Every now and then someone walks into the Market City Food Court, sees a stall named Bò 7 Món Thanh Tâm and stops in surprise. Bò 7 Món Thanh Tâm wasn’t always a food-court stall. In the ‘90s it was one of Bankstown’s most popular Vietnamese restaurants. Before that it was serving Surry Hills residents phở, bánh xèo and vermicelli salad.
“We opened in Surry Hills in 1985. Vietnamese food was strange for customers. They had Indian, Thai, Japanese, but they had never had Vietnamese.” Phuoc Hoang is Bò 7 Món Thanh Tâm’s owner and chef. Phở and bánh xèo soon became popular orders and Hoang’s restaurant became one of Crown Street’s early hot spots.
It was only after the building was sold, almost 10 years later, that he moved to Bankstown. It was there he got his reputation. Not long after it opened, news spread that Hoang’s food was just like the cuisine of Saigon, especially the chargrilled meats and his bò tái chanh, a Vietnamese raw-beef salad. The beef is semi-cured in lime juice with fresh herbs, ground peanuts and prawn crackers riddled with black sesame. In Saigon it’s usually a street snack or served as an accompaniment to beer in cheap bars.
Although he serves a vegetarian menu for his Buddhist customers, Hoang says meat is his specialty. Specifically, as his restaurant’s name reveals, beef done seven different ways. Bò 7 Món is a common Vietnamese wedding tradition and in 2005 Hoang left Bankstown for a bigger site in Canley Heights to cater for Vietnamese weddings. It never worked out. His landlord deceived him and he was bankrupted. "I lost everything. I had to sell my house,” he says.
Now he’s at Market Street food court slowly building both his business and his reputation back to its former glory. Thirty years later, he’s still making the same bò tái chanh, phở, bánh xèo, chargrilled meats and Vietnamese drip coffee just as he did from day one in Surry Hills.
Bò 7 Món Thanh Tâm
Level 3, Market City, 9–13 Hay Street, Chinatown
(02) 9212 5610
Mon to Sun 10am–10pm
Local Knowledge is a weekly Broadsheet series shining a light on the unassuming, authentic Sydney restaurants that are worthy of appreciation beyond the neighbourhoods they serve. See the rest of the series here.