We adore Nhu Lan and they won best banh mi in our recent limited-sample yet highly scientific blind banh mi taste test. That morning I thought it was time, though, to see what the rest of the west had to offer. Fresh Chilli Deli started in 2007 in St Albans and now has a new branch in Sunshine.
It's a slicker operation than most banh mi shops. Your order is placed at one counter, docket dispensed and then made at another. Choices are your classic fillings with the addition of fish cake (Nhu Lan has fish cake but not on the menu - just ask for it). There are also Aussie selections like ham or salami and cheese.
If you are scared of Vietnamese rolls because of the long-ago salmonella outbreak in Footscray, please don't be concerned. That shop is long gone and it is like being scared of driving because a car might crash - in fact, the odds are more like flying and a plane crash of you getting sick from a pork roll these days. The classic cold mixed ham is actually not my favourite - I prefer the hot meat offerings like BBQ pork or chicken. You can see the pork and chicken fillets here as well as the two varieties of meatball - either in the thick red sauce or the spongier style, threaded on skewers and often called "kebab".
The best part of the roll, though, is the salad - mild pickled carrot and white radish (would be paw paw in Vietnam, I believe), cucumber spear, spring onion and fresh coriander. The crunchy long roll is spread with pate and "egg butter" (special mayo), your choice of meat and its appropriate sauce, then all that wonderful salad.
Iced coffee, $3 ($2.50 with roll)
The big thing I liked about Fresh Chilli is the fact that you can have a coffee there - they have an espresso machine and make a quite decent latte, according to my lovely friend C. Coffees are $3 or $2.50 with a roll - brilliant! This iced coffee was fantastic, so strong and rich, like a shot of adrenaline. They do rely on the ice melting to create a long, refreshing drink and unfortunately that day was chilly so it was quite a short-lived pleasure.
Nhu Lan have a brilliant tofu banh mi - big chunks in a rich, dark sauce. One tofu and one salad is Mr Baklover's standard order so I was pleasantly surprised to find Fresh Chilli did tofu too. I was not mad about this - tofu is tricky to make flavoursome all the way through and I found the centres of these puffs a bit boring. The sauce was thin and light and not what I expected. Mr Baklover thought it was quite nice though.
Sorry, this was a bit of an epic fail, mainly because of our expectations. Nhu Lan's salad baguette is a meat banh mi just minus the meat. This was a regular Aussie salad sanger with tomato and red onion and too much thick Aussie mayo. If you wanted a salad sandwich it would be fine but we wanted that real Vietnamese taste.
BBQ Chicken, $3.50
Awesome BBQ chicken though, chopped up small and here, the quality of the salad shone through. Lots of chilli just the way I like it as well as Vietnamese BBQ sauce and little fried onions. Perfection!
I think we ordered badly here - I will definitely go back to try the rest of the BBQ meat options as the chicken was a winner and the classic salad fillings were quality and very tasty. I reckon this would be a great spot to bring a friend or family member who wasn't into classic Vietnamese rolls. There's outdoor seating which is great for lounging about on a sunny day. I came past here one day and saw about 15 or so bicycle cops in their fluoro yellow vests, all chowing down on banh mi. True story. That's quite a resounding endorsement!
Fresh Chilli Deli
Shop 2/304 Hampshire Road, Sunshine (map)
Phone: 9678 6959