Vietnamese pho is one of the house specialties. Photo: Natascha Mirosch
In Vietnamese, ‘‘o’mai’’ means either ‘‘apricot’’ or ‘‘teenager’’. The owner Margaret shrugs when we ask her which one relates to her restaurant Cafe O’Mai.
‘‘We just liked the sound of the name,” she says.
Certainly there are no apricots on the menu at Cafe O’Mai, nor, on a weekday lunchtime, many teenagers either. What there is are plenty of hungry locals, with trade seemingly evenly split between workers popping in for a takeaway bahn mi and those like us who settle at a table for something more substantial.
Cafe O’Mai , which has revitalised a once rather depressed corner off the busy Ipswich Road in Annerley is part of the new wave of Vietnamese places opening in Brisbane, eschewing the sometimes frankly dowdy decor of the stereotypical Vietnamese restaurant for something more modern. Perhaps it’s the second generation coming through, representing the food of their parents through their own experiences. Here, both are present with Margaret on the floor, and her mother Kim in the kitchen.
Modern interior ... Cafe O'Mai. Photo: Natascha Mirosch
Apart from its name there’s little clue that O’Mai, is anything but a typical local cafe; with polished cement floors, wooden tables and white walls, with Edison light bulbs hanging above the counter, but alongside breakfast cafe staples like sweet corn and zucchini fritters, you’ll find ‘‘Aunty Five’s clay pot baked eggs’’ with lemongrass and chilli pork sausages and tamarind dressing. Of course in Vietnam no breakfast would be complete without a bowl of pho. The broth is light but fragrant, generous with slippery rice noodles, thin slices of good quality beef and a side plate of beanshoots, Vietnamese mint, chilli and a wedge of lemon.
Bahn mi (meat, pate, chilli and pickled vegetables on a baguette - a legacy from French colonialists) comes as traditional pork, as well as tamarind chicken barbecued pork and lemongrass beef. Then there are fat and tightly rolled rice-paper rolls in pork, chicken and prawn, with a fish sauce for dipping, as well as vermicelli noodle salads, Vietnamese curries and slow-cooked nuggets of caramelised pork ribs with jasmine rice.
The French also introduced coffee into Vietnam and today ca phe da - iced coffee made with condensed milk, is a staple. It’s brought to the table in a small glass with the condensed milk in the bottom, the coffee in a drip filter on top and once it’s dripped through, I pile some ice in and stir. It’s the perfect strong, sweet pick-me-up for the afternoon ahead.
If you prefer regular coffee, there’s Toby’s Estate on offer, as wells as a drinks menu including well as soda chanh - lemon soda made from freshly squeezed lemon, sugar syrup and soda water served in screw top jars with handles.
We enjoyed all our dishes at Cafe O’Mai and especially liked the fact that nothing has MSG. But we would have liked the flavours to have been turned up a couple of notches - more acid, more spice, more punch please; we promise we can take it.
- Cuisine - Vietnamese
- Prices - Meals $6-15, desserts $4-4.50, drinks $3.50-$7
- Features - Vegetarian friendly, Outdoor seating, Accepts bookings
- Opening Hours - Tuesday-Friday 6.30am-3pm; Saturday & Sunday 7am-2pm
- Author - Natascha Mirosch