The last few weeks I’ve realised my scoring system is totally wack. I mean, who ranks things out of 15? It’s not even divisible by 100, I hate that. So I’ve come up with a slightly different, more logical system. As the filling of bánh mì’s vary at bakeries more than any other ingredient, it will still be ranked out of 5. Salad and dressing is very important, but it is often overpowered or taken in less regard than the filling, so it will now be ranked out of 3. Finally the bread rolls: they are usually quite similar, but can sometimes be really great or really bad and are now ranked out of 2. That now adds up to 10, nice, much better.
252 Smith St, Collingwood
Filling: 4/5 (BBQ Pork)
One does feel pity at times for Sunny’s Bakery. It is located on a super happening strip, filled with popular cafes and restaurants, but more importantly, a few doors down from the almighty N.Lee. Establishing a large customer-base is very challenging when the nearest Vietnamese bakery receives all the limelight and has queues spilling out the door every day. On a normal day, it is near-on impossible to walk down Smith Street without someone chewing from a N.Lee labelled paper-bag encasing a precious bánh mì. But sunny’s, well, they hang their heads high.
I entered into a very clean space, with all the food and signs very nicely presented. To continue with the comparison to N.Lee, I ordered the grilled pork – with an identical price tag – and was met with a, “do you want everything?”, yes please! The pork was scooped from a massive pile – one downside about N.Lee, they are always running out of hot pork – the chicken and meatball options also looked tasty. I bid goodbye to the friendly staff and went outside to do the photo business when a woman of older age asked me if I was going to make a profit from the shots. “No, no, it’s just for my blog”, I replied, and she went on to tell me how Sunny’s was her favourite bakery and that she goes there on a frequent basis, while simultaneously it seemed that the bakery was filling out a bit. Maybe I was wrong about this place.
So, due to this anonymous woman, my expectations had risen dramatically, and I had to focus extra hard on what I was swallowing. Immediately I noticed that the bread was not heated – this is minor, most places don’t heat their rolls to serve – because I had been to N.Lee the day before. What followed was a satisfying bánh mì. The pork was Cantonese-roast style without the heap of fat, and although lukewarm had a nice bite to it. The salad was fresh and crunchy, I especially liked the pickled carrots. Dressing-wise, it was interesting. While the flavour of it was not overwhelming, the mayonnaise at times was too strong, and mixed with the pâté formed a taste resembling garlic bread. Now don’t be put off by this, I was concentrating deeply and probably got carried away – the bánh mì here are good. If only Sunny’s had opened in a different area (I suggest mine) and didn’t have to compete with the all-conquering N.Lee.
220 Smith St, Collingwood
Filling: 4.5/5 (BBQ Pork)
I was of the belief that Nguyen’s bakery was invincible, at least in Melbourne. But then I went back to N.Lee in Collingwood, a visit that was long overdue. I can firmly state that the throne has been overthrown.
It is not even slightly a coincidence that N.Lee bakery has built up the popularity and reputation it has. You would be hard-pressed to find a single customer who wasn’t impressed by their visit to the joint. N.Lee attracts a diverse range of bánh mì consumers, both locals and far away commuters. When you walk through the glass opening of the shopfront, you can instantly get a sense of their success. The interior is super clean with a modern design and the many staff handling the filing crowds are really friendly and helpful. And then the bánh mì… Wow!
There is a huge amount of ingredients to fill your roll, but I strongly recommend the grilled pork. Usually at bakeries that serve hot pork bánh mì, the meat is kept in a bain-marie, however at N.Lee cold pork from the deli fridge is lightly grilled on the BBQ. This does mean it takes substantially longer (not to mention the wait to be served) than other bakeries, but the beneficial and fresh method of preparing makes the extra time absolutely worth it – the result is quite simply awesome. Complimenting this is the salad and dressings. The amount of lettuce and carrot is perfectly balanced and the dressing works in pure harmony with the meat – not overpowering but not too light on. Lastly there is the bread roll which isn’t completely torpedo shaped, but with its crunchiness, freshness, size and heat, who cares. I was so in love with the meal I was bolting down, that when I had finished, I clinged onto the bag and licked the juices and any fallen bits of goodness off the paper – disgusting I know. The beautiful taste that lingered in my mouth comforted me all the way home.
169 Carlisle St, Balaclava
Filling: 3.5/5 (BBQ Pork)
Wendy’s Bakery serve a quite unconvential bánh mì, but does it demand a visit?
In an area renowned for its Jewish culture, pork can be a hard food substance to come by. Stumbling down Carlisle Street I saw a generic blue and white sign: it said simply ‘Bakery’. I went in, re-emerging with a grilled pork bánh mì in my hand.
The ingredients of a bánh mì have been built into me like a computer program, so it’s always surprising when that recipe is altered. Instead of the standard soy sauce dressing, Wendy’s squeazes hoi sin all over the place. It’s actually quite nice, but coupled with the barbequed pork makes it feel like Cantonese take-away stuffed in a bread roll. When I requested for pâté, the served shovelled in a big gloop of it. It was way too strong.
The answer to the above question is no unfortunately. With the price you are paying I don’t think I’ll be making any immediate returns, the quality isn’t there. They did have pretty good bread rolls though.
128 Chapel St, Windsor
Filling: 4/5 (BBQ Chicken)
Okay, when I originally reviewed Nguyen’s Hot Bread, I was fairly inexperienced and hadn’t yet been to many bakeries throughout the city. I went back recently and wasn’t as blown away as my first visit.
Bánh mì is still nice here. The BBQ chicken that I ordered was tasty enough, but not as moist as it could be, especially at peak service time. An alternative, roast pork with crackling, is usually quite good, though both are over six dollars which is borderline too expensive. Serves are generous and pâté is offered, but a lack of soy or salt and pepper really harms the overall combination. Nguyen’s is good without being great.
Flinders Street Station (on St Kilda Road), Melbourne
Filling: 3.5/5 (BBQ Pork)
Located in the transport hub of Melbourne City, this little bakery generates a fair bit of traffic itself. They have everything a hungry busy person would need at peak hours.
Now to the bánh mì. It’s quite a difficult one to mark. In terms of taste the roll is very nice. But, the thing is, there is too much taste. They really do love their soy sauce here: the roll is so saturated in it that the other dressing is obsolete, and by the time you reach the tailend, the bread is a wet, salty mess. The quality of the ingredients are a bit disappointing for the price and the meat is quite fatty. However, if your stomach is begging you for a feed and there is a train to catch, the Station is very handy.
N.B. Just because this place is in a major train station and has unusually long hours for a bakery, don’t be fooled into getting a bánh mì too late on as they microwave the meat and sometimes run out of the proper rolls.
101 Chapel Street, Windsor
Filling: 2/5 (BBQ Pork)
I’ve been back to Daily Bell and you may have noted the change of rating. It seems unfair to dramatically change a rating of a place after one visit but the bánh mì I got was a complete disappointment. Not only was there a distinct lack of meat, but the salad was drenched in this sweet dressing that wiped out the flavour of anything else and made the below standard bread roll extremely soggy. This was undoubtedly the worst roll I have ever eaten and it hurts me a lot to say that. I will go back once more to establish whether this was a one-off, but for a little bit extra, across the road Nguyen’s Hot Bread are serving up much better bánh mì.