Review: Ben Thanh Hot Bread & Bakery (Melbourne, VIC)

Shop G32A
46-58 Buckingham Avenue
Springvale VIC 3171
+61 3 9548 4500

In Berlin, I turn to the city’s many doner kebab kiosks for a sub five-euro lunch when I’m on the go. In Melbourne, my cheap and portable lunch equivalent is most definitely a Vietnamese pork roll (banh mi thit). For less than a $5 note, you can get your mix of protein and carbs in one neat little package – and there’s plenty of vegetables and fresh herbs in the mix to convince yourself that you’re eating something that’s kinda healthy.

One day, I caught up with my friend Thanh in Springvale for breakfast. We decided to stop by one of his favourite Vietnamese sandwich kiosks, Ben Thanh Hot Bread & Bakery in Springvale Central. If you’re familiar with the shopping centre, it’s the bakery that’s directly opposite the KFL supermarket with windows adorned with posters of shoplifters they’ve photographed and shamed (lol).

Like any banh mi kiosk in Springvale, you can take your pick of sandwich fillings including Ben Thanh’s famous roast pork. I always stick to the mixed ham sandwich though so that’s what I ordered to take away.

Assorted fillings

 

Banh mi packaging

My go-to for banh mi in Melbourne is Footscray’s Nhu Lan (also in Richmond) but I have to say that Ben Thanh offers an excellent substitute – especially since both sit at the $4.50 mark. I think the bread at Ben Thanh is better – it’s softer, fluffier and boasts a bit more texture. I also think they’re more generous with the pickled vegetables and their pâté has a bit more bite. That said, I think Nhu Lan wins overall – their cold slices are tastier, their sandwiches are bigger and they retain their crispiness better after they’ve sat around for a few hours.

Mixed ham banh mi from Ben Thanh

In saying that, Ben Thanh is still an excellent choice for banh mi if you’re in Springvale. I’d definitely go again, though I’m also open to other suggestions if anyone has any!

Ben Thanh Hot Bread & Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Sabb Der Thai (Melbourne, VIC)

1/1-3 St Johns Avenue
Springvale VIC 3171
+61 3 9546 0599

I love noodle soups. Tonkotsu ramen, beef and brisket pho, curry laksa, soto ayam – you name it, I’ll slurp it til the cows come home. Obviously, they’re an ideal meal to enjoy during the winter months but I’ve been known to enjoy a piping hot bowl of noodle soup when it’s humid and 35 degrees outside. Another type of noodle soup that I’ve recently added to my list is the Thai boat noodle.

So, what are boat noodles and why the hell are they called that? Historically, this dish was served along Bangkok’s canals. Back in the day, the street seller would paddle his this dish from his boat; today, they’re rarely sold on the water itself but rather in riverside stalls. Also known as kuaitiao ruea, this dish boasts a deep dark broth flavoured with dark soy sauce, pickled bean curd and spices as well as pork and/or beef bones. Traditionally, the cook will also add beef blood in there for extra texture and depth, though not a lot of places in Melbourne seem to do that.

I have my preferred places in Melbourne to eat boat noodles, with Jinda Thai and Soi 38 being firm favourites. I am also aware that a handful of Thai restaurants serving boat noodles existed in Springvale and when my friend Thanh told me about Sabb Der Thai being his favourite place to grab this dish, I knew I had to try it. So after a meeting with my accountant in Noble Park, I met up with Thanh for some boat noodle goodness.

We ordered a bowl of beef boat noodles and a plate of som tum (papaya salad) to share. You might be thinking: ‘Man, you guys are tight asses! Sharing a bowl of boat noodles between two?’ Hah! Well, what if we told you we had a small bowl of pho each at Pho Hung Vuong 2 and shared a banh mi before coming here? Uh huh.

Beef noodle soup ($11.50), salted crab som tum ($9) and Thai iced milk tea ($4)

I’m not normally a fan of som tum but Thanh insisted that I gave this one a go – after all, som tum is one of Sabb Der Thai’s signature dishes. I decided that their version was delicious: light, refreshing and dammit, very very spicy! Thank goodness for my glass of milk tea, even though it was a bit on the sickly sweet side. We ordered the salted crab version of the som yum but you can also choose from several other renditions, including their dried shrimp one.

Sabb Der Thai’s other go-to dish is obviously their boat noodles. You can choose from about five different noodles (we chose rice stick noodles) and go duck, beef or one of several versions of pork. We chose beef and it came topped with beef slices, braised beef pieces and beef balls.

Beef noodle soup ($11.50)

After my first spoonful of soup, I can see why Thanh goes to Sabb Der Thai pretty much every week. The broth was addictively tasty – and they added just a little bit of blood in it to create depth, but not so much that you get that metallic aftertaste (which I don’t really like). My only mistake was not coming here on an empty stomach as I would have definitely been down for smashing an entire bowl rather than half a bowl!

After this visit, I can now add Sabb Der Thai to my list of places to get boat noodles in Melbourne. Next time, I’ll give the duck version a go as well as try their tom yum pork noodle soup. The only problem I have with Sabb Der Thai is that it’s not exactly easy to get to from my (parents’) neck of the woods, let alone from Melbourne’s west. Thus, I’ll keep going to either Soi 38 or Jinda purely based on convenience alone. That said, I will definitely swing by Sabb Der Thai the next time I’m visiting my accountant – I just need to remember to save my banh mi for later.

Sabb Der Thai Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Pho Dakao Hoang (Melbourne, VIC)

Shop 6/17 Balmoral Avenue
Springvale VIC 3171
+61 3 9558 5996

It’s been a while since I’ve had a good bowl of pho – or even an average one for that matter (August, WTF). Thus, it kind of pains me to write this review of Pho Dakao Hoang, a Vietnamese restaurant in Springvale.

I’m not one to go to Springvale for my Vietnamese fix (why, when Richmond and Footscray offers equally fantastic offerings and are easier to get to) but my sister Janice insisted that we take our visiting cousin Jess and our Singaporean friend Paix to Springvale for lunch on weekend. Given that it’s been a while since I’ve been to Springvale (three years as a matter of fact), I agreed – as long as Janice drove, hah!

We had the option of three different places on Balmoral Avenue but in the fact, Pho Dakao Hoang won out because it looked less crazy inside (but nevertheless, still busy enough). Now Janice warned us that Pho Dakao Hoang doesn’t actually specialise in pho – broken rice dishes are the way to go apparently – but I thought to myself: ‘Surely the pho can’t be that bad here?’

(yes, that was a bit of foreshadowing btw)

Vietnamese iced white coffee ($3)
Vietnamese iced white coffee ($3)

The café sua da was perhaps a bit sweeter than I would have liked, however it was an otherwise solid performer.

Prawn spring rolls ($8)
Prawn spring rolls ($8)

The prawn spring rolls were well-priced given the rather generous serving size. Each beautifully crispy spring roll also held a non-stingy amount of prawn too, another plus in my books.

Pho with fresh sliced beef and brisket ($9.50)
Pho with fresh sliced beef and brisket ($9.50)

We all ordered beef pho with varying topping permutations (sliced beef and brisket, sliced beef and beef balls, sliced beef on its own). There is the option for super hungry diners to go extra large ($13 a bowl), though I reckon the standard-sized bowl is already big enough. I mean, I struggled to finish mine.

To be honest, the main reason why I struggled with mine was not so much because of how massive the bowl was but because the pho wasn’t that good. The broth had a visible bright yellow tinge (which you can kind of see in my photo) that screamed out ‘HEAPS OF MSG! OMG!’ and the beef was not the best quality (sliced beef shouldn’t be THIS tough). In a way, it was kinda funny that this restaurant had the word ‘pho’ in its name when it wasn’t even their best dish. My sister was right so it was our own fault for not listening to her but to be fair, there aren’t many occasions where I’d choose rice over noodles.

If you’re into broken rice dishes, fast service, generously-sized portions and bad pho, then head to Pho Dakao Hoang. If you’re really particular about your pho or can’t stand lots of MSG, then you’re better off ducking into any one of the hundreds of other Vietnamese restaurants in Springvale.

Pho Dakao Hoang on Urbanspoon

Thanh Dat

Cnr Buckingham & Windsor Avenues
Springvale VIC 3171
+61 3 9540 8389

As a Christian, Good Friday is a very important day for me and my family. Our Easter weekends are a time of rest, of cleaning and of thinking rather than boozing, partying and hooning around. Nevertheless, there were five hungry mouths to fill in our household and a half-empty fridge so when mum announced that she was heading off to Springvale for lunch and for grocery-shopping, I decided to tag along.

Lunch was at Thanh Dat, a Vietnamese restaurant that’s been a favourite of ours for many, many years. I remember countless Sunday afternoons slurping on a comforting bowl of rice noodle soup with seafood, pretty much the only thing I would order while everyone else had the tomato rice with beef. I decided that today was a good day as any to order this familiar dish. I wanted to see if it was still good after all these days. And although I am not a Roman Catholic, I always abstain from eating red meat on Good Friday so the seafood noodle soup was an extremely apt lunch choice.

The price of the no.21 has not changed much in ten years (from $8 to $9). It certainly looked inviting and the portion size, generous. The taste, unfortunately, has changed immensely. Rather than a sweet and almost peppery-tasting broth punctured with  the distinct taste of coriander seeds and the odd cashew nut, the soup was as plain as an Amish housewife. Heck, it could have been just water and salt for all I know. Thus, it’s no wonder why I did not slurp the last dregs of my noodle soup like I normally do. Instead, I just ate whatever seafood and noodles I could clumsily pick up with my chopsticks and left the soup bowl half-full with the pathetic-tasting thing they called “broth.”

I will not come back again.

Ha, I bet you were expecting me to write about hot cross buns, fish and chips or Easter eggs, right?!

On that note, have a very Happy Easter, folks! Hopefully with more time spent at home this weekend, I’ll be able to post the 3-4 reviews of places I went to this week that are just DYING to be published.

Back In The USSR

Nam Giao
4 Lightwood Rd
Springvale VIC 3171
+61 3 9548 2232

The Monash law faculty sent me an email earlier this week to let me know that there was going to be some information session on Friday (today) which I thought was a) annoying because I had already organised my RDO for the month to be held next Thursday and b) because I would’ve felt much better receiving this so-called info session notice via mail rather than a simple email to my hotmail address. After checking the faculty website and deeming the info session to be legit though, I got the go-ahead from my team leader to take a half day off today and another half day off next Thursday (official enrolment date).

And so at 11:30am today, I said “Smell ya laters!” to everyone in the office as they wished me a happy long-weekend (though it won’t be a long weekend for me because I’ll be at Melbourne Park all weekend and then have to do the Chinese New Year thang with Adam’s family). After meeting up with Adam who was kind enough to take me to Monash, we went to Springvale to have lunch at Nam Giao, the place that I had lunch with Dave, Jen and Shirley not long ago. The main reason why I wanted to go there again was because I wanted to try their supposedly awesome bun bo hue (spicy vermicelli and beef soup) which Jen always has every time she goes there. For some reason though, I’m a person who can’t seem to order one bun bo hue for myself and the only way I can actually have it is through stealing spoonfuls from Adam’s bowl. My experience with bun bo hue has been a bit of a rocky one – some places make it too hot for me to be able to enjoy one bowl to myself, some places put all sorts of weird spices that don’t mesh well and some places just make plain awful ones. While pho is generally speaking, well, safe, bun ho hue is a bit of a risky thing for me to order which is why I can never order it myself. Which was why Adam ended up with the bun bo hue today(I might’ve made him order it, but he didn’t put up much of a fight because he loves that stuff anyway) and I ended up with the bun cha gio/thit nuong (rice vermicelli with spring rolls and grilled pork) which was what Dave ordered last time.

Adam’s bun bo hue ($9). Phwaaa, how awesome does this look! Fresh thick vermicelli, slices of beef and pork and all sorts of other wonderful things such as pig’s blood … and a chunk of pig’s knuckle for a bit of flavour. Jen said that she was somewhat nervous when she was about to read my first review of Nam Giao but she will be pleased to know that I EFFING LOVED THIS BUN BO HUE! Rather than stopping at five spoonfuls, I ended up coming back for more… it was so damn good! Obviously the lemongrass dominated but it did not overpower the other ingredients which are equally as important… the chilli, the shrimp paste, the fish sauce and even the little bits of chopped Vietnamese mint all played their role. I was also pleased to note that it wasn’t too hot for my liking. Spicy yes, but not hot. Even Adam said that it was one of the best bun bo hue he’s ever had (though he reckons the best one he’s had is at that place down the road from St Albans library). I don’t want to overhype this dish too much, but I think that I can now start ordering bun bo hue for myself when I’m at Nam Giao now.
My bun cha gio/thit nuong (rice vermicelli with spring rolls and grilled pork) (also $9). Again I was happy with the presentation and the taste of this dish. Although I think Tien Dat in Box Hill makes a better version, this one is still worthy of a credible mention. Generous servings of grilled pork and spring rolls along with a fresh mixture of salad and other herbs made this dish a light yet filling meal. Even tastier with a splashing of nuoc nam and an extra squirt of fish sauce. Delish.
Of course I couldn’t go without trying one of those apple custard smoothies that Jen loves ($3.50, I think). While I will always prefer avocado smoothies over any other smoothie, the apple custard went down a treat on such a warm day. The only gripe about it, however, was that the waiteress brought it out too late… right when I was down to my last few bites . Poor form, guys…. tsk.

Then it was time to go to Monash. A train up to Huntingdale and a quick bus trip ensured that we were at least an hour too early for the information session so Adam and I walked around in order to familiarise myself with the place that I’ll be spending a lot of time for the next 10 billion years or so. Despite being a student at Monash now, I guess I will always be a Melbourne Uni girl at heart because I couldn’t help but diss even the most minute thing every five seconds eg. “The cafes look sucky” and “The grass isn’t pretty” and “The buildings are soooo Soviet Bloc… what fugly brown concrete cubes!” The biggest shock I received, however, was walking into the law building. Monash may pride itself for boasting one of, if not THE, best law school in the country but compared to Melbourne’s sexy-looking law school, the Monash law building just looks tired and weary… then I told myself that I am here not to criticise buildings but to study. And so off to the information session I went with a positive mind.

While I was glad that I wasn’t the only “old” new student there (there was a guy my age who came with his mum ), I did still feel a bit silly wandering amongst the gaggle of 17-year old Brighton blondes and boys fresh out of Xavier College. As for the information session itself? Nothing interesting really… except that we got given our first assignment for Intro To Legal Reasoning which we’re apparently supposed to start before semester one even starts. Fantastic.

Welcome to Monash Libs… you better enjoy it because you’re stuck there for the next x years of your life!

Nam Giao

4 Lightwood Rd
Springvale VIC 3171
+61 3 9548 2232

Earlier this week, Jen asked me if I was free to catch up for lunch in Springvale on the weekend with her and Shirley. And even though Springy is a bit of a hike for me (no car, you see ), I could never turn down good company and good food. The place that Jen was keen to take us to was apparently the best place for bun bo hue and they also do a lot of great dishes too. Sounded good to us. So after my morning gym session in the city, I went straight to the station, tried not to get pissy when I heard the announcement that the train was running late, finally hopped on the train, spent the entire train ride sitting next to some old codger who stank like garlic, got off at Springy and breathed a sigh of relief when I finally got some fresh air, bumped into Shirley at the station (hey if I was going to be late, at least I wouldn’t be alone!) and arrived at Nam Giao 10 minutes later than the scheduled time of 1pm.

Jen was already there and so was Dave whom we invited at the spur of the moment because he lived only around the corner from where we were having lunch. So yep, a nice casual catch-up lunch. Anyway, I thought Nam Giao was a pretty cute place. Instead of those generic brightly-lid and sometimes garish Vietnamese restaurants you find in Footscray, Richmond and okay, the rest of Spring vale, it was like stepping into a scene from Three Seasons or The Scent of Green Papaya. Rather than white tiles and laminex tables, it was wooden tables and wooden interiors. Very nice. Plus, it was also a very sunny dining room which meant decent lighting for not-so-crap food photos, yay!

I decided to be boring and order sliced beef pho ($8) which came in a massive bowl. I thought about going for Nam Giao’s supposedly awesome bun bo hues that Jen was ordering but I happen to be one of those people who, for some reason, can’t bring myself to order a bowl to myself. More often than not, I will have a few spoonfuls of Adam’s but never the whole thing to myself. Yeah, I know. I’m weird. Anyway, my pho was great in that it was huge and I knew I wasn’t going to leave feeling hungry but I felt that the broth was a little too plain for my liking. When I added a spoonful of chilli oil, however, it instantly made my meal taste 10 billion times better and I literally lapped it all up.

Dave’s rice vermicelli with grilled pork and spring rolls. This was what I probably would’ve ordered had I not felt like pho that day. I didn’t manage to have a bite but Dave reckons that it tastes better than what his parents could whip up at home. I’ve never tried anything that’s come out of Dave’s kitchen but from what I’ve seen and read on his blog, I can deduce that his parents are pretty well-versed in cooking so his dish must’ve been pretty damn good. It looked pretty good too and two thumbs up for the generous amount of spring rolls too.

Jen’s bun bo hue which she offered us to taste but my pho was filling me up already so I didn’t have a chance to try. It did look good though so maybe if Adam and I actually go to Springvale for lunch one Sunday, I’ll make him order the soup while I try Dave’s dish. Heh.

Shirley’s chicken pho which looks a bit like noodles + soup + drunken chicken haha. Rather interesting way of presenting pho because I’ve only ever seen it served with shredded chicken and usually without the skin on too. Again it looked nice but poor Shirley couldn’t finish all her noodles (then again, look how massive the bowl is and look how tiny she is!).

While my pho wasn’t the best pho I’ve had in my life, I can certainly see myself visiting this place again when I’m in Springy. My family and I used to go to Thanh Dat but the last time I visited, the food wasn’t as good as I could remember so we’ve been trying other places when we’re down here. With decent-tasting food at very reasonable prices (it was just under $50 for the four of us, including drinks), I can definitely add this to my list of places to have lunch in Springvale. And although the wait staff suck at English, they are efficient and polite without being rude like those fobs who work at Chinese joints. Boh!