397 Sydney Road, Brunswick
Filling: 3.5/5 (Pork Loaf)
Sydney Road is more known for its Middle Eastern bakeries, than Vietnamese, but it was on a sweltering hot day that I came across K.H. Hot Bread. It is a simple bakery and the staff are welcoming.
I thought I may as well get the pork loaf, which I am becoming more fond of each time. Being cold, it seems the wise decision when eating past lunch time, when the hot meat is not as fresh. After crunching through bread, which was a bit too crunchy, I was met with a pleasant surprise. The person who served me snuck in meatballs, a nice complimentary touch. Although I am not really a fan of Vietnamese meatballs, it did go well with the pork loaf and give the bánh mì more moisture. Unfortunately the salad was lacking and the dressing not as strong as it could be. It is a decent bánh mì.
Filling: 4/5 (BBQ Chicken)
I have to get something out of the way. I’ve been putting off a visit to N Tran for sometime. Why? Walk in, look at the menu, at the prices. This is too expensive for bánh mì in comparison to other Vietnamese bakeries in Melbourne. And it is a successful place, a lot of customers – the prices could definitely be lowered. Also, I don’t want tomato or beetroot in my salad, please. N Tran automatically serve westernised ingredients, so be assertive when ordering. Now, after saying I wanted Vietnamese salad, I was charged 30 cents for coriander. Not good, not at all.
N Tran very nearly make up for the frustration I had prior to biting into my bánh mì. It is what you expect a good quality salad roll to be, which the front window claims the place is famous for. The untraditional sesame seed roll was the best I’ve had outside N.Lee and the salad inside very fresh. BBQ Chicken is a tad soft, but otherwise tasty, dampened by too much salt from the dressing. If I could regularly drop $7 for lunch, I would, at N Tran.
116 Hopkins Street, Footscray
Filling: 4.5/5 (BBQ Pork)
It’s got a near perfect score on UrbanSpoon. The place is always chockers. The range of products is stunning, from sweet to the salty. Plonked right in the heart of Footscray’s vast Asian community, Nhu Lan has it all.
My brain and mid-region got incredibly excited when I peared through the glass to the ingredients and up at the colourful menu. Everything looked so tasty, I could easily spend multiple days, queuing up in the line ordering a different bánh mì for the variety. Grilled pork, my personal favourite, won out over all competitors and I got one at an exceptional price.
Maybe I went on the wrong day, or maybe I got an inexperienced server but I’m going to have to go against the general adoration of the place and say it wasn’t the greatest I’ve ever had. It’s tough to say, as the pork was so succulent and tasty and the bread roll was great. The dressing wasn’t at the same level though – I could barely taste the pâté and mayonaisse, just soy sauce. The bánh mì was amazing when not pitted against anything else, but the issue with the dressing brings down its overall score a fraction. Still, going to Nhu Lan is a must.
Filling: 3.5/5 (BBQ Chicken)
The South Melbourne (now Sydney) Swans had just won the AFL Grand Final, the largest annual single-day sporting event in the country and I was ecstatic by this result. The next day I made a trip to South Melbourne and it was amazing to see all the loyal supporters of the club wearing red and white (Swans’ colours) in the streets, on the way to the suburb’s well known market. I always love going to the market, there is a real buzz that comes with the experience, the celebratory atmosphere carrying on from the previous day making it even greater.
Having not touched a bánh mì in over two months I had been getting cravings and seeing people chomping on torpedo shaped salad rolls got me excited that there might be a new bakery. The sign of BaBa, a Vietnamese store at the market, confirmed my day’s lunch. Chicken kafir lime, an unfamiliar option to me, would be my choice and it certainly looked appetising through the glass window. I nearly stopped the woman, putting coleslaw into my roll after I asked for Vietnamese salad, but this turned out to be the BaBa staple. Absolutely packed with salad, the coleslaw worked well with the ingredients, especially the lime flavour of the chicken. Uncommonly, the meat filling was almost overpowered by the mass of salad and it was very soft, with a texture similar to tofu, but was still quite nice. Another overload in this bánh mì was the dressing, rich in flavour and literally seeping out of the roll to form a pond at the bottom of the paper bag. By the end of my feed, the bread – which was as per usual – was a soggy mess and I struggled to avoid an accident with the dripping juices. It is hard for any food joint at the market to compete with the delightful deep-fried specialties of South Melbourne Dim Sims, but BaBa offers a tasty alternative with their bánh mì.
62 Little Collins Street, Melbourne
Filling: 3.5/5 (Pork Loaf)
Situated at the opposite side of the city to Roll’d is the city version of N.Lee Bakery. It’s purpose is basically identical, catering to the many hungry officeworkers, opened at weekday lunchtimes only. Whereas Roll’d is more of a Vietnamese fast-food restaurant, N.Lee is more of a cafe, offering gourmet sandwiches, sweet snacks and seating to read the newspaper while digesting delicious bánh mì.
The East part of the city is very annoying to get to, you have to walk, a long way (sort of) and sometimes my legs aren’t up to it. Okay, that was part lie, I’m not that lazy, but when trams can take you anywhere else (in the city) it feels primitive to be travelling on foot and anyways apart from N.Lee it’s just skyscrapers out there. Of course, the trip is totally worth it when you catch a view of the massive deli-fridge and frantic staff, busily filling bread rolls to control the peak hour queues. Fans of the traditional Vietnamese bakery may not get the same vibe inside N.Lee but the standard is expectedly at the same level to its Collingwood counterpart while serving to a different market. Disappointingly, a new location comes with a price rise. At the city N.Lee, you are paying $1.50 more for the same product than on Smith Street.
I went to the counter and without much thought asked for a BBQ pork bánh mì. I was met with ‘no’. What, that is odd. I know hot pork is an ingredient not common in Vietnam due to availability/price but I don’t think I’ve been to a place in Melbourne that don’t serve it in some form and it is my favourite filling. Oh well, another pork loaf down the chute in a few days, it’s still good. Being N.Lee, the meat it better than most other places, though its cold nature, in my mind, stopping it from being drool-over amazing. The dressing was as usual superb; that combination with the pork was meant to be. What truly sets N.Lee apart from the competitors is their wonderfully fresh bread rolls. It seems they have just come out of the oven each time, keeping your hands warm through the paper bag as you step back into the cold. I get such pleasure slouching back in my chair and letting the bread crumbs scatter all over my front, it’s a sign of a good quality roll. Inside, equally as fresh and crunchy, the salad waits and gee, a serious load of it gets consumed every day. I’d rather go to Collingwood for the explained reasons but if you can’t get any further than Little Collins Street for your upcoming feed, there’s not exactly any reason to complain.
Shop TG10, Goldsbrough Lane, 181 William Street
Filling: 4/5 (Pork Loaf)
I hate shopping complexes. When caught inside I feel queasy, I feel disorientated, it’s awful. The blaring downlights and mirror floor tiles, the sickly commerical focus, and the strategic trails, manipulating one’s mind to purchase average goods, too much. Food courts, at least in Melbourne, are just as bad (there are exceptions). Mostly chain stores serving up mediocre, over-priced food on a plastic tray in a sad enclosed space. Well I have to say, if I was a suited business man, I’d eat at Roll’d, in a newly-developed sterile complex better than most.
Roll’d is completely office-worker oriented in the western area of the city. It closes at 3pm and doesn’t open on weekends, so it has been a real challenge to make the trip. I’m in the city a lot, playing video games and I’ve heard only positive things about the place, why not give it a go? Many new pho joints have been opening recently with clean fit-outs and a fresh approach and Roll’d (who also serve pho, gọi and bún) look to capitilize on the new-wave Vietnamese dining. In fact, it is the first bánh mì joint I’ve been to that wasn’t a bakery. While these restaurants are heavily focused on healthy, good-quality ingredients, the food comes at an extremely higher price and many will say, including me, that the experience and taste is not the same as the traditional places. At $6.20, bánh mì at Roll’d is the most expensive I’ve seen and the crackling pork option (which I heart so much) bumps it up a dollar.
I went with a friend not long before closing time and we were served, apparently, the last two bread rolls. Despite the time, the rolls were very good, crunchy and big. Not prepared to shell out coins on the roast pig, I orderered the ‘classic pork roll’ which was basically pork loaf, but better. The slices were tasty and served in good quantity, not random bits shoved in like some places. The salad was abundant and great, with the odd inclusion of spring onion strips and a thick smear of (homemade?) mayonnaise/pâté caps it off. I don’t think soy sauce was used, so the mayonnaise was strong and the main dressing.
What was a very satisfying bánh mì left me questioning, is it worth it? Well, compared to many other things around, yes, especially in this area, but I’m not on a wage like the people who go here regularly and it remains in doubt whether I’ll return any time soon. Typical of their image, Roll’d name the dishes on their menu strange names, like Mr. Bun Mee, Roll’d Soldiers (rice paper rolls) and Uncle Pho, luckily the friendly young Australian-Vietnamese staff knew what I want, and it was pretty good.
109 Carlisle St, Balaclava
Filling: 2.5/5 (BBQ Pork)
Top Taste isn’t quite that. I wish it was, the two that work there are oh so nice and the location is convenient for me. But it’s not quite good enough.
Too much lettuce, there is way too much shredded lettuce in this bánh mì. I don’t mind when lettuce is added, it isn’t a traditional ingredient though and an overload can make the bread and paper soggy. There is so much of it that you can’t taste much else – which is actually okay – totally overrun. The bánh mì doesn’t taste bad, but the all the best flavours are covered up. Top Taste is dingy inside, the unappealing dim lighting not welcoming. The place looks very tired, an overhaul propably needed. Until then, I don’t have great reason to come back