First there was Chinese food, then there was Thai, and now it seems as though Vietnamese grub is the next Asian cuisine to be the talk of the town in Dublin.
While a few years ago people would look at you with two heads if you said you were in the mood for some Pho Ga, the traditional noodle soup has become a fave comfort food in the city.
New restaurants are popping up week after week – many with celeb chefs behind them and locations in trendy areas – this Dublin gem can be found tucked away in the old-skool hustle of Moore Street.
Bun Cha was opened by Chen, the owner of next door’s Oriental Pantry Supermarket and Vietnamese chef Dan, who hails from Hanoi and wanted to bring “the flavours of home to his family here.”
I’d been to Vietnam a couple of years ago and still yearned for the giant bowls of fresh herbs to throw into a steaming bowl of soup and charred meats that the country does so well, so I was absolutely buzzing to check this place out.
While most Vietnamese spots in town don’t distinguish between north and south Vietnam cuisine, the differences are vast and Bun Cha sticks strictly to the northern flavours of black pepper and herbs, subtly balanced compared to the bolder tastes of the south.
Any ingredient that you wouldn’t find in a traditional family recipe from Hanoi in north Vietnam, you won’t find in a dish here, Dan tells me. Bun Cha is 100% true to the real thing.
What’s the vibes?
A neon sign outside gives the impression this is more fast food joint than hidden gem, but once you step inside a pretty mosaic wall, handpainted bamboo decorations and hanging lamps made from Vietnamese conical hats add more of an atmosphere.
Four of us had decided to go for a catch up dinner and were pleased to see the only other people in the restaurant were Vietnamese – it’s always a sign that the food is good when people who know it inside out are chowing down.
What’s on the menu?
The menu is a small leaflet, simply laid out with just enough options to choose from. Most dishes are made with rice noodles so are 100% gluten free and everything can be made vegetarian or even vegan if requested.
Bun Cha is named after the famous dish that Barack Obama loved so much on his visit to Hanoi so it’s only fitting that it’s the specialty here – don’t come without ordering it.
Fresh (as in just squeezed from a special machine downstairs!) sugar cane juice was a refreshing start, with Fried Spring Rolls and Summer Rice Rolls to follow
Bun Cha gets most of its ingredients from the Oriental Pantry so is able to source unusual veg and herbs that many other places in Dublin can’t. Fresh sugar cane is squeezed for an icy cold sweet drink that we drank by the bucketload.
Fried Spring Rolls were crispy and flavoursome, made even more lip smacking by the accompanying dipping sauce of white wine vinegar, herbs, chilli and thinly sliced raw kohlrabi.
The Summer Rice Rolls (choice of prawns and meat or tofu) were light and gobbled down in minutes. The perfect snack.
A soft and tangy Banh Mi with a chilli kick brought me right back to Hoi An…
The ultimate street food snack, Banh Mi is like the Vietnamese version of an Irish chicken fillet roll but executed one million times better.
Spread with pate instead of butter and stuffed with roast pork, chilis, pickled carrots, cucumber and coriander, it’s a blend of French influence with the punchy Asian flavours.
It’s everyone’s first time apart from mine to try this beloved Vietnamese roll and losing their Banh Mi virginity at Bun Cha was a great shout – the baguette is soft and doughy and the pork is juicy.
Our mains of the famed Bun Cha, a Beef Pho soup, Wonton Noodle Soup and Grilled Pork & Rice had everyone drooling
The Wonton Soup came with a mysterious mushroom, egg noodles, slices of pork belly and pillowy wontons stuffed with pork. A Beef Pho noodle soup was steaming with herbs and tender pieces and beef while the Grilled Pork & Rice came with a golden crispy fried egg, the pork itself sticky and marinated with sweet spices.
It was the Bun Cha though, that we all agreed stole the show. Obama has good taste guys, ‘cos Bun Cha is delish. A simple plate of grilled pork and rice noodles, it’s the flavours of the herbs and chargrilled cooking method that make it stand out.
A traditionally sweet iced Vietnamese coffee was the perfect touch
What’s better than a glass of strong iced coffee with frothed milk and syrupy condensed milk mixed through? You can’t beat it.
I’d take one of these over a milkshake any day of the week.
What’s the damage?
True to its Vietnamese roots, Bun Cha is easy on the bank account. Four sugar cane juices, two starters, four mains and one coffee will come to a mere €62.50.
They don’t have a drinks license yet but are looking into getting a wine license as they develop plans to make Bun Cha more of an evening dining hotspot as well as somewhere for locals to grab their lunch.
Proving the phrase that if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, Bun Cha’s dedication to the traditional methods and recipes of Vietnamese cuisine will serve it well – I haven’t tasted food like this since I was scooting around Hanoi.
Seek out this special eatery before it gets absolutely rammed. You’ll find me in the corner slurping on some Pho.