I keep hearing mixed things about Cafe Viet. A lot of people in the food industry are saying it’s great but others saying it’s not quite there yet. Me? Jury’s out. I loved the vibe, the service, the people and the presentation but I can’t say I’m totally sure about the food. It was pleasant and there was certainly nothing wrong with it, but I wouldn’t say I was bowled over by my particular choices.
Let me explain that. Between two of us we ordered a couple of little shares and a main. This was well enough for two people at $22 head so while it’s it’s not under $20 it’s definitely close enough to be considered a Cheap Eat. The shares were Mini Rice Cakes ($10) and Bang Bang prawns ($10) and the main was Grilled Fish on Banana Leaf ($24).
The mini rice cakes were beautifully presented but for me failed to deliver the vibrancy of flavour I look for in Vietnamese food. They were like mini (thin) pikelets in texture but with the same flavour as Banh Xeo, tumeric based and probably made from rice flour. Each one had a prawn on top with spring onions and bean sprouts and it was served with nuoc mam. The rice cakes and prawns had no huge flavour until dipped into the sauce and even then I found it a little weak. My friend said when she tipped the sauce on to the rice cake, it had a bit more punch so I would probably do that next time.
The Bang Bang Prawns were lovely, but again a bit ordinary. The coconut lemongrass sauce added nice flavour to these crumbed, deep fried prawns but I’m not sure I would order them again. They were kind of like slightly exotic, more freshly-done prawns from a fisherman’s-basket style meal. Perhaps no bad thing but Vietnamese food has a lot more to offer than that.
The Grilled Fish was definitely the highlight. It was absolutely perfectly cooked with a crispy fried rice flour/turmeric/salt outer and tender soft fresh fish inside. It tasted great and the pickled slaw with chopped peanuts was the flavour hit I’d been waiting for (I would have loved more fresh herbs, but that’s a personal taste thing). It was served with rice and steamed mussels with that coconut lemongrass sauce we had with the prawns. All up, a tasty – and sizeable – meal.
Would I go back? Yes, for many reasons. It’s a reasonably-priced, friendly local restaurant, the service is charming and the main we had was lovely. I have also heard that the pho is wonderful so would be keen to try that and other dishes to see whether it was just my ordering choice. It didn’t transport me back to my holiday in Vietnam immediately like Parkside (in Mt Albert) does every single time but I’d really like to see it succeed as it has all the makings of a great casual Vietnamese local for the lovely folk of Grey Lynn.