Cost: Mains start from around $9.90
When: Open for lunch and dinner Wednesday to Monday