For more than 20 years, Bon Van Pham quietly worked at the fore of Melbourne’s plant-based food movement.
In 1996 he and his wife Long Thi Nguyen opened the vegetarian-turned-vegan bakery La Panella in Preston, before running Loving Hut in Northcote (as franchisees) from 2013. When Bon tragically died in 2016, his sons William and James Pham wanted to keep making plant-based food more accessible to all. They eventually parted ways with the Loving Hut brand and reopened as Brother Bon – an all-day restaurant where plant-based and meat-alternative ingredients take centrestage.
Head chef William has curated the menu, which mostly draws on pan-Asian cuisines. Using meat substitutes including soybean, seitan (gluten wheat protein) and pea protein, he creates meaty flavours that permeate many dishes. For brunch, you might find fluffy chilli tofu scramble, miso-glazed salmon sprinkled with furikake (a Japanese seasoning), or stir-fried udon noodles with kimchi, crispy tofu, nori and pickled daikon. It’s best enjoyed at a table near the window, taking in the sights of High Street in the plant-filled space.
At night, the space darkens as warm-lit lanterns and candles are put out. The dinner menus come out, too, listing dishes like dumplings, stir-fries, gua bao and noodle soups. Crowd favourites include char kway teow, aromatic bun bo hue and the katsu “chicken” sando. If meat substitutes aren’t your thing, many of the meals can be altered with mushrooms, tofu, tempeh and vegetables.
The desserts are no afterthought here. It might be a scoop of William’s plant-based house-made gelato (think pistachio, matcha, black sesame and yuzu lemon) or a gooey mango sago pudding.
The plant-based ethos extends to the drinks menu, which might list the refreshing Lychee Chillin’ cocktail and the popular Bon’s Espresso Martini (spiked with sweet Vietnamese coffee). The thoughftul beer list features Australian beers from Kaiju, Matso’s and White Rabbit alongside bottles of Vietnam’s beloved Bia Saigon. Also on the menu are Australian wines, sweet Japanese umeshu (plum liqueur), South Korean soju, tea and coffee from Syndicate. You might enjoy one with your meal in the vast dining room (which is wheelchair-accessible) or in the comfortable lounge area out the back.
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