Bao & Pot Cafe, 2/1 Military Road, Avondale Heights. Phone: 8528 2275
How many times have we whizzed by Bao & Pot Cafe?
Part of the problem has been that when we pass by, we’re always headed elsewhere.
And part of it, too, is that the cafe is located right where Canning Street becomes Military Road – it’s on an uphill bend often hectic with traffic and not at all conducive to dithering.
Then, about a month ago, I was stopped at that strip of shops for caffeine purposes when I wandered down and stuck my nose in.
Immediate thoughts: “Wow – this is something! Something we need to check out!”
A few weeks after that, I returned.
Bao & Pot Cafe serves a very handy line-up (see menu below) of Vietnamese and Vietnamese-influenced dishes that range through breakfast to more substantial lunches and sweets.
Yes, there’s pho, vermicelli, rice and banh mi – but there’s also just as many dishes that embrace Vietnamese flavours and ingredients in imaginative ways, and all at prices that stay cosily within the realms of cheap eats.
No fussy “fusion” price tags here!
For my lunch I had the turmeric brioche lemongrass beef burger with a potato twist.
It was my first experience with these twist thingies – and I was not impressed.
It just seemed like greasy rubbish over-seasoned with some horrid, sweet take on chicken salt.
The burger was something else – wonderful lemongrass flavour, though it did seem a little over-priced at $14.50 in terms of the substance delivered.
Still, I’d seen enough to treat my visit as mere reconnaissance and so happily return with Bennie for a more seriously enjoyable appraisal of this fine neighbourhood cafe.
And Bennie, of course, goes the burger.
And this time, it’s a brilliant offering in every way – even if, apart from a couple of mouthfuls, I am experiencing it through his eyes and mind.
The difference this time is that the burger has two patties instead of one, meaning it’s a real-deal, two-handed meal.
The meat is housed in a gorgeous turmeric brioche bun – they’re made here daily.
In there, too, is a very good slaw and “spiced-apple tomato relish”.
The meat is wonderful – very burger, very chewy and delicious, yet with super lemongrass flavour.
This, we reckon, is right up there with the very best burgers Melbourne has to offer – and we reckon all burger fans should try it at the first available opportunity.
Oh yeah, the same potato twist thing skewers Bennie’s burger and he loves it.
Each to his-her own, I guess; personally, I’d prefer some fries or even some salad or pickled vegetables.
But that burger … wow.
My own crispy skinned chicken with tomato rice ($12) is no slouch of a dish, either, though more along the lines of your regular Vietnamese tucker.
It’s all excellent – moist and steaming rice, fried egg, pickled carrot strands and beautifully cooked and easily boned chicken.
The only disappointment is being served sticky, commercial sweet chilli sauce in a place where care and pride about details and ingredients is so much otherwise in evidence.
I learn from proprietor Anna that this is simply because it is what most of her Western customers want, and that a more appropriate (for me anyway!) fish sauce-based dipping concoction is available.
I discover, too, from Anna what is behind Bao & Pot Cafe’s unique approach and the meals that eventuate from it – she is of Vietnamese heritage but was raised in Hong Kong.
That explains, for instance, the presence of bao on the menu – and in the joint’s name.
And that explains, too, our dessert of “house-made Hong Kong waffle” with fine brought-in chocolate ice-cream and cubes of Asian-style jelly ($10.90).
There’s nothing sophisticated about this – just simple, good ingredients combined in just the right proportions.
It is wonderful.