Homely: Saigon Tiger, Bexley North. Photo: Marco Del Grande
Replace the passing cars with motorbikes and you could easily imagine yourself in this modest little restaurant's namesake city. The busy intersection view is Vietnam with a twist and so too is the food - familiar Vietnamese but with plenty of creative license from cook and co-owner, Ho Tang.
A self-taught cook originally from District 4, a working class area of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), Tang says Vietnamese food can be divided into two categories: the things eaten for sustenance, and the things eaten for enjoyment.
Tang sees his food as the latter, but we think it ticks both boxes ably, ranging from salt-and-pepper squid to bowls of warming pho and meaty mains that bring the words ''one of each, please'' to the tips of our tongues.
Feel-good food: Barbecue sweet soy beef with hot and sour herb. Photo: Sahlan Hayes
Billed as a signature dish, the betel leaf with seared beef entree is an absolute flavour-bomb. We wrap the little jumbles of beef, coconut-and-lime satay sauce and a sliver of fresh chilli in the betel leaves they top, and enjoy the tang, sweetness and crunch.
A green mango and papaya salad with tofu - ''served as prepared for a Buddhist monk'' (completely vegan, with house-made soy sauce and no fish sauce) - is comparatively bland but still enjoyably crisp and fresh. It's a great foil for other more boldly flavoured dishes, as it has none of the fiery kick of the Thai or Lao versions of the salad.
Grilled chicken skewers have an aromatic marinade of lemongrass and chilli and are, Tang says, a classic eat-on-the-run dish from District 4. The skewers are good, but our favourite dish is barbecue sweet soy beef with hot-and-sour herb salad. Topside beef from Tasmania is served medium rare with a dark soy-stained colour. Topped with a vibrant salad that includes bean shoots, capsicum, cherry tomatoes and plenty of fresh herbs, it's a generous serve of feel-good food. Less wholesome but equally addictive is tamarind and whisky pork - a ''Ho original''. Thin strips of deliciously fatty pork are coated in a rich, sweet sauce made of Johnnie Walker whisky, tamarind and lime.
The brief menu is regularly tweaked and added to, as seasons change and new inspirations hit, while the one-year-old restaurant itself maintains a low key, homely vibe. It's a winning combination.
Do … BYO; they're not licensed and the ''District 4'' way, they say, is to eat with alcohol.
Don't … forget to make a booking, this 30-seater fills up fast.
Dish … barbecue sweet soy beef with hot-and-sour herb salad.
Vibe … cosy, casual, modest.
- 02 8964 8096
- Cuisine - Vietnamese
- Prices - Entrees and salads $9.50-$15, mains $10-$18.50, dessert $8.
- Features - BYO, Cheap and cheerful, Accepts bookings
- Chef(s) - Ho Tang
- Owners - Ho Tang
- Opening Hours - Wed-Sun, 5.30-9pm
- Author - Angie Schiavone