172 Victoria St, Richmond
Phone: 9429 8130
There’s apparently some sort of superstition amongst the Vietnamese that to have a restaurant with the same name for too long is bad luck. Or so the story goes. That hasn’t stopped local favourites like Pho Dzung, Pho Chu The or Thy Thy from trading under the same name for decades. There’s another theory that by changing the trading name, a restaurant does something of a ‘clean slate’ thing with the tax office, etc. I’m thinking the change from Thanh Ha to Thanh Tam is probably something closer to the latter. Of course, this does nothing to alleviate the confusion caused by the fact that Thanh Ha 2 is still very much in business down the street! And nothing else about Thanh Tam has changed from when it was Thanh Ha, either.
Thanh Ha was always one of my favourite restaurants along Victoria St, and I think Thanh Tam will remain one too. This is in part because they make a mean banh xeo, my favourite Vietnamese dish. For the variety available on the menu alone, this place is a WIN. And by variety, I don’t mean four different options of meat multiplied by twenty different sauces. They’re one of only a few restaurants along the strip that serve banh hoi – a superfine rice vermicelli that comes in little ‘cakes’ – and banh cuon – steamed rice noodle.
Most recently, I stopped in for a classic. Com tam bi suon cha trung. Broken rice with the lot (shredded pork skin, grilled pork chop, steamed pork and egg pate, and a fried egg).
It was a solid effort, but I’ll be honest and say I’ve had better. The pork chop was a little on the dry and tough side, which funnily reminds me of Viet Nam, and the egg was similarly far too overcooked. One of my favourite things about com tam
is the runny yolk mixing with the fish sauce and coating the broken rice. Simple pleasure. The shredded pork skin was well flavoured, and the pork and egg pate was OK, if not great. Little lardons as a garnish were a nice touch.
On a separate occasion, I had the bun dac biet Thanh Ha (Thanh Ha special rice vermicelli).
Topped with grilled pork, prawn and pork spring rolls, and a couple of sauteed prawns, you douse this whole dish with the fish sauce provided, toss through the lettuce and cucumber strips, and away you go. The standard versions of this are bun thit nuong
and bun cha gio
, with either grilled pork or spring rolls. So this version is good if you can’t decide what you want!
Mr D had the Vietnamese coleslaw with chicken.
He agreed to me removing a couple of the prawn crackers from this side of the dish so I could show you all the mound of coleslaw hidden underneath. And before you scoff at prawn crackers, this is how it’s served in Viet Nam. You take a bit of the coleslaw, place it on the cracker, and it’s like chip’n’dip, only SO. MUCH. BETTER. This is also a great dish to share as an entree amongst a few people. My only criticism of it was that the fish sauce vinaigrette was a bit on the sweet side, and could have used a bit more lemon.
When people ask me to recommend places along Victoria St, I inevitably ask them what they’re after: pho, rice, banh xeo? Thanh Tam is a good option that I give them if they say they don’t know. Reliably good, and ridiculously cheap.