Western and Southeast Asian worlds collide at this Surry Hills cafe.
May 04, 2016
There's good reason to be sceptical of a restaurant that has a mishmash of cuisines and flavours on the same menu. It can be indicative of a culinary identity crisis, or a kind of pandering to the public — neither usually signal good news. But White Taro is an exception to the rule, and the queue of people at the front door on a Saturday suggests word is already out.
White Taro's chef Chantel Pham is half German, half Vietnamese and, after 20 years of cooking Western food, has decided to incorporate her Southeast Asian heritage into a casual café menu, to great effect. Here, pho and banh mi sit alongside eggs Benedict and waffles. But the real interest is when the two cooking styles intersect. Take the watermelon and prawn salad, for example — it sees watermelon grilled with plump prawns, Asian greens, candied pecans and a brilliant palm dressing ($18).
Eating brunch here sees one person downing the No Carb Brekkie — a nicely caramelised honey-roasted pumpkin paired with spinach, feta, asparagus, mushrooms and poached eggs ($16) — and another tucking into the Chook in Broth: a huge bowl of well-marinated and properly charred Vietnamese chicken in a light broth with a pickled egg, noodles, wild mushrooms and herbs ($15). The Vietnamese baguettes are seriously good too, with fresh and punchy flavours from pickled veg and Sriracha mayo. Delicious.
Every dish is beautifully presented, with scatterings of nuts and seeds and well-placed bundles of colourful cress and cabbage showing that White Taro's extra attention to detail, aesthetic and texture goes beyond that of an ordinary café.
The coffee's good too, and they pump out an impressive amount from the tiny space. Pham's Vietnamese mother is overseeing things in the kitchen (which is reassuring) and her sister is manning the tills. The venue itself is tightly packed and can get a little loud, but is simply designed with big mirrors and windows creating a light space with neutral woods and bare tables.
There's plenty of things to like here — the price point being one of them — and the thoughtful and balanced food, attentive staff and the lack of pretension seem to come from the fact that White Taro is a family-run business. Their wide-reaching menu also serves as a potential answer to the eternal brunch debate of finding somewhere that satisfies everyone's stomachs.