Saigon Rolls is a small Vietnamese restaurant in St Leonards serving a variety of banh mi, rice paper rolls, and pho. I dropped in on a chilly May morning for a couple of banh mi, eager to fill myself up before a day of minimally catered meetings.
This crackling pork roll ($8) was quite good. Lots of fresh-feeling salads, sufficient meat, at a reasonable price. Not the best I’ve had in my entire life, but did its job well.
The cold meat pork roll with double meat ($9) was really only fine. Again filled with a good amount of salad, I felt that the extra meat was not adequately balanced by extra pate or butter. Maybe it’s my own fault for not asking for double pate as well as double meat, but I find that in most places this balance is made automatically.
Saigon Rolls St Leonards Kiosk 5/436 Victoria Ave, Chatswood NSW 2067 (02) 9410 0988
Some say that Lush (Bowl ‘n’ Roll, nee Food Bar) is dressed as a restaurant but is really just a cafe, while in my opinion they are the complete opposite. Despite its tiny physical footprint and decor befitting a cafe, its extended opening hours and extensive menu of actual food betray its true nature.
This beast of a dish is the Bun Dau Mam Tom & Sea Food Version ($16.90). The intricacies of proportion are difficult to capture without something standardised like a banana for scale, but believe me when I tell you that this was not the amount of food I was expecting to get for $16.90. This plate had a huge variety of ingredients to be eaten individually as one likes or wrapped up in lettuce leaves, as confirmed with my Vietnamese social work friend. The flavour centre of the dish was really the fermented shrimp paste sauce, which was simply something I’ve never experienced before. This brown, almost purple sauce was so deep and rich in flavour, with such a strong shrimpiness, that quite literally only a tiny smattering was required to flavour each mouthful. I’m glad I chose to order this at a time when I was dining alone, as I’m sure that my girlfriend, seafood-averse as she is, would’ve hated this. The strong umami and seafood flavours in this tiny dish of sauce reminded me of a particular Food War based anime where the protagonist would make very fishy things with squids much to the chagrin of his colleagues.
Other elements of note in this dish were the soft and light rice noodle, which flavoured with a light touch of the sauce was very easy eating. The fried tofu was superb, somehow done in a way where it was warm all the way through while remaining soft, with the thinnest imaginable fried outer layer that didn’t negatively affect the soft texture at all. The pork hock was similary soft, warm and delicious. The fish cake and prawns were as imagined, and adding up all of these different proteins you can see that this is actually quite a generous serving. This is really something to try.
Like an absolute fool I thought that I would be safe in ordering this beef roll ($7.50) in addition to the gigantic bun dau mam tom discussed above. Luckily for me, the staff at Lush Food Bar knew me better than I knew myself, and straight up served this banh mi to me fully wrapped up and in a biodegradable plastic bag to take home. My normal go-to banh mi is either the classic cold cut pork or crackling roast pork, and this may very well be the first or second beef roll I’ve ever had. The sheer quality of it, even having survived a trip from Strathfield to the nearest quaternary hospital, a surveillance COVID swab, an hour of incidental teaching, and then a trip home was extra-ordinary. Unlike some rolls this one had the perfect degree of moistness, owing from the mixing of juices from the beef (something you don’t get with pork based rolls), the generous serving of Vietnamese mayonnaise, and pate. Really great.
I also hope you enjoy this photo, which was taken on my balcony after my realisation that most people probably don’t enjoy seeing the bitten, half-eaten rolls that I’ve been posting. I had to lock the cats away so that I could access the balcony safely, so it was really quite an effort.
Lush Bowl ‘n’ Roll (ex- Lush Food Bar) 11/23 The Boulevarde, Strathfield Plaza, Strathfield NSW 2135 (02) 9746 9905
I don’t generally have much occasion to visit Winston Hills, but having had Lee Chef’s (amazing) pho no less than six times in the four months that we were locked down it was time to try something new.
The Beef Pho (Large – $15.50) was looking weak both visually and on paper, but turned out surprisingly good. Featuring only beef brisket, rare beef, and beef balls, My Hao’s only beef pho offering leaves out the tendon and tripe that round out a full featured Phở Đặc Biệt. The soup is clear and sweeter than I’m generally what I’m used to, and the “rare beef” is actually cooked almost all the way through by the time the bowl reaches the table. Despite theses subjective and objective shortcomings, I enjoyed this bowl a surprising amount. I think the strength of this bowl of pho really comes down to My Hao’s great use of brisket, which is fatty and moist, but doesn’t go a nanometre past the sweet spot into being too fatty. Not all bowls of pho need to be homogenous, and all things considered the only thing I would change about this pho would be to be a bit more generous with the basil.
This was not the best Pork Roll ($6.50) I’ve ever reviewed on this blog, but it probably looks the best. I can’t believe it’s taken me over 300 reviews (these get queued for ages and the posting order gets switched up, so while this meal was eaten in October 2021 the review could be posted any time into the future – or past? spooky) to realise that people would probably prefer to see a nicely cut cross-section of a sandwich than my haphazard interpretation of such made with my teeth and mouth. I recently found an anaesthetic colleague’s croissant-based Instagram, and the beauty of cut croissants and the lack of wedge-shaped teeth marks in her photos struck me. My Hao expertly served this less-than-expert banh mi cut into halves and on a plate, but I don’t really know how I can emulate this in my usual practice, unless I carry a knife with me at all times. It turns out that’s exactly what she does. I can’t wait to explain this to the cops.
Back to the actual pork roll, I felt that it lost points for being too salty and too sweet and too wet. The bread also happened to be a bit too crusty and a bit too hard, and the restaurant being a full featured restaurant rather than a bakery I wonder if their baguettes are made on site or elsewhere. I was shocked and offended when the only other diners in the restaurant ordered banh mis without pate, but looking at the amount of pate I got in mine I’m not sure it would’ve made much of a difference.
COMMENTS I think that if I’m after the kind of pho that I know I like whilst living in the Parramatta area, Lee Chef still has my patronage I think that if I want to subject myself to some sweeter pho that is outside of my comfort zone I’d continue to explore the rest of Sydney rather than come back to My Hao. I don’t hate them. It just is what it is.
My Hao 1E Caroline Chisholm Dr, Winston Hills NSW 2153 (02) 9688 7631
My favourite Western Sydney pork roll of childhood was at Red Light Bakery in the now-demolished Wentworthville Mall. There was something truly special about the soft, non-hard bread that never hurt my delicate teenage mouth that I have not been able to find anywhere else. I was saddened to find, on my return to living in Wentworthville after a ten year absence that the Mall and its bakery had been levelled to make way for a new apartment block. Enter Xcel Roll.
Xcel Roll, branch name of Mascot favourite Hong Ham, delivers the goods to a seldom-matched level of perfection. On offer are banh mi with a variety of fillings, though early risers should note that their crackling roast pork roll is not available in the early hours of the morning. While you may expect to line up down the street for a banh mi at the Mascot mothership, Xcel Roll’s Parramatta branch seems not to have won the fame of its family members. The wait is short and the service is fast and sweet.
The Classic Pork Roll. What is there to say about a banh mi that so nearly approaches perfection? The salad is plentiful, the carrots are tangy but not soggy. The pate and lard are adequately proportioned. The birds eye chillis are hot as they should be. The meaty fillings are your standard trio, and most importantly of all, the bread is crunchy without causing unnecessary oral trauma. This is the gold standard.
The Roast Pork Roll ($8.50) is as good as their cold pork roll. The roast pork is accompanied by pork skin, warm and crunchy and fatty. This mixes well with the sauces, ultimately producing a more creamy mouthfeel than their standard cold meat pork roll. Again a very good roll.
SIDE NOTE Since this review was first written Xcel Roll Parramatta has moved around the corner from 52 Macquarie St to 42 George St, and gone up a weight class from being a tiny hole in the wall bakery to now a small hole in the wall restaurant, offering basic pho and rice bowls atop it’s standard banh mi offering.
$12 makes for an unfortunately somewhat basic Beef Pho. While I thought that the provided chilli sauce was particularly good, shortcomings of this particular bowl included the somewhat basic tasting broth as well as the fully cooked through beef, with no rare option available. In my opinion I would always choose to spend the extra $2 for a special beef pho from Pho Master across the road.
While I was disappointed by Xcel Roll and Bowl’s beef pho, their Chicken Pho ($12) was actually quite good. The soup had a more complex flavour, and in this case the bowl did not suffer from the lack of rare meat, as you’d certainly want your chicken cooked all the way through. Other positive aspects of both this bowl of pho and the beef one are that they is served piping hot, and remained hot until I got home to be able to eat them, as well as the perfect sizing of the bowl, bean sprouts, and Thai basil, which meant that there was no juggling required between different bowls.
VERDICT The success of nearby Destination Roll on Church St suggests to me that Xcel Roll has a ways to go with their marketing. Small hot bread shops essentially survive on word of mouth, and I hope that this review will help to bolster Xcel Roll’s place in Parramatta’s collective consciousness.
I walked nine kilometers today on a quest for what’s been lauded by some as Wollongong’s best banh mi, at QP Bakery in Berkeley. It was only when I arrived at QP that I found that they, like any other self-respecting eighteenth century bakery, are a cash only establishment. Much to my dismay with only six dollars in coins in my pockets, their most basic pork roll started at $7. I re-embarked on my sad journey to my partner’s apartment to the dulcet tones of Josh Farkas and Adam Thomas and instead ate at one of the many hot bread shops I had passed along the way.
This crispy crackling component of this Crispy Pork Belly Roll ($9.50) wasn’t quite what I expected. While the majority of crackling pork belly rolls that I’ve experienced have had a semi-dry, semi-oily-wet crackling that is both crispy and chewy – similar to what you would get from a Hong Kong BBQ restaurant, the crackling at PiPi’s was more reminiscent of what you would get from a snack food packet. Though I have seen actual evidence on their Facebook page of them cooking their crackling themselves, the crunchy crispiness but also the dryness of their pork crackling actually led me to initially believe that it was store bought rather than made in-house. While I don’t profess to be expert enough to truly judge banh mi by their traditional standards, I suppose that it’s probably acceptable to have either kind of crackling in your pork roll.
Crackling aside, I think PiPi’s crispy pork belly roll is actually quite good. The pork belly itself was nice, soft, and moist. The salads provided were balanced, and sauce was applied in an appropriate and conservative manner. I’d probably have this roll again.
I have no serious hitting commentary about PiPi’s classic Vietnamese Pork Roll ($7.50), though I will note that their pate is a bit different to the usual pate that I seem to get at Sydney banh mi-eries. It had a stronger flavour than I’m used to, more akin to the pates you would get at your local supermarket than the lighter flavoured pates normally used. Aside from this, this banh mi was slightly over-soyed (or Maggied, as it were), though still perfectly edible and ultimately not too salty.
CONCLUSION I just don’t know why there are places in the 21st century not offering card payments, but I’m glad that PiPi’s Pork Rolls isn’t one of them. Not a bad lunchtime option if you’re a local, but I wouldn’t drive to the Illawara for a banh mi.