LEELEE Lucky’s in Mt Lawley has a catchy name, but was the food at the Asian cafe any good?
Owner LeeLee certainly had a heart-warming backstory with her parents being some of the first Vietnamese boat people to arrive in Australia in 1977, after spending two years in a refugee camp in Malaysia.
On arrival her mother traded her wedding ring for a wok and spatula, and borrowed money for cooking oil, then opened a market stall using surplus food provided by the UN Refugee Agency.
The stall was highly successful and 46 years later her daughter is carrying on the family tradition with LeeLee Lucky’s.
Situated on Central Avenue in a lovely pocket of suburbia with gorgeous old character homes and manicured gardens, there were remnants of Halloween everywhere with a row of giant fluffy spiders on the garden wall opposite the cafe.
The small cafe had a tiny open kitchen, where you could literally see them preparing the food a metre behind the till. There was also a small stove with a pot boiling away in the corner, where an older Asian woman was busy making hot meals.
The place was super clean. Sounds like a given, but I’ve been to a lot of grubby cafes and this looked spotless. It also had a relaxing air with a cute little curtain on the window, chilled artworks and a pleasant colour scheme (a bit like someone’s lounge).
This sense of relaxation was enhanced by the wall-to-wall 80s ballads playing in the background, including Hello, Red Red Wine, I want you to be my Baby and Smooth Operator.
It was like being back at my school disco in Glasgow in 1987, where by the end of the night I was dancing cheek-to-cheek with “Big Tina” from the Gorbals.
The cafe was pretty busy on a Tuesday lunchtime – regulars rubbing shoulders with tradies – and the friendly staff seemed to be on first-name terms with a lot of the clientele and were incredibly polite.
The menu was compact with spring rolls, rice paper rolls, banh mi, pho, Vietnamese salads and some desserts.
The banh mi seemed to be very popular, but I wanted something more substantial.
It wasn’t long before the older lady brought over the steaming beef pho ($15) to my bench seat beside the window.
It was a fragrant affair with the coriander, spring onions, noodles and light broth creating an enticing aroma. The pho really came to life when I added some of the beansprouts, chillies and lemon juice from the side plate.
The finishing touch was a liberal dose of hoisin sauce which the lady from behind the counter had kindly brought over.
But what about the main attraction – the beef?
I’ve had plenty of phos with old shoe leather in there, but this thick-cut beef was tender and had no traces of fat.
The broth was nice and clear too; not swimming in a pool of oil.
I washed it all down with a watermelon juice ($5) which was nice enough, but a bit sweet for my tastes.
When Through the Barricades came on, it was time to leave, but the lunch was so good I got a Lemongrass beef salad and Vietnamese chicken salad (both $15) to take home for dinner
My wife “Special K” and I struggled to finish the massive bowl of salad which included a generous mound of rice noodles, shredded carrot, cucumber, lettuce and plenty of protein.
The little tub of fragrant dressing was a zesty delight that really brought out the flavours in the slices of tender chicken and beef.
Dinner was another success and I will be back to try Lucky’s spring rolls and banh mi.
181 Central Ave, Mount Lawley
by STEPHEN POLLOCK