Just a few months ago, Benjamin Sinfield was plying his trade in kitchens like Ester, Fred’s and St. John (in London). Now he makes Vietnamese pancakes. “We [partner Tanio Ho] just really wanted to do something on our own and something we could do without an investor,” says Sinfield, who’s joined on the pans by Ho’s mother Kim.
Banh Xeo Bar is a nomadic food stall that serves only two things: bánh xèo (the pancakes) and bún bò huế, a pho-like spicy beef noodle soup. As far as Vietnamese food stalls go, not serving pho, banh mi or a generic stir-fry was a brave choice. “Eighty per cent of people don't know what this is or have never tried it before,” says Ho.
For market-goers who’ve never heard of bánh xèo, Ho explains it as a savoury Vietnamese pancake cooked in a sizzling pan, filled with meat and herbs. As for how to eat it, Sinfeild says: “we recommend cutting the pancake up, wrap it in the lettuce with pickles and dip it in the dipping sauce. Use your hands, get messy.”
Traditionally they’d be filled with pork, prawn and bean sprouts, and cooked in lard. Here, the lard has been replaced by oil to fit the “Eastern Suburbs diet” (their words) and the traditional fillings have been switched out for new combinations, such as mixed mushrooms, garlic and chives; bacon and shredded chicken breast; and sweet corn and pepper. “We’ve got some other ideas as well. We’ve just started making our own paneer cheese for a saag paneer bánh xèo,” says Sinfield. “Also a slow-cooked pork maybe with shiitake mushrooms.”
The bún bò huế, on the other hand, is strictly traditional, brewed with beef bones over many hours with a good dose of lemongrass, annatto and star anise.
In the future, the trio may add a few more ideas to their refreshingly short menu but for now you can find their wooden-bar fronted stall (made by friend Aidan Morris) and sizzling pancakes every Saturday at Paddington Markets.