It’s a well-known fact that I adore Vietnamese food. After my trip across Vietnam in mid 2013, I can honestly say I would move there just for the amazing cuisine. I cannot get enough of the clean, fresh and beautifully balanced flavours. I had been bemoaning the lack of authentic Vietnamese restaurants within short driving distance of work (the ones I go to are in Otahuhu), and the culinary gods have answered in the form of Café Viet.
Café Viet has a very cosy interior, with murals harking to Saigon’s street scene, - (painted) exposed brickwork, trailing plants, dilapidated louvered shutters, faded yellow-washed walls and even a bicycle. There is seating in the front courtyard, and an area at the back for groups of up to 16. The plump, bright floral cushions invite you to relax into the seats.
The menu consists of staples, such as phở bò (rare beef noodle soup), grilled meats, salads and everyone's favourite spring rolls. I love that the owners have put the Vietnamese names of the dishes on the menu plus a guide to pronunciation.
My absolute favourite culinary experience in Vietnam was my daily glass (or three) of cà phê sữa đá, Vietnamese coffee served with sweet condensed milk and lots of ice. This is called café Viet on the menu ($4.50) and you can ask for this to come with ice. The coffee is even brewed in the traditional style, with a single-cup metal French drip filter (cà phê phin).
Darja, Barbara and I shared three dishes, and they were all beautifully presented. Savoury, sweet, sour, salty, all in one mouthful. The servings are more generous than it initially looked, and as much as we tried, we could not finish our dishes. We didn’t get to try the phở bò ($15) or the durian ice-cream sundae, which I will definitely get to in my next visit.
The bún gà sả (flame grilled lemongrass chicken, $19) was the most tender lemongrass chicken I have ever had. The chicken came with herbs and rice noodles that we sprinkled generously with nước mắm (dipping sauce made with fish sauce, lemon juice, sugar and chilli). It was also served with sweet potato curry puff and a lightly pickled salad which we ate on crackers.
Bánh hỏi thịt nướng ($19) translates to grilled pork (thịt nướng) on thin rice noodles (bánh hỏi). This dish also comes with three of the tastiest pork meatballs, and reminded me of the spectacular bún chả in Hanoi.
Bánh xèo (crisp rice flour crepe, $17) had a great crispy outside, and was generously filled with pork belly slices, prawns, mung bean sprouts, split mung beans and served with fresh Vietnamese mint, spearmint and coriander. You almost never Vietnamese mint in the restaurants or supermarkets here (even though they grow like a weed).
The food was authentic and delicious at Café Viet. I prefer the texture of the bánh xèo at Try It Out, but in terms of atmosphere, presentation and service, Café Viet easily trumps. This place is rightfully busy, so it pays to book if you're looking to visit for dinner.
2 Surrey Crescent, Grey Lynn, Auckland
Ph: 09 – 378 8738
Open 7 days, lunch 11:30am – 2:30pm, dinner 5:30 – 10pm
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