A few years ago I went on an epic Asian adventure with one of my closest friends, Linda. Seven countries in under a month made for a non-stop roller coaster of sight seeing, shopping and of course, eating. Before I left I’d always had an interest in Vietnamese cuisine, but after eating bánh mì roadside in Ho Chi Minh I became a little obsessed. And it’s been hard to find something that lives up to that incredibly authentic experience. Even now I still think about that hot summer’s day where a local townswoman assembled my baguette with her bare hands. That sweet pickle, the flavoursome meat and the perfect bun – it all made such an impact on me.
Chatting to fellow food blogger, The Skinny, when joining him on his Food Loose Tours day outing recently he mentioned a new cafe that had opened in the city called Le Vietnam which focussed purely on bánh mì. Mentioning this to my boy, he immediately agreed we needed to give it a try.
Open Monday to Saturday from early until late afternoon, this cute little cafe sits on Barrack St opposite Utopia. It’s a surprising location that you’d miss if you weren’t looking out for it, but is easy to find. Inside it’s bright and very east meets west.
It treads that fine line sitting in the likes of chic theme and falling just short of being tacky. I really like the interior – it’s loud, vintage, bold and well suited to the name. It’s definitely both Parisian and Vietnamese all rolled into one. I especially love the mural by Perth artist Fudge which I had decided I would get a snap of after lunch but then there were so many people there after we finished I gave it a miss.
The menu here is mainly comprised on Vietnamese staple, bánh mì, which are the by product of French influence to create crusty baguettes filled with pork liver pate, pickled carrot, fresh herbs and cucumber and mayonnaise.
They have a range of different bánh mì options spanning from original, vegetarian, tuna, meatball etc, plus salads and an assortment of baked goods. The prices are extremely reasonable with the original bánh mì costing only $6. Yes, you read that right!
It doesn’t take us long to choose our orders. My boy, ever the purist, opts immediately for the original bánh mì which comes with Vietnamese ham and pork belly. It comes to the table with a good swirl of sriracha sauce which is a must have chilli sauce with all Asian food.
He dives straight in and declares it incredible. It has a great balance of flavours and textures, but most important is how spot on they got the bun. Quite often it’s the bun that is the downfall of a bánh mì, which is a real shame because this is the main premise of the dish. Le Vietnam’s is definitely worthy of praise – crunchy on the outside but wonderfully soft inside. As you bite down the outer crust flakes away and the overall experience is easy to digest whereas other places I’ve found myself giving up partway because the bread is too hard.
My choice for lunch is the Korean bulgogi pork bánh mì ($7.00) from the specials menu. I have such a penchant for marinated Korean meats, with many weekends spent down at the Korean butcher in Melville to get my fix.
In a bánh mì it was a perfect melding of different cuisines and flavours. The meat is tender and sweet, working well with the tart pickled carrot and the fresh coriander. I would have loved some more fish sauce flavour in the sandwich but I can understand that for western palates they might find the piquancy of the sauce a little polarising. I on the other hand am all for fish sauce – the more the merrier!
We finish off our meal with some complimentary chocolates from the lovely team at Le Vietnam. Yummy! I would have loved to get my hands on their mini bánh mì or slider cupcakes but sadly they didn’t have any that day. Oh well, I guess that just means I’ll need to go back soon for another try of their fantastic sandwiches.
If you’re in the city, or don’t mind travelling for food, I definitely recommend you try Le Vietnam. It’s extremely cheap compared to what everyone else is doing and the products on offer are damn tasty. Sit back, watch their big screen TV and indulge in a fresh coconut juice while escaping to Vietnam. We loved it so much we bought two original bánh mì to take away with us for dinner that night.
No longer will Girraween be my only option to satisfy cravings for this niche product which I can see that through this cafe, could become something the masses will love. And if you love the temperature turned up in flavour and heat, you can ask the staff to add chilli (warning, it’s hot!) and extra fish sauce too. I’ll definitely be back soon.