Don’t expect bells and whistles here. The décor is humble but the welcome warm. Bags of prawn crackers, a dim sim steamer, photographs of menu items, and handwritten prices adorn the counter; spring rolls and chicken sticks cram a bain-marie; and plastic plants are scattered throughout the space. Tissue boxes, plastic spoons and condiments crowd the small wooden tabletops and split bills are not permitted.
But the food is comforting, especially the coconut sago (tapioca pearls) pudding with banana, and the pho – perfected over decades. It’s cooked from the marrow bones, simmered overnight and strained it in the morning so the soup is dark.
The wine list is something else. It was put together by winemakers from BK Wines and Koerner Wines who are fans of the place and found themselves always stopping in for a feed on their way to and from their wineries.
In addition to the traditional Vietnamese coffee, beer, and avocado and custard apple smoothies on the menu, Saigon Cafe offers six wines by the bottle – light reds and funky, aromatic whites. All match the fiery heat in the spicy beef soup and crispy tamarind wings. The charred grilled quail. And the fatty pork, chili and coriander-packed bahn mi. They’re low alcohol and have lots of acid – to work with herbs and spices – and are refreshing. The two red wines are kept in the fridge as well. Drink them cold or bring them out and let them warm up a bit.
The wines change but hover around $45 a bottle; the suburban joint also allows BYO with a corkage fee.