Vietnamese food is appearing all over Auckland, or perhaps I’ve only started noticing them. Most places are cheap, tasty and pretty decent, just like how street food should be. My experience at an upmarket version, Café Hanoi, left little to be desired, overwrought, under-flavoured, expensive food. All flash and not nearly enough substance, and to my astonishment, it garnered accolades in the media. When another posh-ish Vietnamese place opened on the scene, I was hesitant to say the least.
But its location won me over. Anything in Mt Albert has to be good, it’s not on the tourist track, and few people from out of zone, apart from fervent chowhounds, make their way there.
Parkside Café serves typical café food during the day, but come 5:30pm, this place transmogrifies into an intimate Vietnamese restaurant. The staff appear to be mostly Vietnamese which is a great sign. The menu is well edited but entirely in English; I wished they had included the Vietnamese names, as I find menus the best way to learn a little of the language of where the cuisine is from.
We started with Bánh xèo, on the menu as Vietnamese savoury fried pancakes with braised pork, prawn, bean sprout, mung beans ($15.50). This omelette-lookalike is actually made from rice flour and turmeric. My favourite version of this is thin, crispy with a good balance of pork to prawn to slightly wilted bean sprouts. Parkside’s version is doughier with too much seemingly raw sprouts.
We continued with Hanoi fried minced pork with young green rice (cốm), $17. The green rice had a grainy texture but a nutty taste. Delicious and intriguing.
The squid salad with mango, pineapple, green banana, carrot and red onion ($18.50) was blander than I expected. There was little mango to speak of, though the squid was nicely tender. I’ve never had green banana before, it had a crunchy slightly astringent taste. I think the dressing needed more sweetness to balance out flavours.
The other salad, spicy lotus root salad ($12.50) was really spicy! I admit I am a wimp in the chilli department and gave up after my second mouthful, but the others in the group enjoyed this.
The wok-seared ‘shaking’ beef ($23.50) is the pick of the evening. A decent serving, with meltingly tender beef, seasoned perfectly.
The wok-seared spicy lemongrass chicken ($18) was delicious as well, though it could have done with a stronger lemongrass flavour.
There were no Vietnamese desserts on offer, but we succumbed to the perfectly acceptable chocolate tart and crème caramel ($10 each).
Overall, I enjoyed my visit. The staff are courteous and friendly. My friends brought their guide dog puppy-in-training, and this was readily accommodated with a table at the corner, without any fuss. There are some delicious dishes on the menu, and the atmosphere is cosy. Parkside Café is well worth a visit.
775 New North Road, Mt Albert
Ph: 09-815 1885
Dinner: Wed – Sat: 5:30 – 10:00pm