Cafe Viet on Surrey Cres took over quite recently from Tango, which served the best gnocchi in the world yet clearly didn’t fare well in carb-averse Grey Lynn. RIP Tango. However its replacement, Cafe Viet, is absolutely worth the hype (it took a solid week to score a table).
The decor hasn’t changed much since the Tango days - it’s still an artfully run-down little space, with the painted-over shutters and cracked wallpaper evoking a colonial-era Vietnam. We decided to go for the bellwether items for a Vietnamese restaurant: pho bo, washed down with Vietnamese coffee.
Pho bo is beef noodle soup, commonly sipped for breakfast in Vietnam, and Cafe Viet’s was the real deal: the consomme (made from oxtail) was rich and deep, the beef thinly sliced and rare; topped with a generous handful of crunchy sprouts and coriander. It's probably the best I've tasted since flying home from Ho Chi Minh two years ago.
Vietnamese iced coffee is more of a dessert than a morning pick-me-up: ca phe da is made with coarsely-ground dark roast beans brewed with a French drip filter into a glass containing condensed milk. Cafe Viet’s was on par with the stuff in Vietnam, which, somewhat unexpectedly, is the second biggest exporter of coffee beans in the world. The central highland plantations of Vietnam even produce what’s known as Kopi Luwak or “shit coffee” - coffee made with coffee berries excreted by civets. You won’t find it at Cafe Viet though, as at $800 NZD per pound, it’s pretty dear.
The bill for three people, including an entree of vegetarian rice paper rolls, came in at just under $60, and we were stuffed (which is saying something - especially from guys, who usually complain that Vietnamese just isn't filling enough).