Nam Nguyen ran a banh mi chain in Adelaide before he moved to Melbourne in 2014. After opening the excellent Vietnamese eatery Good Days – famous for its pho and “unfaultable” chicken rice – on Sydney Road in 2016, he never thought he’d be selling bread rolls again. But Covid, the great disruptor, led to a change of plans.

When Good Days started selling banh mi during lockdown, they were so popular they’d often sell out via online orders before the doors even opened. Now Nguyen’s made them a permanent menu fixture at Good Days Hot Bread, a dedicated banh mi shop that opened last week, further up Sydney Road.

While staying true to the core tenets of the French-Vietnamese rolls – pate, mayo, coriander, pickled carrot, cucumber and a protein in a crusty baguette – these interpretations are next-level. It’s hard to go past the crunchy porchetta, which comes with a generous helping of five-spice rubbed and roasted pork belly, crackling, xo mince, coriander gremolata and all the usual trimmings.

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“In Hoi An – they kind of make the best banh mis in Vietnam – they always have a sweet mince thing they put in, so we sort of adapted that into an XO sauce that we make ourselves,” says Nguyen. “It gives it a richness and umami that’s slightly sweet. It’s just another layer that they do in Hoi An that’s a little bit extra.”

In news that’ll be unsurprising to Good Days regulars, the vegan version is equally delicious. Replicating the texture of the roast pork, tofu is rubbed with five-spice and pressed (making it more crisp and robust), then layered with rice cake in between to mimic the fatty mouthfeel of pork. It’s then heaped over mushroom pate.

“It isn’t meant to taste like pork, it’s still meant to taste like tofu, but it has the [texture],” says Nguyen. “We do a vegan pate and a vegan aioli made with soy milk. So you get all the elements of a banh mi still. Sometimes [vegans] miss out on those things and it’s close to a banh mi, but it’s not the full experience.”

Other fillings include a classic cold-cuts option (shaved pork belly layered over house-made pig’s head terrine); char siu duck with smoked yoghurt and fried shallots; xiu mai (pork meatballs) in red sauce; chargrilled lemongrass chicken with crispy skin and green sauce; and turmeric fish (crisp, fried flathead with perilla, mint and dill mayo – there’s also a vegan version of this with fried cauliflower).

“We’re not doing anything out of this world … we want to keep it a banh mi,” says Nguyen. “Even the proteins, most of them you’ll find at a banh mi shop. Except maybe the turmeric fish and cauliflower, but that turmeric marinade is very Vietnamese.

“Just like [the menu at] Good Days is kind of what you’d find at a Vietnamese noodle shop, we don’t want to deviate [from the classics] too much. Just elevate it a bit, maybe use better ingredients.”

Like at Good Days, the meat is free-range, and largely Victorian, including Macedon Ranges duck and Bannockburn chicken. They’re also getting flathead from Lakes Entrance and pork from Murray Valley in New South Wales. It’s all loaded into fresh bread rolls supplied by Collingwood favourite N Lee. “They have the best bread,” says Nguyen. “It’s a bit more like a baguette, so it’s a little bit more chewy, slightly more dense.” It also holds up to toasting without shattering into a shower of crumbs upon every bite.

The rolls are priced between $14 and $17, similar to Ca Com in Richmond. It’s more than the average banh mi but it’s on par with the Western sandwiches and bagels you’ll find in the same neighbourhood, and all over Melbourne.

“There’ll be some people who don’t understand why we’re charging this much. But I don’t think we can progress if we’re too scared of [charging more],” says Nguyen. “To be honest the price point here is where the average banh mi shop should be at … what they’re doing and what we’re doing is not that different in terms of the amount of work put into it. So I’d like to think we’re opening the doors for them to be able to do this in the future.”

Banh mi aside, there’s a choice of pillowy bao filled with char siu duck or vegetables, and pastries inspired by old-school hot bread bakeries, like pate chaud (Vietnamese meat pies with flaky puff pastry); pandan-cream eclairs, and a thick and wobbly coconut-cream slice. To drink, there’s Vietnamese iced coffee, nitro tea and tepache (a Mexican fermented pineapple drink, levelled up with fermented custard apple and Asian spices).

The space keeps it simple, with a sky-blue communal table and a handful of bar seats to perch at. But otherwise it’s largely geared towards takeaway. “We wanted to use materials that fit in with a banh mi shop, so laminate and stainless [steel],” says Nguyen. “And then the timber helps to elevate the vibe a bit. We didn’t want to make it too theme-y. We could have easily made it more nostalgic, but it’s hopefully timeless.”

Good Days Hot Bread
644 Sydney Road, Brunswick

Hours:
Tue to Sun 9am–4pm

good-days.com.au/
@gooddays_brunswick