Hidden Gems Register

We’re on a mission to discover tucked away restaurants which are off-the-beaten-track, who serve awesome food that more people need to know about! We will be adding to this list as we uncover more and more Hidden Gems, but this is what we’ve found thus far:

Aneka Rasa– Sydney CBD

Indonesian (4.5 Stars)

220 Pitt Street, Sydney CBD NSW (Inside Wesley Mission Conference Centre)

Bò 7 Món Thanh Tâm– Haymarket 

Vietnamese (5 Stars)

701 George Street, Haymarket NSW (Inside the Montbatten Hotel)

Brainwave Café– Ultimo 

Modern Vegetarian Café (4.5 Stars)

94/732 Harris Street, Ultimo NSW (it’s down an alleyway)

Encasa Rapido– Sydney Westfields

Spanish (4.5 Stars)

Level 5, Sydney Westfields Food Court, Pitt and Market Street, Sydney NSW

Griddle King Central– Haymarket

Taiwanese street food (4.5 Stars)

Shop 4 Marcus Clark Building, Haymarket NSW

Griddle King Central- Haymarket

What do you get, when a Donner Kebab has “special relations’” with a
Burrito who has mixed Asian heritage?

I’m not sure how many people have actually eaten here (although on the counter there are Polaroid pics of famous people who have), or how many people have actually walked past this place as it’s literally at the ‘end of the line’! But Griddle King is our quintessential definition of a ‘Hidden Gem’!

I can’t remember why I initially added Griddle King all those months ago to my list of 100+ Places to try? As I literally don’t know what a “Griddle” is meant to be (and Google isn’t much help either, and the link to Griddle King’s brand story results in a 404 error message). And when we showed up today, afterwards I found out that we even went to the wrong Griddle King store (they have another store in Broadway). Oops.

If you still don’t know where it’s located, do you know the Devonshire underground tunnel at the South end of Central station? Yeah? Walk through the tunnel, where you re-emerge to open air (Henry Dean Plaza), keep walking on down to the second tunnel. When everyone else splits off to Railway Square, or the escalators up to George Street, just keep walking on. And when you’ve almost reached the end, there is Griddle King on your left hand side!

It’s not much to look at, as it is a takeaway store in the wall of a tunnel after all, with little foot traffic. If you’re game enough to enter, study the menu displayed above the counter and when you’re ready to order, step-up and place your orders.

By origin, I’m guessing that Griddle King is serving a type of Taiwanese street food? However from the “lunch wraps” category, the filling options you can choose from are borrowed from different Asian cuisines, like Japanese karaage, Korean spicy pork, Thai hot pepper chicken, Cumin beef or even an Australian beef patty filling.  I elected the Miss Kim (Korean chilly pork, chilly mayo sauce, fresh lettuce, coriander, sweet and sour carrots, and crackers) while my wife stayed with the Taiwanese theme and ordered the Taiwanese braised beef (Taiwanese style Braised beef with stewed carrots, fresh lettuce, sweet and sour carrots, and crackers). And we ordered a “Green Tea Yakult” with agar topping to share (total cost: $23.30).

Griddle King is a takeaway store, but they do have some internal seating (3 tables for 2 against a bench), so we elected to dine in.

As we waited for our food to be freshly made, we took in the feel of the place- reminding us slightly of a Doner Kebab store. But instead of Middle Eastern proprietors, there were two Mandarin speakers behind the counter. From where we were seated, we could easily see our food being made. The wraps are made like crepes; an egg batter is poured into a circular hotplate, and it looks like it takes a bit of a skill to make the things. We tried our best not to “notice” that the microwave was used several times to most likely de-frost our fillings which were going into our wraps. But it was hard to trick ourselves that the microwaved produce was going to be used to feed another customer, as we were the only patrons there for the duration of our meal……. But when the food was ready (they call you over to pick it up from the counter- no table service here), you really can’t tell that the meat had been microwaved. I’m being serious, no tongue in cheek here.

Along with the feel of a Doner Kebab store, the wraps even came in the same long heat-proof bags as Kebabs! And as we really didn’t know what to expect e.g. would they be served on a plate like a French crepe, or folded in half like a huge taco, but we were pleased to find that they were rolled-up, ends tucked in like a Mexican Burrito which made them easy to eat.

First bite! OMG! The crepe skin was thick but super soft, like a thicker version of a burrito skin, but so much tastier! As it was an egg batter, and methinks spring onion oil is an ingredient in the batter?  Making it a pleasant surprise, as most skins, Kebabs or Burritos, are tasteless. But this wrapper skin was so tasty all on its own!

And because I had a spicy Korean sauce, the flavours were intense (a good intensity), the pork was good (you couldn’t tell that it had been microwaved), the sauce was added liberally (but it didn’t leak or get messy), and the lettuce and coriander were both really fresh!

My wife and I exchanged bites, admittedly mine was more flavourful. But hers was still authentic tasting, just like getting a dish of Taiwanese brisket placed inside a wrap. And the Green Tea Yakult was really good, the Yakult in it gave it just enough flavour to change the entire taste of Green tea, while the agar topping added a nice chewy texture.

I fully smashed mine, and as I waited for my wife to finish hers, I probably drank most of our share of the drink. Sorry babe. But all the while, I was pretty jubilant, as not often do you find a place that looks underwhelming, but the food absolutely surpasses your expectations! I just hope that business is a lot better on the weekdays, or uni students who live above in the uni accommodation come down on a regular basis for procrastination snacks. As all the while we were there, we were the only customers, except for someone who ordered a dessert crepe using a mobile food delivery service. I shouldn’t judge….. But you’d have to be pretty lazy to get a single Banana Nutella crepe delivered to your door-step for lunch……

Our end verdict, 4.5 Stars from 5! (3 from 3 for Food, as it was perfect, it delivered on everything it stated to be); 0.5 from 0.5 for Service (we exchanged less than 10 words with the staff, but they were efficient); 0 from 0.5 for Atmosphere (it was a takeaway joint after all, but the only ambiance in the store was the hum of the refrigerator); and 1 from 1 for Value for money (where can you fill 2 people +a drink for under 25 bucks these days? Griddle King would be the answer!).

So what do you get, if a Doner Kebab copulates with a Burrito with mixed Asian heritage?

The answer would be a lunch wrap from Griddle King! It took DNA from both, but the outcome is something completely unique! And so much better! I can’t wait to go back and try other flavours (and categories- besides the lunch and dessert crepes, they also do breakfast wraps and fried Chinese breadsticks)! Griddle King, you my friend will be added onto our ‘Hidden Gems’ register! If you haven’t tried one before, I highly recommend it! I’m pretty confident that you’ll like it as well. *Nods*.

Griddle King Central- Saturday 9 March (4.5 Stars)


PH: (02) 8060 8779

Shop 4 Marcus Clark Building, Haymarket NSW

 Mon-Thurs 8am – 7.30pm

Fri 8am – 4.30pm

Sat 9am – 3pm

Sun Closed

Dining Spot- Concord

Cantonese food touches down on Majors Bay Road!

Catching up with the in-laws for a belated Lunar New Year’s meal, I was tired with the Burwood and Strathfield dining scene, so we cast our net a little wider and lucked on ‘Dining Spot’!

The sensible cuisine to have for a Lunar New Year’s meal with the family is obviously Chinese, so I was a little bit surprised to find when searching for a South Chinese restaurant that a Cantonese restaurant had newly opened up in the unlikely dining spot of Majors Bay Road (ironically called the ‘Dining Spot’…….Me personally, I would’ve named it ‘Dining Outpost’ as it was in no-man’s land, or at least no-Chinese-man’s land). And my in-laws were also pleased to try a Cantonese restaurant outside of their usual Inner West haunts.

When you walk into Dining Spot, you’ll immediately notice the differences to the usual Cantonese restaurant. Here, it’s more airy, they actually play music, and there is some attempt at table settings and store decorations. It’s probably due to the fact that they have to win over a whole new clientele, unable to rest on their laurels like the large pre-established Cantonese restaurants can, in Strathfield or Rhodes.

My in-laws had arrived before us, and learnt that one of the partners from their usual go-to Strathfield restaurant had opened this outpost on Majors Bay, so we were confident that we’d get a decent level of service and food.

Flipping through the menu, they cover off more than just the usual Cantonese classics, and had sections for Laksas, hotpots, and a few other non-typical Canto dishes, while there were also the usual Canto suspects like Yum Cha to-order, whole Peking duck, etc. etc.

We settled on the Seafood San Choy Bow, Shan Dong Chicken, Vegetable and Tofu Hotpot, and Stir fried Flat Rice Noodles with King Prawns in Creamy Egg Sauce. The menu is actually so extensive that we narrowed down our choices by only considering dishes that they had marked with a ‘thumbs-up’ icon next to it (3 of our 4 choices were marked with the big opposable digit).

While we waited for our food, we just relaxed in the relative calm of the store. Closing your eyes you could almost imagine yourself sitting alfresco, out in the open air- as it was really that airy in there; and they were playing this CD which consisted of traditional Chinese instruments playing soothing instrumental music but within the audio itself it had chirping birds, which added to the feeling of being outdoors and tranquillity.

The first dish to arrive was the San Choy Bow (the humble edible bowl a new year’s tradition). The lettuce was fresh, but as we ate we remembered that it has been quite some time since we last ate out at a traditional Cantonese restaurant and it reminded us of how bland Canto food can be. As the seafood and veg inside the lettuce bowl were really fresh, but the tastes were a bit nondescript.

Next we tried the Vegetable Tofu hotpot, this again was on the bland side, and the tofu was the fried type, when I was silently hoping for the silken tofu.

But then we had the Shan Dong chicken, which in contrast was bursting with flavour! The chicken was fried crispy skin chicken, it was covered in the mild spicy but tasty Shan Dong sauce, and there were other ingredients like garlic, water chestnut and seaweed which added flavour and texture to the dish. So it was a redeeming dish for Dining Spot, as to this point it was cruising for a low Food score from me.

And the last dish was the noodles with king prawn and egg sauce. Yeah, this was okay, the prawns were tasty, large and fresh! And the noodles and the egg sauce were as advertised, by the long form description in the menu.

And as we ate, my wife explained to her parents all about our new lifestyle blog- Four Senses. As the last time we caught up with them before Christmas, we were already doing food reviews and they were used to us pulling out the phone each time a dish arrived. But we hadn’t started our own WordPress site yet, so the ability for them to pull out their phones and peruse the site right-there-and-then and breeze over some of our dining escapades was pretty cool.

Our end verdict for Dining Spot? 4.0 Stars from 5! (2 from 3 for Food – It was alright, but the more established Canto restaurants still turn out a more tasty offering); 0.5 from 0.5 for Service (the young waiter who waited on us was super polite, excusing himself each time he approached our table and was surreptitiously topping up our water); 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere (this was the stand-out, Canto restaurants aren’t known for its décor or ambiance, but Dining Spot had loads of character); and 1 from 1 for Value for money (it equated to slightly over $20 per person, which isn’t bad for Cantonese).

I think it’s great for the Concord locals to have Dining Spot move in to Majors Bay Road (while we were there two different locals came in to place take-away orders), and for them I’m sure it’s nice to have some variety along their street. If you too are looking for a change from you’re usual Canto haunts, or you just need to escape the melting pot of Burwood, check-out Dining Spot! It’s a good little spot!

Dining Spot- Sunday 10 February (4.0 Stars)

PH: (02) 8317 6313

47 Majors Bay Road, Concord NSW

Mon Closed

Tues-Sun 11am – 3pm; 5pm – 10pm

Brainwave Café- Ultimo

Uncovering a newly re-polished Hidden Gem in Ultimo!

See, this is the problem of compiling a 100+ restaurant/café must-try list 6 months ago, because by the time you get around to some venues they’ve unfortunately closed down or completely pivoted from their original concepts. In the last month alone I’ve struck-off from our list 2 restaurants because they’ve closed down, and when we showed up to Brainwave Café we didn’t find a Thai fusion café, but we did find a Modern Vegetarian Café. D’oh!

Located down an alley off Harris Street (tripping distance from George St) is Brainwave Café; what initially drew me to the place were Zomato reviews which spoke of funky interiors, and tales of Massaman pulled pork on fries; Green curry hot dogs; or Thai milk tea gelatos.

The shop is still as funky as advertised i.e. the upstairs loft seating area still has the couch in one corner where you can chillax with a cup of coffee while browsing on your phone (courtesy of their free wifi); there is still a bookshelf with a few titles (but more prominently displayed was the collection of polaroid pics of diners of yester-year); there is still a piano keyboard where people can hold an impromptu jam-session (although it was now unplugged and lying on its side); and from the loft you can see right down into the kitchen (seeing all the goings-on as your meal is being constructed).

But it was only when we were seated and studying their menu, did we realise that the entire menu and the concept of the store had changed. As all meal options were now vego (which isn’t a problem as who isn’t looking to eat healthier in 2019), but we were so prepared for fusion burgers and fries with real meat in them!

However we settled on the Chiang Mai BBQ VgPork Burger for me ($15); the Nugget Burger for my wife ($15); and a Blue Avo smoothie to share ($6.50). And when you’re ready to make your orders/payment, just head back down to the service counter.

So as we waited for our food, we started to speculate if Brainwave Café had newly changed hands, and if this new menu was a recent change (as all signs were suggesting that this change was only recent, as they were sprucing Grand opening specials and the physical menu looked pristine with typos corrected by hand); not to mention it was pretty quiet-  it was a Saturday lunch time and for the  majority of the time we were there, we were the only patrons (however the place still had atmosphere, as their modern-stoner music filled the entire store). But I found out later on, after checking out their website and Facebook page, it seems that only the week before Brainwave had their soft launch, becoming a vego café in the process. So you can either say that we had timed our visit perfectly, or we just lucked out on trying their old menu (which I have to admit seemed more enticing). **Note: In addition to their 5 burgers, they have a creative breakfast menu (served before 11.30am), Thai vego dishes, some Japanese vego bowls, and other plant based dishes to share.

Our smoothie arrived first.

It was really tasty and refreshing. It contained avocado, blueberry jam, honey and milk (you can opt for coconut milk if you’re a vegan), and when you drank through the straw, you got little bits of preserved blueberry from the jam. Yum! But if we had to be critique-y, it was a bit watery for a smoothie and it could have done with some more avocado, considering it was the namesake of the drink?

When our food arrived, the first thing which greeted the senses was the smell of the thick cut fries. Mmmmmmm.

The burgers were served on this thin rough tile (hate to think how many of these they’ll break when cleaning them) and according to the menu my Chiang Mai burger consisted of a House Chiang Mai Chili Relish on Potato Bun, Vg-pork marinade in Hickory smoked BBQ sauce, Crispy Onion Rings, and fresh apple vinaigrette. With Crispy Chips and Chili Mayo on the side.

The burger was pretty tall, so my wife watched on in interest when I made my customary bite-a-bility test, and when I picked it up I was already cringing as the bottom bun was already soggy (sorry, pet hate when it comes to burgers). But I did manage to wrap my teeth around the buns (I had to compress it a bit), and with the first bite the sauces and apple cubes already started to flow out the back. Don’t get me wrong, the burger was tasty, but it was just hard to put your finger on the exact flavour of the burger? As it had the Chiang Mai chilli relish (not much of a chilli hit); the faux-pork was meant to be marinated in a smoked BBQ sauce; and there was meant to be the sourness from the apple vinaigrette. But when it was all incorporated, and you have a cross section of all of it in your mouth, it just became a jumble of flavours? As much as I love fruit in savoury food (as that is what my own weird recipes often become), I think the burger could’ve done with one less flavour/element. For me, I’d probably remove the apple vinaigrette. Probs minus that, and the sauce would be less runny (as it was quite watery for a sauce, so much so that by the end of the meal I had sauce right down to my elbow, using 4 of their serviettes to clean myself up). But the burger was still tasty, and surprisingly filling for a vego bun-stack, methinks it was from the potato bun?

While my wife’s Nugget burger consisted of V-Chicken nugget, tomato, red onion, house chili mayo, and maple yuzu sauce in potato bun, served with crispy chips and chilli mayo sauce on the side. And from all accounts she was pleased, the faux-chicken nugget was quite chicken-like!

And the fries were good, they were thick sliced and seasoned with a dusting of a tasty red powder, and the dipping sauces were tasty as well. Perhaps the kitchen had ESP or we were on the same “Brainwave” as them……oh come on! It was right there, I had to take the proffered joke….. But my wife was just commenting to me that the serving of fries seemed a little small (mind you we were sitting upstairs and nowhere near the kitchen). But 10 minutes later one of the chefs came up to our table, and gave us a complementary bowl of green salad, apologising that they hadn’t  prepped enough  potatoes that morning, and told us that the salad was to make-up for the lack of chippies. I have to admit, this was the first time this had ever happened to us, so our responses were stunned politeness (that’s when you just keep smiling and nodding, not knowing what to say); but after he left and the surprised wore off, we agreed that it was real nice of them to make that gesture. And my wife loved the salad!

And when we were nearing the end of our meals, one of the crew (from their website I’m thinking it’s Henry, the brains behind all the creations) came up to us, and asked how we found our meals and impressed on us that all meats were faux-meats and created from plant based ingredients; and he was real keen to see us again. Which was a nice touch, as hardly anyone in Australian hospitalities actually asks how you found the meal- so we appreciated that rare human-interaction with the kitchen. In conclusion, I think they have something really good going on, as they managed to serve-up really tasty and creative food (considering no animals were harmed in the process). For non-vegos like us, we walked away satisfied, impressed beyond our initial expectations, and we’d come back (I’m curious to see what faux-fish and faux-prawns taste like. Hehehe).

Our score for Brainwave Café, 4.5 stars from 5. We were seriously tossing up whether or not to score them 5 Stars! And my wife even suggested scoring them 4.7 Stars (but we shouldn’t introduce fractions of stars as that’s a slippery slope to go down). But we reserve 5 stars for absolute perfection, and we think there is still some room for improvement (Henry, get that ‘thinking cap’ back-on!). However the experience was so positive and unexpected that I’m going to label them as a ‘Hidden Gem’ and add them to our register. Their store is definitely hidden away, there’s no chance you’re ever going to chance upon them; their food is really solid; and more people need to know about them! Score break-down: 2.5 stars from 3 for Food; 0.5 from 0.5 for Service; 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere; and 1 from 1 for Value for money.


Brainwave Café- Saturday 19 January (4.5 Stars)

PH: 0404 016 006

94/732 Harris Street, Ultimo NSW (it’s down an alleyway)

Mon-Fri 7am – 7pm

Sat-Sun 8am – 5pm 

Encasa Rapido- Sydney Westfields

Encasa, Spanish for yum!

OK, not really. I’m not sure if in the future when kids are asked in their Spanish speaking HSC exam to say the Spanish word for yum, how many will respond by saying Encasa! But at least for me, I’ve associated Encasa with everything that is good about Spanish food!

I still remember the exact day quite clearly when we tried Encasa Deli on  Bathurst Street for the first time, the first bite into the Bocadillo (Spanish style sandwich on freshly baked baguette) it was like the happiest moment ever! And I also remember vividly the day when we intended to have lunch at  Encasa Deli, but to find their doors permanently closed  (a notice on their window stating that due to the Sydney Metro construction, their building had been earmarked for demolition). Now that was one of the saddest moments ever! But there is a silver lining to this story, a couple of months ago I learnt that the Deli had re-emerged in Sydney Westfields, as Encasa Rapido….. for those who didn’t do HSC level Spanish, Rapido is pretty much Spanish for Express!

So on this day after walking in the 35 degree heat to get to Westfields, we slowly cooled off as we climbed the 5 levels up to the foodcourt and when we located Encassa Rapido, ‘Me so Happito’!

The selection of Bocadillos seemed more extensive than their old Bathurst street store. From memory, I thought the Deli perhaps only had like 6 types  to choose from? But now we looked at a list of around 12 options  and they all sounded so good!

Running through the list, there were easily 5 Bocadillos that I could of settled  on (the Argentino – South American sausage with Chimichurri; The Cubano; and the Chorizo, were 3 of them), but we ended up ordering the Iberico (with 17 month cured meat- $19) and the Calamares (English translation = Calamari – $12). Oh yeah, the Bocadillos come in 2 sizes, a mini for $9 and the Jumbo for $12. After at least 2 years since our last Encasa Bocadillo, we had to be crazy if we didn’t get the jumbos!  So after placing our orders, we  were given a buzzer so you could go and find yourselves some seats (Oh yeah, for an extra $5, you can turn your Bocadillos into a meal  with fries and a drink).

After a 5 minute wait, our food were ready and we elected to takeaway to enjoy (as usual, Westfields was pretty crowded on this Saturday lunch-hour).

Calamares (top) and Iberico (bottom) Bocadillos

Encasa had changed their packaging, previously the Bocadillos were wrapped in foil (which was easy to eat if you were on the go); now they came in a cardboard box which is much easier to eat if you’re sitting down. And the rolls were now cut in half, which made it easy for swapsies when in the past they came in one long unbroken baguette.

I tried the Iberico first, the meat had a nice strong flavour to it, I’d describe it to be like Prosciutto but even more intense flavoured than that. However the only downside was that it was quite difficult  to  tear with your teeth, so you inevitably ended up pulling half of your meat out of your baguette in the first bite. *Sad look*.

The Calamari was what I remembered it to be! It was absolutely perfect! When we were walking to Westfields, I was telling my wife…. “If Rapido is the same as the Deli, I’m definitely getting the Calamari!” As I’ve been literally thinking about having that Tasty Calamari  on and off for the past 2 years! And it lived up to the 2 years worth of building expectation, the calamari was  crunchy as it’s lightly battered in bread crumbs, then pan fried so that the outside is crispy while the Calamari is soft, almost melting in the mouth.

Although the Calamari were outstanding, the star of the Bocadillo was still the baguette! At the Deli they used to bake their  own bread, not sure if they can still manage that at their Westfields foodcourt store, but there is something different about their bread! I’m thinking that it has less yeast in it? So it doesn’t rise much, leaving the bread more dense, chewy and satisfying! Even though the baguettes aren’t as long as a Subway foot long and it’s not bursting with salad like a Subway sub, but I always feel more full after an Encassa Bocadillo, than anything Subways could ever offer (and in the end, the prices aren’t far off from each other). Not to mention how the baguette is oily and super crispy! I’m not privy to their secret methods, but if its even remotely similar to how Italian Focaccia bread is made, then I’m thinking several times along the baking process I’m sure the baguettes are lovingly smeared with olive oil. Yummo!  

But be warned, be prepared for simple food;  in both of our Bocadillos, there literally were only 2 ingredients inside of the baguette. It was just your protein and a sauce, for the Calamari the bread was spread with an aioli sauce; the cured meat was only paired with olive oil so all the flavours were coming from the cured meat alone!

End verdict? 4.5 stars from 5 (3 from 3 for food; 0.5 from 0.5 for customer service; 0.5 from 0.5 for atmosphere (the atmosphere was down to Westfield’s set-up, and they had music playing throughout the foodcourt); and 0.5 from 1 for Value for money as the $19 for the cured meat was on the high side, but if we didn’t get the most expensive Bocadillo on the menu, the prices were between $11 and $16 for a jumbo).

There is so much on offer at the Westfields foodcourt, but if you’ve never tried an Encasa Bocadillo before, you just  don’t know what you’re missing out on! Looking at their page on Zomato, they only have 23 reviews? I’m going to call it now….Encasa Rapido is a ‘Hidden Gem’, a place which has great food, but doesn’t have the volume of customer patronage as it deserves! Go out and try it! I guarantee you won’t regret it!

Encasa Rapido- Saturday 5 January (4.5 stars)

PH: (02) 9232 8032

Level 5, Sydney Westfields Food Court, Pitt and Market Street, Sydney NSW

Mon-Wed 8am – 5pm

Thurs 8am – 8pm

Fri 8am – 5pm

Sat-Sun 10am – 5pm

Bò 7 Món Thanh Tâm- Haymarket

‘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