3 January 2024

Behind a humble exterior, BanMe is one of Canberra's best kept secrets

| Michelle Taylor
a restaurant

BanMe owners Minh Tri Nguyen and Kathy Phan Photo: Kazuri Photography

BanMe Vietnamese Highlands Streetfood and Coffee brings no bells and whistles – it is a humble eatery at first glance. But what is does bring in spades is cleverly balanced flavours, and I can easily say that BanMe is one of my top three eating experiences this year.

This Vietnamese eatery sits behind Waves carwash in Braddon. Walk straight into the carwash to find it. After the carwash closes each day, owner Minh Tri Nguyen says that they set out traditional low tables and chairs in that space for outdoor dining.

BanMe is fairly new to Canberra, opening its doors on 29 October, but Minh brings years of experience.

“I have been in the industry for 15 years, working with renowned chef Luke Mangan, The Quay Restaurant with Peter Gilmore as well as Richard Branson,” he said.

“I couldn’t find good Vietnamese food here in Canberra or a good banh mi, so we have created it ourselves.

“Our banh mi comes from the highlands in the southeastern highlands region – from the town Ban Me. We serve barbecue and smokey meat in our buns, rather than processed meat. We also make fresh house-made pate.”

It turns out that Minh’s fiancée Kathy Phan is a bit of a pate genius.

a banh mi

The charcoal pork banh mi is big bites of flavour harmony. Photos: Kazuri Photography.

BanMe’s all day menu feature a range of five banh mis alongside Vietnamese staples like pho and bun cha.

There’s also exotic longan and lychee iced teas and, of course, the famous Vietnamese iced coffee. Everything sounds fantastic, but I’m particularly intrigued by the avocado and coconut smoothie.

The spring roll is complex and umami with mince pork, carrot, mushroom, vermicelli and taro served with a house-made fish sauce that is pungent, sweet and garlicky with some heat to it. The accompanying chicken liver pate on soft sliver of bread is light and tinged with an exotic herb infusion, but that doesn’t take away from the rich flavour profile of the base ingredient.

The charcoal pork banh mi is big bites of flavour harmony. There’s a beautiful balance from the lightness of the pork crackling and the sour pickled carrot and white radish, the bass richness of pork and pate and the melody from the spring onion, the herbs and the house-made fish sauce. All in a really good banh mi bun.

Next is sticky rice with charcoal chicken. This is one of the most comfort food dishes I can remember eating. Mouthfuls of fragrant sticky rice and tender smokey chicken alongside a generous dollop of pate with pickled vegetables. This dish could not be improved in any way.

rice and chicken

The sticky rice with charcoal chicken could not be improved in any way.

We taste BanMe’s take on a dish that has come to be associated with Obama – the bun cha.

The base of this dish is its smooth broth full of sweet, sour and umami notes, brimming with chargrilled pork and grilled meatball slices. A side plate holds noodles and herbs to add into this soup-like offering.

Apologies, I went straight into this dish and forgot to take a photo. Oh my goodness – it is incredible – why can’t I cook like this? That broth is exquisite. Balancing everything that is going on in the broth requires a great palette and restraint.

Next is a pho. I must confess that every pho I’ve tried has left me wondering what all the fuss is about.

But I dip my spoon into lush brisket slices and tender noodles in a delicate, aromatic broth topped with herbs. Yum.

As for drinks: try the avocado and coconut smoothie. I am here on a 37 degree day, and this drink is an ice cold superfood powerhouse. Mellow, tropical and thirst quenching. Have you ever had super moist slices of baby coconut? It tastes like that, through an infusion of smooth avocado.

The Vietnamese iced coffee is that addictive blend of traditional strong almost bitter coffee base, with the sweet cream of condensed milk. Don’t ask me how but it works so well. Poured over big ice cubes – pure bliss.

a table of food

A BanMe feast! Photo: BanMe.

The restaurant’s name holds an extra meaning. Ba for dad and me for mum – the restaurant is a homage to mum and dad. The pate recipe and the pho recipe have been passed down through three generations of the family. Don’t ask for it – it’s a secret. Just come and enjoy eating it here.

BanMe is located at 15 Lonsdale St in Braddon, behind the Waves carwash. It is open everyday from 8 am to 9 pm. Follow BanMe on Facebook and Instagram or visit the website for the menu and more information.

Original Article published by Michelle Taylor on Riotact.

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