Inner-city Vietnamese restaurants have long been satisfying the appetites of those who crave the fresh flavours of Vietnam but don't necessarily want to drive an hour South-West of Sydney to the likes of Bankstown and Cabramatta.
Gia Hoi (Haymarket) has become my go-to place for a decent bowl of pho or bun bo hue in the city. Ah, there's also Fat Noodle (Pyrmont). Then there's restaurants in the Inner-West, such as Saigon Saigon (Glebe), Bau Truong (Marrickville), Nha Tranh (Five Dock) which are all great for good night out. The bun rieu la lot (Vietnamese tomato and crab noodle soup with betel leaves) at Thuy Huong in Marrickville is worth a mention too!
Saigon Bay sits on Oxford Street near where Cantina (I can't believe they've closed down!) once was. It's in walking distance from home (before I moved) so when the owner invited me to sample the menu, I thought it'd be a good opportunity to try a restaurant which I may not have otherwise selected.
Absolutely every table around us seems to have ordered the Saigonbay duck pancake ($14.90) so intrigued by the popularity, we decide it's a must-try. They're on the 'seasonal specials' menu and are a cross between a Peking duck san choy bow and a banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake). Boneless BBQ duck slices are embedded within the crispy pancake shell and are served with fresh iceberg lettuce plates, mints, coriander and their housemade fish dipping sauce. I love love love the contrasting textures and flavours and the crispy duck pancake combination works really well!
We also start with the papaya salad with prawns (goi du du, $18.90), one of my most favourite salad types. The green papaya has been grated a little more coarsely than norm but this salad is all about the crunch of the papaya and peanuts and the sharpness of the Vietnamese mint so it still satisfies.
Main course is a tough decision battle between specialty dishes such as the camp fire beef, sizzling wild boar, the stuffed boneless chicken (ga rut xuong, $23.90) and the snapper fillet claypot (ca mu kho to, $23.90). We end up going for the latter two.
The build up of flavours in the stuffed boneless chicken is definitely a one-up on the common Vietnamese/Chinese crispy skin chicken. Not only do you have the glossy crispy skin, but tucked within the moist chicken meat is a divine mince mixture, faintly resembling that of cha gio (Vietnamese spring rolls).
The snapper fillet claypot is one of many claypot options on the menu. I adore the balance of sweet, salty and heat (pepper) and the humble nature of the black pepper caramel sauce. There's lots of ginger, shallots, garlic, sugar, fish sauce and pepper and the richness of the sauce makes each fillet of fish go such a long way!
It's a very nostalgic dish for me too as it brings back memories of my Dad's childhood in Vietnam. I fondly remember him telling us stories of how he'd be tricked into eating an entire bowl of rice with just the same piece of meat being flicked off each spoonful as it was about to reach his mouth!
Thankfully, there's more than enough here for two so if anything, Zen and I try to eat as less salad and rice as possible.
The quote on the dessert menu rightly speaks my mind - "A meal without dessert is incomplete" so we share the sticky rice pudding with coconut milk ($6) and the fried ice-cream with topping ($6).
I am still completely obsessed with coconut (since returning from Fiji and Malaysia) so with the shredded coconut and coconut cream on top of the sticky rice, and the coconut in the fried ice-cream batter, the meal definitely finishes on a happy note.
I also have some exciting news for you which involves FREE DESSERT!
The lovely owners of Saigon Bay have offered an exclusive freebie for all of my dear blog readers! Simply mention 'Jenius blog' when you dine at the restaurant for FREE DESSERT FOR 2 with any orders over $50!
Offer valid until 30 June 2012.
249 Oxford Street, Sydney, NSW
Phone: (02) 9360 3220
JENIUS dined as guests of Saigon Bay