Rather than cook last night, I decided to go out for dinner. Walking around Northbridge was very strange. It was so very quiet last night. Perhaps the poor weather and the recent Reserve Bank decision (yes, I’m not just a foodie. I do actually keep up with current affairs), and supporting reasons for not raising interest rates, kept people indoors. Not me! When I’m hungry, I’m hungry. When I want to go out for food, I’ll brave ANY weather!
Saigon Cafe & Noodle is one of the few places in Northbridge that isn’t fancy, doesn’t have any pretensions, but provides yummy filling food at a relatively decent price.
This particular place is also one of the few places you will find congee, otherwise known as rice porridge, bubur, jook or rice gruel. If you haven’t tried it, do so. It’s basically long cooked rice with additions. Perfect for when you’re not feeling that fantastic. It’s easy to eat, warming and amazingly delicious.
However, there is a more amazing dish that will blow. your. mind.
Rice and 7 meats… That’s right. Seven. Meats…
My dining partner had the lemon grass and chilli beef and rice.
I shall endeavour to get their critique in the not too distant future (at which point I shall edit for y’all).
But back to the meats…
foreground: rice and seven meats. background: lemon grass and chilli beef and rice.
I have had this dish once before, but there my have been high level hunger and a couple of drinks had beforehand. This time, hungry, but not crazily so, and completely sober, it still impressed. It comes with a sweet carrot and chilli sauce used to wet the rice and keep it palatable, as well as a soup to do the same. Let’s count the meats: egg (it’s a protein, so I guess it counts), skewered beef, sausage, pork chop, grilled chicken, a meatloaf type thing and under all that meat on top of the rice is a finely cut pork and onion cooked in a sweet-ish clear sauce.
While some may think the tomato, cucumber and carrot are just there as garnish, but it really does give a freshness to the plate that is necessary. The meat is cooked very nicely, but sometimes you can have a strange taste in your mouth from so much protein.
The egg was just how I like it. This doesn’t mean everyone will like it, because I like my eggs dead. As in D.E.A.D. – no runniness at all thank you very much. Despite this, it wasn’t powdery and dry like the yolk can sometimes get.
The skewered beef wasn’t tough and was cut into small strips that made it easy to take off the skewer and eat without feeling like you were chewing half a cow. It was moderately seasoned and not sticky, which would have been too much for the rest of the meat on the plate.
Lop chong (Chinese dried pork sausage) is much sweeter than sausage that most of you may have tried. Again, I suggest you go and try it. There were two tiny little pieces of it but it has a strong flavour so quality over quantity is a good call.
The pork chop is cut into a hand-shape, allowing it to be verily easily cut up. It was really nice. Not dried out at all and nicely seasoned.
The grilled chicken was also very lovely and moist. Too often chicken is a filler food, just placed on a plate to provided something else, but this was actually really nice and worked well with a little bit of the carrot and chilli sauce.
To those who have never had it, the meatloaf will provide something of a textural challenge. It isn’t mealy like western meatloaf, but is light and soft in your mouth. By itself it’s a bit “nothing” but a little bit with each of the other meats, it worked really well.
I love the pork and onion addition. I am not sure how it is made, but it is delicious. In fact I think next time I go to Saigon, I will ask how it is made and see if I can emulate it at home.
As for the place itself, the staff are sometimes a bit slow, maybe a bit difficult to discern as there isn’t a uniform for them, but I think this gives it a bit of laid-back feel. As Saigon is open until 11pm, it is a good place to drop in on either as an end to an “early” evening, or as a beginning to a late one. You don’t come to places like this looking for a fine dining experience from Michelin Star chefs. You come to it looking for honest food that is delicious and filling. They don’t scrimp on portions sizes at all and the prices are very reasonable, when compared to what is on offer all down James street. I would highly recommend this place to anyone who is interested in trying some real Vietnamese food that isn’t playing to an obviously western crowd. By looking at those who frequent it, you can tell it caters for western tastebuds as well as those accustomed to the flavours they offer. THAT is something you don’t find too often, unless you know where to look.
Saigon Cafe & Noodle. James street, Northbridge. (08) 9227 1552.