When Virginie Maikim’s family fled Vietnam they came to Australia via France. At home the family always ate a mix of the two cuisines.
The tables at Chao Ba are filled with brasserie bread rolls, but not stuffed with pickled carrot, pate and pork as you’d expect. The bread is used for dipping into curries and stews. Many of those stews, stir-fries and sauces are cooked or mixed not with peanut, sesame or palm oil, but butter. And instead of using Vietnamese herbs Chao Bar sometimes uses Italian and European herbs.
But the menu is mostly loyal to the traditional Vietnamese repertoire. There’s an enormous bánh xèo and a sweet, herbal, southern-style beef pho topped with all the trimmings.
The first page of the menu can be treated like tapas. There’s a textural bánh bèo hu?, steamed rice flour cakes sprinkled with dehydrated shrimp, pork crackling, mung bean and chives. The ch? giò, Hanoi-style crunchy spring rolls, have snappy tendrils, crunchy flakes and a soft centre filled with either wood-ear mushrooms and pork, prawn and crab or mixed vegetables.
The restaurant has an overhanging awning, street-side benches, a central wine bar and a staggered fence of planter boxes. It looks and feels like the cafes on the streets of Paris.