The day after having Vietnamese food at Tamarind with Julia, I came here with Alex for lunch. As I understand, this was one of her favourite places to have Vietnamese food, and she was a little curious/apprehensive about what I’d have to say about this place.
We started with the Shrimp Salad Rolls which were served with a peanut sauce. Typically, I only order salad rolls and spring rolls when I’m having pho because the contents of a salad roll are pretty much identical to the vermicelli (bun), so it’s too much of the same for me, but Alex loves them so, naturally, I had to give them a try. I found them to be standard, which is a good thing. These are so easy that I’d be very unimpressed if they somehow messed it up. But again, I grew up eating and making these, so maybe they’re not as easy to make as I think they are.
Since I had pho the day before with Julia, I opted to order a vermicelli dish, as did Alex. I ordered the Mina’s Vermicelli Special and Alex had the Charbroiled Pork and Spring Roll on Rice Vermicelli. The Mina’s Vermicelli Special comes with bean curd skin with shrimp paste, spring rolls, charbroiled pork and shrimp. When I read or hear “bean curd skin with shrimp paste” I think of shrimp paste wrapped in bean curd and deep fried. Apparently it was either completely omitted or it’s not actually in the dish, which was disappointing because it’s one of my absolute favourite things to have in my vermicelli. Other than that, the flavours were quite nice.
Service was pretty quick and the restaurant was fairly clean in comparison to Tamarind. I would definitely come back and give this place a 3.25/5.
Firstly, I’d like to just point out that this is a Vietnamese restaurant in downtown. I’m aware that there is an East Indian restaurant also called Tamarind in the Panorama area (which is excellent), but this is not that. I’ve been to the Tamarind in Panorama, but never written a review because I’ve only ever ordered it on Skip-the-Dishes and I reserve my reviews for actual sit down meals in restaurants.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can move on the thing that makes this place unlike any other Vietnamese restaurant I’ve been to. I’ve been to my fair share of Vietnamese restaurants in my life, but I’ve never been to a vegetarian/vegan one. I simply googled “vegetarian restaurants downtown” and this one popped up. This turned out to be a great place to come to with Julia.
As they didn’t have a website, I had to rely on perusing the pictures of the menus posted on zomato. From the pictures online, my first impression wasn’t great. The menu was printed on regular paper stapled together. To me that didn’t really scream a restaurant that was successful. Yes, I’m aware how judgy that sounds, but you’ll be relieved to know that this restaurant was able to change my opinion with how amazing the food was. I don’t say this to be rude or ignorant, but I never expected vegetarian/vegan food to flavourful and close to the real thing. Perhaps it’s my past exposures to vegetarian/vegan food have been poor representations of what it is. Either way, I really enjoyed this place.
We started with two appetizers: spring rolls and paradise rolls. The spring rolls were thinner than I was used to, but that didn’t make it any less delicious. They were fried to perfection and didn’t leave extensive oily residue on my fingers. The rolls were filled with tofu, bean thread noodles (this was actually just mung bean noodles), mung bean, taro root and onion. The combination of ingredients made for a very “meaty” filling, despite not containing any meat at all. The thing I was most curious about was how they would imitate the fish sauce (nuoc mam). Their version was what they called a lime vinaigrette. I, honestly, could not tell the difference! The paradise rolls, also typically called salad rolls were filled with bean thread noodles (which was actually vermicelli), tofu, taro root, roasted ground rice, fresh lettuce and basil. This was also served with the lime vinaigrette dipping sauce. Of the two, I enjoyed the spring rolls more because I love crunchy food and the way that the ingredients intermingled and tasted on my palate were a perfect balance.
For our mains, I ordered the Tamarind House Special Noodle Soup which is mock beef and Vietnamese “ham” (cha lua), beancurd sleeves, vegetables, rice noodles, served with bean sprouts, Vietnamese (Thai) basil, cilantro and jalapeno. Julia ordered the Laksa which was assorted fresh veggies, fried tofu, lemongrass, turmeric, galangal tofu, and soy bean paste in a rich coconut broth. Though not listed on the menu, the laksa comes with noodles too.
When our orders came out, I was impressed. They both looked exactly like their non-vegetarian/vegan counterparts…well except for the fact that there was cauliflower in my pho and that wasn’t something I was used to seeing. The broths were both very well developed and again, I couldn’t tell the difference with the pho broth. The laksa broth, on the other hand, felt like it was a little bit thinner than what I expected of a laksa, but they did a great job, regardless. While they did do an excellent job with replacing meat with alternatives, having had actual beef and Vietnamese ham, the flavours of those were not quite as good. It may have been because of it was a product that was bought rather than made in house, but I felt like those things were a bit of a miss.
Best part though. No MSG in anything!
The restaurant itself looks very worn down and old. It’s also quite small and hard to get around. I have some issues with the cleanliness of the place as well. Service was good though. As it was family run, from what I could see there were only 2-3 employees and they were extremely efficient. Food was a lot better than I had expected and catching me off guard like this is always a good sign.
While they have a fair selection of items on their menu, I’m not really sure that everything on there will appeal to me time and time again. This restaurant is more of a place that I would come to once in a while. That said, I would still come back and I rate this place 3/5.
I’m not exactly sure what meal you would call this, but dinner was what it was supposed to be. Breakfast didn’t happen, lunch was at 3:00 p.m., so it seems logical that dinner would get pushed back…until 10:00 p.m.?
Working in downtown and commuting to Alex’s place via +15s meant that I passed by this pub multiple times. Alex even mentioned going there once or twice, so when given the opportunity to try it out, I jumped at the chance. After all, I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to write a review on food.
Like most pubs, we seated ourselves. The waitress came by in a moderately timely manner. Even though I had been looking at the menu in the hours before, I still had no idea what I wanted. The Classic Burger was on special that night, but for the price it was offered at, we had to order it as is, which was the burger with regular fries. Since Alex and I both opted for yam and garlic fries, respectively, we had to pay regular price.
We started with the Korean BBQ Steak Bites, which funnily enough, though it was an appetizer, came out after/at the same time as our mains. Like Bank & Baron, the steak bites was served in a skillet, but unlike Bank & Baron, Pig & Duke served it with a blue cheese dip and a side of garlic bread. Honestly, I’m finding that a lot of appetizers now can be ordered as mains, considering their size and all. Alex and I were both a little apprehensive about the blue cheese dip, as neither of us are a fan of the pungent flavor of it. However, upon trying it, it really wasn’t all that strong. In fact, it was virtually undetectable. In comparison, Bank & Baron’s steak bites are far superior in flavour and consistency. What I mean by consistency is that each of the chunks of beef at Bank & Baron were more uniform, whereas here, there could be a piece that required a fork and knife and others that were so small that the meat completely dried out.
The Classic Burger is exactly what you’d expect from a burger by that name: a 6oz patty topped with cheddar, lettuce, tomato, and onion, topped with a pickle spear and skewered by a knife. As indicated on their menu, their patties are made up of a blend of beef and pork, but I couldn’t tell the difference between this and a regular patty; the consistency of the meat was about the same as a regular beef patty. Unlike yam fries elsewhere, these ones were criss-cut, which allows the fry to better maintain its integrity. As a result, these fries seem “meatier” than their sad, limp, counterparts. If you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you’ll know that I love garlic and when I ordered these fries, I expected much more garlic flavour than I got. I was thinking it’d be something closer to what Earls had offered at their restaurant, minus the semi-raw garlic collected at the bottom. I, honestly, don’t have a problem with the Earls’ fries and the amount of garlic it has, but when I’m eating them and expected to go back to work afterwards and talk to people…well, maybe not. The fries were seasoned with some kind of spice blend, not unlike the herb and garlic fries at McDonald’s. As such, the top few fries, though they appeared to be seasoned, tasted like normal fries. It wasn’t until I got to the bottom half of the basket that I started getting the garlic flavour coming through. As much as I like ketchup, mayo on fries is a totally different experience. While it may seem kinda gross to be dipping fries into may, aioli is essentially the same thing; giving it a different name doesn’t make it different all of a sudden. Of course, I don’t recommend eating fries with mayo all the time because that is a lot of fat on fat, but for me, it feels like a bit of a treat.
Overall, I had a pretty good experience here. Service was relatively prompt, and I had no actual complaints about the food. I would definitely come back to try some of the other things on the menu. As Alex said, there’s nothing she wouldn’t recommend on the menu, which is a good sign. Based on this experience, I’d give this place a 3.75/5.