Café Vietnamese

Coffee & Crackles – Smithfield NSW Restaurant Review

Our first attempt at brunch at Coffee & Crackles was thwarted when we arrived at 1:30PM on a weekday and were told that they weren’t serving food at that time. It was during a period of transition, the cafe having recently undergone a rebranding and merger with its co-located night-time eatery and bar Saigon Hustle.

The café part of the joint venture clearly lost the aesthetic fight int he merger, with only the small shopfront lit in natural light, the rest of the restaurant coated in dark paint, neon lights and scrolling projections.

This pricing of this crackling pork banh mi ($13) had me a bit conflicted when I ordered it. On one hand, while I believe that our migrant communities deserve to be compensated for the work that they do and the food that they serve and that it’s a double standard to pay $30 for a plate of pasta or $20 for three ravioli and only want to pay $3.50 for a banh mi, $13 is still a bit much compared to what I’m used to. That’s not to say that, taken outside of the context of what we generally pay for banh mi in Sydney that it wasn’t worth it. This banh mi was certainly high quality. The bread was warm and freshly toasted. It was crusty in a way that was tasty and crunchy, and yet somehow didn’t cut the inside of the mouth – honestly one of the best rolls I’ve had. The five spice pork filling was plentiful, as were the pickled daikon radish and carrots, making each bite both a meaty and a fresh delight. The generous serving of pate and Vietnamese mayonnaise imparted a good sense of umami and creaminess throughout the roll, with no corner spared. The pork crackling was separate from the pork meat, and distributed unevenly between the two pre-cut halves of the sandwich as the crackling was on the exterior surface and the sandwich was sliced diagonally. The crackling did impart an unnecessary saltiness to the bites where it made a showing, and perhaps less salt could have been used in its preparation. The chips, which were a surprise addition to the meal, I could’ve done without to save a couple of dollars. They were actually quite good – freshly fried and of potato in nature – but honestly if I wanted more food I’d just order a second banh mi, which I feel are a higher plane of enjoyment over regular fries.

The Bo Ne Sizzling Beef ($23) was also quite good. It featured a small MB2 wagyu steak, some kind of sausage or processed meat, liver pate, sauteed onions and a sunny side up egg served on a sizzling hot plate, with a separate plate of toasted oiled bread, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes. I’m far from an expert on bo ne, with my only previous experience to this point being the bo ne at Diem Hen in Canley Vale. Given that I don’t have much of a standard to judge against, I can only describe to you this dish in absolute terms.

The steak was cooked medium rare, tender and juicy, though the first bites were better than the last bites as it continued to cook a little on the hot plate as we ate. The live pate was some of the best I’ve had, and my partner especially enjoyed it caramelised on the hot plate. The egg was cooked to a degree of sunny side up perfection that I’ve never achieved, which is kind of crazy to me since presumably they just got the plate up to temp, took it off the heat and cracked it on. I don’t know exactly what the sausage like substance on the right side of the plate was – it was similar to siu cheong that you might get at a Cantonese BBQ shop – but it was quite nice with a bit of sweetness. The onion in this dish was in one corner rather than throughout the entire dish like at Diem Hen, which I preferred as it meant I could be the one deciding which mouthfuls I wanted onioned or unonioned. The bread was again freshly toasted and just great, excellent to pair with some pate or tasty sausage.

All in all I enjoyed my visit to Coffee & Crackles, even if certain items on their previous menu, for example their bo kho tacos, were no longer available after the merger. Saigon Hustle looks to have a pretty interesting Vietnamese fusion menu for dinner though, so I’d like to come back at night some time in the future.

Coffee & Crackles
678A The Horsley Dr, Smithfield NSW 2164
0423 460 054

Bakery Vietnamese

Dulwich Hill Pork Roll – Dulwich Hill NSW Restaurant Review

The grilled chicken roll ($8.50) was ordered not on purpose but because the BBQ pork roll was unavailable. It turned out to be pretty good, though with an unexpected amount of shredded lettuce. The chicken meat was tasty with a little bit of sweetness, moist, and plentiful. The bread, and this goes for the bread used in all three rolls, was a little bit crispy but did not cut the mouth. Pretty good all round, and not a type of roll filling I’ve ever ordered before.

The roasted pork roll ($9) was your classic roast pork roll with diced roast pork and crispy pork skin. It was good, and again extra fresh from the lettuce, which I don’t think you see as a common filling in these rolls. I do wish that perhaps more pork could’ve been in this roll, especially as it is on the more expensive side of things (compared to XCel Roll’s well filled $8.50 roast pork roll).

What can I say about this classic Vietnamese pork roll ($7)? It was pretty good, but in no way did it stand out against any competitor. It was standard to a standard tee, happily lacking the shredded lettuce of the two rolls above. It just tasted completely normal, and I can think of no other words to describe it.

Overall thoughts
Dulwich Hill Pork Roll is a pretty standard pork roll place with banh mi of a reliable quality that do not really chart any new boundaries. The ladies who work there were really nice though, and I thought the bread was particularly good as it managed to be both crispy and not give me mouth pain.

Dulwich Hill Pork Roll
6/471 Marrickville Rd, Dulwich Hill NSW 2203
(02) 9518 1964

Bakery Vietnamese

Phu Cuong King’s Hot Bread – Hurstville NSW Restaurant Review

These were some wildly good banh mi, recommended by KS and ACHT as their favourites some time in 2021 and finally put into my mouth in May 2022. This was a couple who would commute all the way from Parramatta, where they lived, to Hurstville just for a couple of pork rolls, and while I wouldn’t necessarily go that far (Xcel Roll & Bowl in Parramatta is also great), I can see why.

I could tell you all about the sliced pork roll ($6.50) and what makes it great, but the words would essentially be the same as every other review of a pork roll that I’ve liked. The bread is crispy but not cutting, the salad fillings are plentiful and fresh, and the roll is not oversauced. What really sets out Phu Cuong King’s offering is the fact that extra pate is offered right off the bat as a main menu item. Just an additional $1 will get you absolutely loaded up on that delicious extra pate and Vietnamese mayo and send your mouth to a whole other sphere of creaminess and umami. It’s not something secret that you need to ask for, that you’re worried they might not do. It’s right there on the menu. And it’s glorious.

The $10 crackling pork roll was similarly good, though I made the health-and-self conscious decision not to load it up with additional saturated fats. A friend and colleague commented that $10 was too much to pay for a pork roll, which I used to agree with looking at the prices charged elsewhere for a similar item, but no longer do. No one blinks twice at paying $10 for a hyper-processed sub at Subway or $8.60 for a double quarter pounder made on a production line by high school students so why should we be so miserly when it comes to culturally authentic food made from fresh ingredients by ethnic workers?

Big fan of the extra pate. Don’t care about the price. Don’t tell my healthcare team.

Phu Cuong King’s Hot Bread
273 Forest Rd, Hurstville NSW 2220
(02) 9585 1697

Café Vietnamese

Coffee Embassy – Northmead NSW Cafe Review

The purpose of an embassy, if I understand correctly, its to put one’s best foot forward to foster communication and co-operation between parties. Unfortunately for coffee, its Northmead-based embassy does not quite cut the mustard.

Coffee Embassy’s chosen ambassador is their “famous” bacon and egg roll with housemade tomato relish ($8). Though proclaimed to be Northmead’s best on posters on the cafe’s structural poles, I found this bacon and egg roll to be very lacking. Though my first experience with this B&E in 2019 was actually quite positive, it all changed when I visited again in 2021. The 2021 iteration was overall quite a dry roll, with both the bread and bacon lacking any significant amount of moisture. The bacon was unusually hard, difficult to bite, chew, or enjoy. Though it’s Coffee Embassy’s signature dish, I though this roll was one of the worst I’ve ever had.

Moving on from the bacon and egg , we will now discuss this crispy pork banh mi ($8). Though I remember enjoying Coffee Embassy’s pork rolls when I first started eating there in 2019, I have, in recent times, grown accustomed to the excellent quality of crispy pork belly rolls at Hong Ha, Marrickville Pork Roll, and in the rest of the Eastern Suburbs. My most recent trips to Coffee Embassy have instead been met with grief. Coffee Embassy’s pork is drier, colder, and leaner than I had expected, a far cry from the standard crackling pork belly rolls you might get elsewhere. Furthermore, the promised crispiness was not locatable. Not great.

I don’t know if Coffee Embassy has become markedly worse over the last few years, or if my tastes have just evolved and become more refined. Either way I’m glad that though they are an embassy they are not representative of banh mi as a whole. If you’re already in Northmead, Xcel Roll’s Parramatta store is not that far away.

Coffee Embassy
33/1-3 Kleins Rd, Northmead NSW 2152
(02) 9613 3634

Bakery Vietnamese

Saigon Rolls – St Leonards NSW Restaurant Review

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