‘Hidden Gem’ No 2? Well, Bò 7 Món Thanh Tâm only partially meets our criteria for a ‘Hidden Gem’ (off the beaten track, easy to miss, largely untested, yet possesses glowing reviews). Yes it’s kind of hidden away, as you’ll have to be looking for it to find it inside the Mountbatten Hotel. But it is located in a prime location on George St in that cluster of Viet restaurants, and being in the Zomato ‘Cheap eats’ collection, I’m presuming that it is already relatively well known. So really, B7MTT (all the locals call it that…..jokes, jokes) can only be deemed as a ‘Hidden Gem’ because we’d walked past the Mountbatten plenty of times and never knew that there was this highly-rated restaurant just there waiting for us.
The Mountbatten Hotel was really easy to find, on the cnr of George St and Ultimo Rd, and as soon as you’ve pulled open the doors of the Hotel, you know you’re at the right place as you can already smell the usual Vietnamese restaurant smells i.e. the fish sauce, mint, and bean sprouts. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was an unusual and poky set-up with dining tables all crowded in near the ordering station, the hotel’s foyer kind of turned into a make-shift restaurant. We squeezed our way past tables to reach the ordering station, and after grabbing a menu we tried to make ourselves as small as possible as there wasn’t much room to stand as you reviewed the menu before making your order at the ordering station and paid for your meal. By the time we made our decision and made to order, I initially thought that our service girl was already annoyed with us as she had to squeeze past us on several occasions already when we were reviewing the menu and she seemed a little flustered when taking our order during the lunch rush, and it felt busy as the majority of tables were taken and the patrons were a jovial loudish bunch.
We ended up deciding on my Viet fav, the ‘Noodle Salad’ (which basically meant Vermicelli) with Spring Rolls and Charcoal Pork, my wife had the Tamarind Flounder, and for good measure (and a good bench-mark dish for comparison) we ordered a serving of handmade rice paper rolls to share (although they called them ‘summer rolls’).
We took a recently cleared table (it’s not a large space) near the invisible border of where the Vietnamese restaurant seating ended, before the pub’s seating started. As we waited, we took in our surroundings to understand the set-up. With space being a premium in the city, I’m thinking that the foyer of the Mountbatten hotel was maximised, thus the foyer has been utilised as a front of shop Vietnamese restaurant while the back portion remained the pubs. Thus diners who had come for Viet, shared a space with the pub crowd, therefore there was no need for music as the sounds coming from the TVs showing horse races and the rugby blended with the usual pub cheer and banter, which created the atmosphere for diners.
The wait for our food wasn’t long, however our food did come out a dish at a time (spaced out by at least 5 mins per dish) and I really did try to be a gentleman, I really did. I resisted as long as I could, not wanting to dig into my food until my wife’s dish arrived. But I was weak, and what started off as just mixing my sauce into my noodles turned into a desperate need to offer my wife a try of the spring roll, as it was too too hard to resist as they had used puff pastry rather than the usual pastry to make the rolls so that the golden brown pastry was all blistered and flaky. So trying a mouthful of spring roll each (as soon as I heard my wife crunch into hers, I knew it was safe for me to tuck into mine) and that first bite into the uber crispy spring roll and tasting the moist and flavoursome filling, we knew we had found a Gem of a restaurant in B7MTT! And once we had swallowed our spring rolls, we started to eye off the charcoal pork….. The pork was tender and had a really smoky charcoal flavour to it, thus it was really cooked properly, not just charcoal by name. Easily 10/10!
Next up was the fresh summer rolls. I do like to try most things first without sauce, to get a taste of the natural flavours before it gets masked by the stronger tasting sauce. Although the ingredients (prawn, chicken, vermicelli, bean sprouts, mint, and rice paper) were all really fresh but it definitely needed the hoisin/chilli/peanut dipping sauce to complete the package, the sauce was delish and we broke the double-dip rule, oh, we so smashed the rule, I was dipping my last roll after every bite. Mmmmmm.
And when my wife’s flounder finally arrived, it was well worth the wait. A whole entire fish at least 25cm long was served up, it was battered and deep fried to a crisp, then coated in a thick layer of Tamarind sauce. It was steaming when my wife cut into it and it was simply bloody delicious! Crispy outer layer, a flavoursome sauce which was both sweet and sour, and the fish was good, perhaps a little dry but with the sauce it wasn’t an issue. And to make the fish into a meal, it was served with a large bowl of steamed jasmine rice and a salad on the side (baby spinach leaves and pickled carrot shreds).
The owner was great, and I have to call this out. When we were waiting for our meal, our service girl had brought out our cutlery (chopsticks and spoons), but when it came time to eat the whole fish it was evident that chopsticks and spoon alone wasn’t going to ‘cut-it’ (literally and metaphorically). The owner must of seen my wife struggle with trying to cut the fish with the spoon so unbidden he brought over knife and fork. And later in the meal when he saw me rubbing my fingers together as I had gotten sauce on them and I was running out of clean corners on my napkin, he appeared from nowhere and gave us more napkins. BTW, napkin test was a 4, but with the top up, it took them to a 5! I really don’t think there are many restaurants where the service staff (let alone the boss) would watch their customers enjoy their meals, looking out for opportunities to up-lift their dining experience. And it was these little touches which remains in the mind of customers and what brings people back. So I think that was worth really calling out and praising that level of customer service/attention to detail.
However table water wasn’t provided, but I don’t think it was their fault. It looked like the restaurant side looked after the food aspect (including the pub menu), while the bar further back into the hotel looked after everyone’s drinks needs, so it wasn’t on B7MTT to be providing us with table water. When we looked around to see what others had to drink, the Viet restaurant patrons had bottled waters in front of them, while the pub patrons all had beers. And being cheap Asians who don’t pay for water at restaurants, we opted to just rough it without fluids so I had to admit I was pretty thirsty by the time we had finished our meals. But it was a novel concept, to have beer with your Viet meal. I’ll have to try that next time when I come back.
Our end verdict, 5.0! Although the setting was a little strange, but the food was so good that it compensated for its venue. The ingredients used for our meals were the freshest in recent memory for Viet, and the flavours were also the best I can recall from Viet food (even better than Mint in Burwood and that has been our long time benchmark). And the owner’s attention to our needs (almost like a parent) was the final touch to an otherwise flawless experience. So we’ll definitely be back as this place is a real Gem! And the only down side I can see with raving on about this place, is that I’m sure the next time we come back, there will be a substantial wait for a table.
Bò 7 Món Thanh Tâm- Sunday 30 September
PH: 9212 5610
701 George Street, Haymarket NSW
Mon-Sun 10am – 9pm