Twelve Spices, Canley Heights

10 January 2011
by Phuoc

Twelve Spices has always been a local favourite with my family; serving up a mixture of Thai and Laotian dishes, the food is always cheap, authentic and really good. Recently they’ve renovated the restaurant and I can’t help but think they are trying to keep up with a nearby competitor in regards to modernising the restaurant with contemporary decor (something which is quite rare in the Cabramatta/Canley area). I also noticed that there were a lot more non-Asians in the restaurant then what it was before the renovation; so I was afraid that the food would change and become “westernised” to accommodate the non-Asians but was pleased that the food remained authentic and exactly like what I had before.

There are several dishes that we always order here and ideally these dishes are meant to be shared and served with some sticky rice.

Papaya salad is a must at any Thai/Lao restaurant. Both counties have slight variations of this dish. The Lao one features green papaya, lime juice, crab paste (which provides a salty element to the salad), cherry tomatoes and chilli, topped with dried shrimp whilst the Thai one has the addition of fish sauce and tamarind instead of the crab paste and it’s topped with peanuts. These salads are made to order so you can specify how hot you would like it. I love it hot. One time I requested (I think) 6 chillies in my salad just for the sake of it and it was pretty hot to the point that my face was numbing but it was oh so good!

We ordered the Lao Papaya Salad (Tum Mak ) ($8.80) because my dad likes the little fermented crab that comes with crab paste and this time we requested for the salad to be mild. The salad is crunchy and the sour, spicy, salty and sweet flavours are perfectly balanced. A chunk of cabbage is provided as an accompaniment to mellow out the spicy flavour.

Another must have dish is larb ($9.90) which is a Lao-style salad made with finely diced beef with roughly ground toasted rice, tripe, shallots, coriander and chilli (made to the desired spiciness). We always have this salad raw and I think it should be the only way to have it in my opinion; it is “cook” by adding a squeeze of lemon juice over the salad. Think of it as eating steak tartare with the typical balanced Thai flavours. I love the addition of the ground rice as it imparts a slightly roasted flavour and crunch to the entire salad.

You could also have the same style salad with finely diced chicken or pork ($9.90), or duck ($12.90); which will be cooked of course.

The Lao sausages ($8.80) are homemade pork sausages served with Nam Jim. Nam Jim is a dipping sauce made of fish sauce, chilli, garlic, lime juice and palm sugar; it is a dipping sauce which encompasses the key flavour elements (sweet, salty, sour and spicy) of Thai/Lao cuisine. The sausage is packed with aromatic spices and herbs and pan fried until crispy.

This has got to be my all time favourite Laotian dish. You see, I was brought up eating many foods that would be considered “weird”. I have fond memories of my dad taking us to Lao restaurants in Fairfield when I was very young to have ox tongue with sticky rice until he started making them at home. Do not knock it back until you taste it. I don’t think it has a strong, gamey taste and the texture is very tender (when cooked properly – like all meat I guess) but it’s nothing like meat, if you know what I mean.

The ox tongue (Lin Yang) ($8.80) here at Twelve Spices has got to be one of the best ox tongues I’ve had at a restaurant. It is cooked to perfection, almost medium to well done, which means it remains juicy and tender. The Nam Jim is superb with these fat, juicy slices of ox tongue; all served with a bowl of sticky rice and I’m a happy girl.

This crunchy rice ball salad (Nam Khao) ($9.90) is such a great dish. It is a specialty Laotian fried rice dish where balls of rice are deep fried until crisp, broken up before serving and mixed with a Laotian-style sour pork, chilli, coriander, shallots and peanuts. There is an abundance of crunch to this rice dish, which I absolutely love and the sour pork provides a nice slight tang to the dish. However, I’m pretty certain that the serving size of this dish was bigger when I last had it, which was somewhat disappointing as this is possibly the best fried rice dish ever.

We decided to try something different on the menu and found a picture of tasty looking prawns on the front cover and it apparently turned out to be stir-fried tamarind prawns (Goong Makharm) ($14.90). The prawns were succulent and the tamarind sauce was nicely balanced with a hint of sweetness. Although it was nice, it wasn’t as outstanding as the other dishes we were having.

I’ve had this dish before (at another restaurant) and thoroughly enjoyed it. So I was pleased to see it make an appearance on the menu as (I think) it wasn’t available on the menu before and I was eager to try it again. Now I know that the raw prawn salad (Goong Dip) ($14.90) wouldn’t be on the top of every one’s list to try but when you think about it, it is like a ceviche. It is served with a chilli and lime dressing and some shredded lettuce; and another squeeze of lemon “cooks” it. The prawns were fresh and I really enjoyed the simple dressing; it wasn’t really spicy at all despite the fact that it may look it (although my tolerance to chilli is quite high).

When eating out with my family, we don’t really order desserts but it’s nice to know that Twelve Spices also offer daily dessert specials. It would be interesting to see what they serve as I remember from last time that all they had was fried ice cream.

So once again Twelve Spices doesn’t fail to impress and I will definitely have to come back again to try their desserts, more dishes eg Yum Pu Nim (soft shell crab with green apple and green  mango salad topped with cashew nuts) and crispy chilli basil crocodile and of course have a few of my favourite dishes. Do keep in mind that you should always book on Friday and Saturday nights because this place was surprisingly packed when we rocked up as a table of 6 on a Friday night without a booking.  Before we’ve never had the issue of waiting for a table because there would always be a table available but we were lucky to be seated.

I think this revamp and new management is definitely doing good things for the restaurant and I am pleased that the food has remained the same.

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  1. chocolatesuze

    ooh the raw prawn salad sounds interesting, do the prawns have a squishy texture?

  2. Howard

    I like their nam khao, I usually get it for takeaway and have it with fried chicken made at home lol! I think there is another 12 Spices, maybe the old one from before, it has moved to Cabramatta Rd in the Mount Pritchard area.

  3. anh

    the ox tounge (and the whole meal) is awesome! I sometimes cook it the way we would cook pho – as in the same spice mix. Preparing it is kinda off, but I love the taste.
    Will we take me here? *hint*

  4. Margaret | fangirlish

    How is it that I completely missed this place! I’ve been on a Thai/Lao eating spree these holidays – definitely let us know if you end up going the soft shell crab! Few places do it right.

  5. joey@FoodiePop

    Looks like a great place to try. I just need to get off my lazy backside and actually get out that way west.

  6. Richard Elliot

    Those homemade sausages look good! Are they made with sticky rice in the por mixture like the Thai style sausages?

  7. Betty @ The Hungry Girl

    Everything looks delicious! There’s so many Thai/Laos places in Fairfield and Canley Heights, it’s so hard to choose. I love love love that crunchy fried rice too! Thanks for the review, I’m definitely going to give this place a try! Oh, my family very rarely orders dessert as well!!

  8. Simon @ the heart of food

    Never seen larb served raw before. Looks interesting. Same too for the raw prawn salad.

    With dishes like that, it looks like they’re not dumbing things down to suit western tastes thankfully.

  9. deeba

    What an absolutely delicious day out you’ve had! This post is making me HUNGRRRRRRRRY!!

  10. mademoiselle délicieuse

    I would’ve expected much more expensive prices given the decor the place, so I’m very impressed with the renovations! Absolutely love ox tonuge and agree that it’s different in texture to meat generally – smoother, perhaps?

  11. Mark @ Cafe Campana

    Ooo the food does look very good. But Phuoc, isn’t it a bad idea sharing a hidden gem with the Sydney Food community, now you will need to wait ages for a booking.

  12. Helen (grabyourfork)

    i love som tum but omg that crispy rice ball salad! so delicious but so hard to find! i can’t believe you asked for six chillies ‘just for the sake of it’. lol

  13. Iron Chef Shellie

    that sausage looks so yum!!

  14. john@heneedsfood

    I want those sausages now! And that juicy tongue!

  15. smalls

    After reading your review, i got a few of my friends together and went to try it out. Its been years since we’ve been here but since its under new management and is fully refurbished we gave it another shot. With the modern fit out we expected the food to be slightly “westernised” BUT to our surprise it was bursting with authentic flavours and the chillies packed a punch.

    They had a fantastic selection of dishes available from salads to curries, as well as traditional Lao dishes. Their staff were very attentive and was always checking up on us.

    They had an extensive range of fruits for their fresh fruit shakes, I ordered the Avocado Shake (best one I’ve ever had, EVER), Watermelon Shake, Pineapple with Lychee Shake, Sour Sop & Strawberry with Lychee Shake. They were so fresh and the perfect companion for our meal. I would definitely recommend Twelve Spices! I’ll be back for sure!

  16. betty

    hey i love this place and it was fancy bumpin into u there :O)

  17. bubble&squeak

    What great looking dishes. Pity that I’m only a million miles away from what looks to be one cool meal. I’ll have to live it through your pictures. I love Lao food. Haven’t come across anything similar here.

    Haven’t been in Sydney for years. You guys have such great food in that part of the world. I miss it everyday I am away.

    BTW, I really love your restaurant reviews.

  18. Bonita

    Hey Phuoc !
    Nice to meet you tonight at Nat’s party.
    Keep up the good work & maybe we shall eat together some time!

  19. JasmyneTea

    Absolutely love your blog.
    I think I really have to start checking out the Canley Vale area! I live like 10 minutes away but I’ve never actually been, and this post makes me really want to go.
    Would you say that Thai or Laotian food is spicier?

  20. angie

    I still can’t bring myself to try ox tongue… =D ewww =p

  21. Trisha

    I’ve never had Laotian food! The prawn dishes look amazing! PS I used to work at the surgery next door. LOL

  22. Phuoc

    Chocolatesuze: Squishy yet firm 🙂

    Howard: I think you’re right, when Twelve Spices was renovating they took over management of the thai restaurant on Lord St, not too sure if they are still there though..

    Anh: Heheh… I remember preparing it once, so much fun was had when I had to cut the taste buds off the tongue but OMG it was so good!

    Margaret: Will do, it sounds delicious!

    Joey: You do! The west has so many cheap and wonderful restaurants.

    Richard: I don’t think so..

    Betty: Maybe it’s an asian thing since we don’t really have that many dessert like european cuisines.. I’m craving for that crunchy ball salad now.. Mmmm

    Simon: Yeah I’m so glad too because the last thing we all need is another westernised asian restaurant. Raw larb is yum! DO try it next time when you spot it!

    Deeba: Hehe.. Food is absolutely delish here. Reading food blogs whilst hungry is not a good thing.

    Mademoiselle délicieuse: Yeah I would’ve described ox tongue as being smooth but wasn’t sure if anyone would get me.. This is why I am happy they didn’t increased the prices too much because of the renovation.

    Mark: Hehe.. It’s not really a bad idea at all. I feel all good food should be shared and the need to educated others on a cuisine (Laotian) that may be a little foreign because there aren’t that many Laotian restaurants around Sydney (there are plenty of Thai restaurants on the othe hand though); it’s only in the west that you’d be able to find these gems and I’m lucky to have them all in close proximity to me.

    Helen: The rice ball salad is indeed hard to find but I’d imagine it would be easy to make as well. Make fried rice, roll it into balls, fry and crush up and enjoy.. Mmmm…

    Iron Chef Shellie: Indeed it was *drools*

    John: Hehehe… Maybe I should prepare ox tongue for the next food blogger’s picnic 😛

    Smalls: Hi! Glad to read that you enjoyed yourself at Twelves Spices!

    Betty: Good to see you too dear!

    Bubble&Squeak: Hi! I’m glad that you are enjoying my reviews but bummed that you are not able to enjoy them here. I’m sure you have a list of restaurants lined up for you to try when you do get to visit Sydney again; I hope for you that that visit will come soon 🙂

    Bonita: Hey! Nice to meet you too..

    JasmyneTea: Cool! Well I hope you do get to try it out soon. In my opinion, Laotian food tends to be spicer.

    Angie: I’m going to feed it to you one day and not tell you what it is until AFTER you’ve had it and compliment on how good it is! Like I said, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

    Trisha: OMG! That’s criminal! How could you work there and NOT have tried this restaurant out?! (Unless it was long before it opened then you are excused) Laotian food is fairly similar to Thai but I think a touch better 🙂

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