Sydney, Australia ( Broadsheet, Nov 23,2017): Banh Xeo Bar isn’t another neighbourhood Vietnamese joint. There’s no pho, vermicelli salad, crisp chicken, lemongrass pork or even fresh spring rolls.
That’s because of who’s behind this operation. Benjamin Sinfield has worked at Ester, Fred’s and London’s renowned St John, which is where he met his partner (now both in business and in life) Tanio Ho.
The duo came to prominence slinging impressively crisp and flavoursome banh xeo(fermented rice flour crepes), which are usually stuffed with pork, bean sprouts and onion, and some non-pho Vietnamese noodle soups, in market stalls across Sydney.
Now in their first bricks and mortar restaurant, and with assistance from Ho’s mum Kim, they’ve expanded their repertoire and are cooking both modern and traditional Vietnamese – the kind you rarely see in inner-Sydney. It’s an approach that seems to be influenced by Sinfield’s fine-dining career and English childhood.
The regularly changing dinner menu may one week include Viet-style English faggots (meatballs made with pork offal), or roasted bone marrow with fermented chilli salad and Vietnamese bread. There’s also whole fish steamed in a banana leaf, and crisp pig’s-head nuggets with shiso and pickles. “People have been receiving the offal really well, it was only yesterday I realised how much there was when I looked in the fridge and saw beef tongues, pig’s heads and trotters,” says Sinfield.
At lunch it’s more about the banh mi, banh xeo and noodle soups – although not as you know them. The banh mi is stuffed with beef tongue, and the banh xeo with Kingsmore blood sausage or chicken. There’s also a pork and crab noodle soup called bun rieu. “I don’t want to be known for just cooking banh xeo. I want to be able to share the food we cook and eat at home,” says Ho.
What the team has planned for the future is completely up in the air, including the menu and the new space – at the moment a bright white-tiled cafe-style fit out in Rosebery’s The Cannery. “They wanted [us to take] a six-month or a five-year lease. We took the six months. We’ll see how it goes,” says Ho.
The market stall, which is now on pause, will be up and running every weekend at Paddington markets again soon. “Mum will run the stall, she misses the market.”