The problem with these manufactured areas (think Southbank and Fed Square) is they don't really develop naturally. In food terms, they open ready-populated with cafes and restaurants that have been installed to hit certain price points and not much else. I was at Fed Square recently and asked the usher at ACMI, "Where's the best coffee place here?" She looked at me helplessly and we both smiled. "Degraves Street?" she finally offered.
That's why VinTam's Bakery, tucked away in Docklands, is really exciting. Walk past endless cookie-cutter panini bars and you'll come across this bakery and Vietnamese cafe, so popular it has reversed the trend and actually taken over an empty shop next door.
They do good banh mi, from mixed ham to nem nuong (a springy, hot pink pork kebab) plus a menu of home-style Vietnamese dishes like ca ri ga (chicken curry), Vietnamese coleslaw and pho.
Beef pho, $10
This sliced beef pho was delish and could hold its head up anywhere along Hopkins Street. The beef, tender brisket and rare wafer-thin slices, was tasty and the broth well seasoned and rich with hints of star anise. There was only one measly sprig of Thai basil, but perhaps the punters around here don't add it and so they're understandably cutting their losses.
BBQ chicken banh mi, $6.50
This banh mi was literally heavy in its paper bag. It was light on salad but so generous with yummy chopped chicken thighs luxuriating in a hoi sin glaze. The bread was proper and the chilli was plentiful. It's not Nhu Lan but a good effort all the same. Other banh mi varieties are slightly cheaper at $5.50.
Com tam, $10
This classic com tam had a sweet and tender pork chop, generous broken rice and lovely sunny egg. It didn't quite match up to Footscray but in the local stakes it's good. "Broken rice" is literally broken rice. It's long grain rice like jasmine, broken into pieces. It used to be a cheap by-product of the milling process but now it's produced on its own merits. It's stickier than normal rice and soaks up the dressing better.
Aww, Docklands isn't that bad after all. As for coffee in Fed Square...well... Make a run for it down Flinders Street to the Banana Alley Vaults, where you'll find the delightful T-Roy Browns. This little coffee cave is well worth the walk. (Check 'em out at Milk Bar Mag too.)
Shop 109, 111 Merchant Street, Docklands
Hours: Mon-Fri day time, closed weekends
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