“It might be a bit corny,” Banoi co-owner Viet Nguyen says, “but we describe our food as, ‘traditionally Vietnamese, authentically Australian’.”
It’s a statement that gets to the heart of dining out in this country. Cooks from every background use local produce to make something rooted in authenticity but exciting and new. Nguyen reckons this is exactly what you can expect at King Street’s newest arrival. “We’re serving the food that we’ve cooked at home – home-style Vietnamese – but my home has always been here, so that’s decades of Australian influence.”
Banoi’s recipes reflect Nguyen and co-owner Michael Nham’s late grandmother’s central Vietnamese background (the two are cousins). Nguyen and Nham knew they would have their work cut out making sure the food lived up to her memory. “Our grandma was the go-to person in her small fishing village for wise words and healing powers,” Nguyen says. “When they had to get to Australia, it was her fishing boat that brought all these people from the village here after the war.”
While the focus of these early recipes was fish, Nguyen and Nham have brought a very Aussie love of beef, pork and chicken to the forefront. The most popular dish at Banoi’s two existing locations in Melbourne is its beef pho. Nguyen says the soup is quite different from the varieties most diners may have experienced: “We call our style ‘home pho’,” he says. “It has about quadruple the amount of aromatics and spices that you’d find at more restaurant pho.”
Elsewhere on the menu you can find bun bo hue, another noodle dish Nguyen says is even more popular than pho in Vietnam; crispy pancakes with your choice of protein; and grilled meat and rice dishes. Also: “Banoi tacos” – a kind of Vietnamese steamed bun.
With an interior that manages to be playful, bright and sophisticated – pink and green tiling, light wood furnishes, plenty of plants and a lucky cat – Nguyen and Nham have created a space of warmth, fun and delicious food that would make any grandma proud.