My friend wrote to me recently with a scandalous confession. "I have never eaten Vietnamese food before," she confided. "Will you teach me?" Absolutely!! Where else better to do it too than her new local Quan Viet which has opened on the site of an old chicken shop in South Road, Braybrook.
Sometimes when something is the only "one" in an area, you worry they have no bar to meet. Not so here - the food is unreal and there are heaps of interesting regional specialties from the southern part of Vietnam's eastern coastline. It's only small but the decor is lovely, contemporary yet colourful. With six kids between us, we made so much mess and noise but no-one minded a jot.
Some rocket fuel to get the tummies rumbling. J remarked that Vietnamese coffee tastes like Tootsie Rolls - I have to concur! Don't suck it down too fast, let the ice melt a little to create a long, cold drink.
Nem cuon Nha Trang (Nha Trang grilled pork patties rice paper rolls), $9
These are a house special and a delicacy from Nha Trang in south-eastern Vietnam. They are freshly rolled with chargrilled nem nuong pork patties (very springy from the baking powder and very finely ground pork used), a skinny, crunchy spring roll with a little spring onion inside, and plenty of fresh herbs and vegies. The sauce is totally new to me. It was orange, smooth, mild and lip-smackingly good! We asked and were told it contained pork - maybe this is it. These are fabulous in flavour and in texture, with juicy, smoky meat, the crunch of the roll and the sweet, cool vegies. See here for a home-style banquet of these rolls.
Banh hoi dac biet (sugarcane prawn, grilled pork & spring rolls on angel vermicelli), $12
Poor J - I was torn between wanting to show her the classics and selfishly wanting to try unusual things! Luckily Quan Viet offers this fantastic combo which means you can have your spring rolls but eat your sugarcane prawns too. Take a cup of lettuce, fill with herbs and a "mat" of very fine vermicelli (they come in little squares), lay with your choice of spring roll, sugarcane prawn (prawn mince molded around sugarcane and fried/grilled) or excellent, smoky, juicy grilled pork. Roll up tight and dip in fish sauce. The classic Vietnamese flavour combo - superb.
Com bo luc lac (Shaken beef on rice), $9
This was J's favourite dish of the day and indeed it was excellent. It's called shaken or shaking beef for the motion of the searing hot wok as you quickly toss cubes of beef back and forth. The beef here was really tender and juicy. To be really authentic, it doesn't come with a thick cornflour-based sauce but the beef juices just speak for themselves, soaking into the classic tomato-red rice. Here it was served with a dipping sauce made with just freshly-squeezed lime into a mix of salt and pepper. Really great.
Com tam dac biet (broken rice with pork spare rib, shredded pork, eggloaf, fried egg), $9
The Vietnamese everyman's meal - the most classic everyday lunch. It may or may not come with a bowl of chicken broth but will come with a bowl of seasoned fish sauce for dousing. The egg here was gorgeous with a runny, sunny yolk, atop a generous serve of broken rice. The pork chop was delicious, big and meaty with a tasty, sweet marinade.
Com chien cua (Crab meat fried rice), $11
I spotted a couple having a plate of this to themselves each. It was fantastic - rich and tasty with soft shreds of egg and pieces of sweet, good quality crab meat. This sort of fried rice isn't really for covering with another meat-based stir fry, but for enjoying on its own merits.
Banh khot vung tau (Vung Tau Crispy Mini Rice Cake), $9
I went back with another friend recently to investigate more regional specialties at Quan Viet. These are teeny little patty pan-sized steamed cakes made from coconut milk and rice flour (see here for a recipe). Each is dotted with a juicy niblet of prawn and (I think) sprinkled with prawn floss (essentially ground dried prawns). They taste just like mini banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake). Roll up in lettuce with mint and pickled carrot and dip in classic seasoned fish sauce - a flavour and texture sensation! These are very rarely seen on Melbourne restaurant menus - Alan enjoyed some at Richmond's Thanh Ha 2.
Mi ga chien don (egg noodle with crispy chicken), $9
When we came here originally, we totally neglected the other side of the Vietnamese food coin - all its soups in their sweet, sour, herbaceous or chilli-slicked glory. This is a naughty favourite of mine - a bowl of egg noodles in flavoursome chicken broth, with a crispy fried chicken Maryland on the side. Oh my! The chicken was awesome, the skin crackly and gorgeous and the meat succulent. The noodles didn't rock my world though - I think they were dried rather than fresh, which is perfectly acceptable but I love that springiness fresh mi (egg noodles) have.
I loved my meals here and really dig the neighbourhood vibe. There are still more unusual goodies to check out on their menu like tom hoa tien, conical spring rolls apparently known as "rocket shrimp rolls", filled with crab and with a prawn tail poking cheekily out one end. Lucky Braybrook residents can wander here on a summer's evening, and even if it's not within walking distance, I reckon it is worth the trip.
Check out Kenny's recent visit here.
Quan Viet - Facebook - see menu below
103 South Road, Braybrook
Hours: 6 days, 10am-9pm - CLOSED TUESDAYS
Phone: 9312 1009
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