New Saigon restaurant in Surfers Paradise is not far from old Saigon. It’s been a long journey from their homeland for owners Hai Nguyen and Hue Trieu, who left Vietnam as boat people in 1980, reaching Australia in 1992. But so much about their restaurant smacks of the old Vietnam that one could mistakenly think it had been transported whole to the Gold Coast.
The building itself is distinctly Asian. Although Thai in design, it carries the trademark narrow width and height of traditional structures built to minimise land taxes based on the width of the lot at the street line. There are even road works outside, but hopefully not for much longer! Inside the restaurant, the tiled floors and utilitarian approach to décor is reminiscent of the cleanest cafés in Asia. Beneath silver and velvet pictures, and lit by the glint of fairy lights around the windows, Hai smiles as he welcomes us to the restaurant which serves food from his home country and surrounding areas.
I was first introduced to Vietnamese food in Cairns by Lien Yeomans, later the proprietor of the Green Papaya. Memories of her green papaya salad, stuffed squid, and tamarind fish fill my senses even today! Unfortunately, our best Vietnamese food experiences are rarely replicated in Australia. Vietnamese cuisine is scant on the Gold Coast, but New Saigon arguably serves the most authentic, ‘un-westernised’ national food you’ll find here.
In pride of place are three dishes which Hai says are most typical of South Vietnam: Bánh Xèo – a crisp Viet pancake wrapped around a filling of prawns, onion and bean sprouts with accompanying herbs and salad, served with sweet chilli sauce; Bánh Khot (Khot Cake) – small round crispy coconut cake filled with cooked prawns, coconut sauce served with a large side salad; and Bánh Tàm – rice noodle with shredded pork and coconut cream. They are generously sized meals, fabulously fresh and exotically intriguing in flavour, and of course they’re made to order by Hue, as Hai covers the service.
For around $20 you can have a main meal and a glass of wine – now that’s a bargain! But of course a better drink choice would be one of the ten imported beers, two of which are Vietnamese, or the three colour drink for something lighter! BYO is $2 per glass.
While there are many other dishes on the menu, such as stir fries, curries, sizzling meats, green papaya salad and even the famous phō, we’re most interested in the Nguyens’ national dishes we can’t find elsewhere. We’ve eaten at this restaurant several times, but there are more menu items we would like to try and like many other locals, we may become regulars, greeted by name.
It’s a long way from Surfers to Saigon, to the traffic nightmare of buzzing mopeds punctuated by blaring horns, sifting their way through shimmering 38 degree heat. Thankfully, it’s quiet in New Saigon, dining to intimate conversation and the smile of your host, but close your eyes as you eat your food and it may just transport you back to Vietnam.
2798 Gold Coast Highway, Broadbeach Ph: 07 5538 7588