I’ve just booked my next culinary adventure to Vietnam in November and in anticipation of my upcoming trip, I now find myself totally obsessed with Vietnamese cuisine, recipes and restaurants. I had recently read that Shannon Bennett had taken occupancy of what was previously known as the Observatory Café at the Royal Botanic Gardens, and that his new establishment had a French-Vietnamese inspired menu which in turn determined my destination for breakfast.
Despite the threat of a potential rain shower, it felt exhilarating to put my walking shoes on and head for a long walk towards the Tan track. For half an hour, I lost myself in the intermittent sunshine and the first blush of spring decorating the trees along St Kilda road. With a sense of trepidation I walked up the footpath towards the Shrine towards Jardin Tan. I was thoroughly prepared for long queues, irritable toddlers and a sea of lycra, yet as soon as I reached the entrance I was cordially greeted by the maître d, asked where I preferred to sit and then casually escorted out towards the back of the restaurant, to a small decked area which overlooked the vegetable garden.
In truth, it felt like I had started my holiday already as I sat down on the turquoise timber deck chair and gazed out over the garden, enjoying the tranquillity and sounds of nature, far away from the din of the city and the people dining inside. The colourful paintings on the wall, the collection of condiments and oriental crockery on the table were telling my mind that I was now in south east Asia rather than downtown Melbourne.
As soon as I sat down, the service was very pleasant and attentive with my coffee order taken, water poured and a vibrant breakfast menu to peruse. Breakfast caters for health-conscious with offerings of coconut porridge, granola and Bircher muesli as well as more substantial dishes, with the traditional elements given a distinct Vietnamese flavour. I’ve seen some beautiful pictures of the banh xeo (crispy pancake with pork and shrimp) on social media but I was intrigued about the Vietnamese fried eggs, pulled pork, nuoc mam cham when I saw it on the menu.
I didn’t wait too long before my breakfast arrived. The first mouthful of pork, fried egg with the nuoc mam cham sauce was beyond description, other than it was simply devine. The photo probably doesn’t do the pulled pork justice, but while it looks dry, it was actually extremely moist with a lot of flavour. I usually don’t enjoy runny eggs but the accompanying sweet, sour, salty and spicy Vietnamese dipping sauce was absolutely delicious. I’m in danger of making a batch at home and drizzling it over everything I make for the next week.
The eggs were served on top of a banh mi baguette, which looked appetising until I started to chew on it and found it to be dry, tasteless and incredibly difficult to eat. At this point, I decided another cup of coffee would be the ticket. However as the café started to fill up, it was a little tricky trying to catch someone’s attention and request another coffee, short of going to the counter and pouring one myself.
The walk to the cash register was a feast for the eyes and senses with bountiful salads, cakes and drinks on display on the counter. What was a little less attractive was the price paid for two barely cooked eggs, a rock-hard baguette and two coffees which amounted to the grand total of $27. My morning of escapism was a lot cheaper than a trip to Vietnam, but you still need to make sure that you have brought plenty of spending money with you on the journey.