tra vinh – northbridge
Located on Brisbane St, Tra Vinh stikes an unimposing presence. It’s easily seen that word of mouth is still the best way to sustain popularity and Tra Vinh has not needed a skerrick of advertising, let alone a shop front of high exposure. Over the years, the humble vietnamese restaurant has carved out a sizeable following, with a mixed crowd of local Vietnamese and food lovers willing to make the trek up William St for a bowl of pho.
Tra Vinh is one of those eat-quickly-and-get-out places. No one stays for the ambience, everyone comes for the food. With the stereotypical vietnamese shop front window crowded with scrawl, a peep inside reveals a much loved eatery, often full house. With TVs overhanging in the corners (sometimes showing sport or movies) the narrow restaurant is delineated by two mirrors running the length of the restaurant.
Waiters always willing to quicken the restaurants turn over, we are quickly attended to and guided to a table at the back. A flask of hot tea and two dainty tea cups are served in a flash. I like the concept of the flask of tea, keeping the beverage piping hot without the fussiness (and fragility) of a teapot. As we sip the pale tea, we pore over the menu, punctuated with photos of their best specials.
Pho is given pride of place as the first page of the menu and deservedly so. Pho dictates the success and failure of a vietnamese restaurant, with the master stock revealing the cook’s dedication and the crowd’s preference. Every vietnamese restaurant’s pho tastes entirely different. I have tried the pho here on previous occasions and it is fabulous. Sublime yet dense with flavour, the pho is gladly void of the overly sweet note of flavour enhancer and is still light enough for fresh ingredients to shine through.
I decide to pass on the noodle soup and order the tried and tested broken rice dish. The bf orders the house special (I’ve forgotten the vietnamese name) but it’s best described as the house special spicy noodle soup.
One reason why Tra Vinh is so loved is due to the very fast service. Even faster is their drinks service! Our drinks arrive immediately, followed by the staple entree of fresh spring rolls. My coconut juice is served in a conical beer glass and even though the drink is the frozen variety it takes me straight back to hot, humid and sticky holidays in south east asia. The bf has the ice chendol – which is served viet style with the addition of red beans. The indulgent drink of green noodles, coconut milk and ice is good but needing a touch more sugar.
The fresh spring rolls are tightly wrapped and even though they looked dainty, they were expertly made, brimming with rice vermicelli, prawn, thinly sliced pork and lettuce, laced with fresh mint and chives. Served with a sweet peanut sauce, the fresh spring rolls sedated any immediate hunger pangs.
Not that we had to wait very long. About a minute after we gobble down the spring rolls, our mains are served (fast huh!). My broken rice dish is basically a mountain of broken rice (who would’ve guessed? =P), with the meaty stars of the dish fanned out attractively.
What looks like meatloaf is known as ‘pork custard’ (it’s not like custard at all!). The black speckles are a crunchy black fungus and the orange layer is a layer of egg yolk. It’s all about the indescribable texture – the flavour is tasty and comforting. I like Tra Vinh’s version of the pork custard and that’s probably the reason why I always order this dish. The pork chop is chargrilled until the fat is sticky and caramelised and melts in the mouth. The shredded pork skin salad, dressed with garlic and roasted rice, is a delicacy. Crunchy, garlicky and meaty all at the same time, with the grainy feel of roasted rice. By far my favourite part of the dish – I always save some till the last bite. A fried egg, flourishes the rice like a racing hat – the runny yolk adding yet another dimension.
A sweet dressing accompanies the dish, splashed on as respite for when the savoury tastes get cloying. To cut through the fat and meat (and balance out the food pyramid maybe), broken rice is almost always served with fresh cucumber and a pout inducing carrot and daikon pickle. There’s a lot of facets to this dish and Tra Vinh does it well. =)
Broken rice represents a comfort dish to me – reasons being, it looks like its thrown together quickly and it’s not good for you! Though it would be a great candidate as the last carnivorous stop for a willing vegetarian! I think it represents vietnamese food well – that is, the whole of the dish is definitely more than the sum of its parts.
The waiter arrives with the house special noodle soup, armed with assorted dishes containing fresh sprouts, lemon wedge and sliced chillies. The bowl of noodles looks quite beautiful, with the dots of almost fluoro chilli oil making puddles in the broth and two semi circles of pork loaf float elegantly beneath the surface. Before the soup cools, all the extras get thrown in the soup to be wilted. A thorough mixing and the resultant tide reveals the mysterious contents lurking beneath – flat rice noodles, slices of beef and a very gelatinous beef bone. Uninhibited slurping ensues (the restaurant sounds like a choir of slurpers) and the bf has finished the soup in record time (a good sign lol). The soup is very much like pho but spicy (it probably is pho with chilli) and makes for a nice departure from the normal beef noodle soup.
Finishing our drinks and getting on with the rest of our day, we are in and out in less than an hour with $31 less in our wallets. Fast, cheap and authentic – definitely not pretentious and with great food, this is one of the top options for viet food in Perth without the cavernous proportions and raging crowds. Perfect.
– 15 pork custards out of 20 –
Up’s: Cheap, fresh and tasty. Authentic viet food and totally unpretentious. Service is mighty quick.
Down’s: Nobody comes here for the decor.
Tra Vinh, 149a Brisbane St, Northbridge WA 6003
T: (08) 9228 2788
7 days 10 – 9pm
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