Cafe O-Mai is something of an institution in Annerley. It has been serving the denizens of the south Brisbane area Vietnamese food and good coffee for years, and over that time has expanded its footprint to accommodate the customer influx. I had been meaning to do post on it for some months now, but procrastination got the better of me. A revisit proved a good excuse to try more food, and an opportunity to get new photos.
Previous times, we had had breakfasts with others, and had tried the claypot baked eggs, pork meatblls (with a quail egg in the middle), pho (as they explain, the noodle soup is a common breakfast item in Vietnam), and banh mis with different fillings. This time, we managed to get there only after breakfast service was over, but there were still plenty of tempting options on the lunch menu.
We were greeted soon after approaching the entrance, and given the option of sitting inside or outside. We opted for being inside, and were shown to available seats. Menus and water were promptly brought to us, and we were given time to peruse.
The cafe was bustling, with customers at most of the tables. The wait staff were constantly on the move, ferrying orders and food between the service counter and customer tables. There are plenty of warm wooden tones from the service countertop, tables and chairs, and wooden floorboards. The indoor area is warmly lighted both from daylight coming through the doors at both ends, and overhead lights. There are a number of available seating configurations, from tables for two to larger tables for six or eight. The windows open up to allow airflow through the place in warmer weather. It can also be closed up and air-conditioned when really hot.
As mentioned, there are indoor and outdoor seating options. The outdoor seating is all in well-sheltered areas, either at the front of the cafe, or another area through a door behind it. That covered area further back is prettily decorated with colourful lanterns (brings back memories of seeing those cloth lanterns in the markets when we were in Vietnam, and especially lighting the river in Hoi An). There was music faintly playing that we couldn’t really hear over the crowd buzz.
As is often the case, we started with caffeine. Besides the usual coffee option here, there are a few other special treats. They do a Vietnamese iced coffee, like we had in so many cafes on our trip (why would you have hot coffee in the tropics when you can have it cold and delicious?), with the coffee driping slowly through the stainless steel filter into the mix of cold sweet condensed milk and ice below.
There is also a new drink on the menu which may double as a dessert, a Vietnamese coffee affogato. This is a Vietnamese black drip coffee poured over vanilla ice cream, coconut sago pearls, and sesame praline. It was definitely a contender..but we decided on the O-Mai iced latte, having had it before and enjoying it. This is a double shot of espresso over vanilla ice cream and milk. It had a good coffee flavour, and the ice cream added just a hint of sweetness as it melted. Properly cold, of course.
After poring over the menu, we decided on the banh mi filled with house made crackling pork, and the charcoal grilled pork chop.
The banh mi (that actually refers to the baguette bread rather than the entire dish) was soft with just a bit of flakiness and crunch on the outside. We would have preferred the roll to have a bit more flakiness and crunchiness, even if that does make more of a mess. The bread was fresh and light though. The house made crackling pork did indeed have a good crunch. It is made with berkshire pork from Byron Bay. The meat was tender, and wasn’t too fatty. The sweetness from the hoisin sauce went well with it, and coriander, cucumber, and carrot added freshness.
The charcoal-grilled pork chops were nicely cooked. There was smoky flavour in the fat, and an extra herby note from the chives. The fried egg had a crispy edge. The yolk was not runny, but soft, like a gel. The dipping sauce added a nice tang, with chilli, garlic, and fish sauce. There was a salad of cucumber, capsicum, and green leaves on the side. Fluffy jasmine rice completed the dish.
Those dishes and the coffees were pretty filling, but a dessert special was spotted on the wall near the service counter. Black sticky rice with taro, coconut, and ice cream. The affogato could wait, as it was a regular menu item. This had to be had.
It was like a souped-up pulut hitam. At the bottom of the glass was a thick mix of the slightly sweetened black glutinous rice, and cubes of cooked taro, still firm. Pulut hitam is usually served with coconut milk. The vanilla ice cream here provided the creaminess, with a different sort of sweetness. It was a nice dessert.
Despite the busyness, it was never too hard to catch the attention of the waitstaff when we needed anything. Owner Margaret kept an eagle eye on everything going on, and chatted to customers as they came in and left, many likely regulars.
It is easy to see why Cafe O-Mai is successful. They serve good food at a reasonable price, and they make people feel welcome there.
Price point: Banh mi $7 to $10. Lunch mains $11 to $17. Breakfast mains $14 to $18.
Address: 15 Cracknell Road, Annerley
Phone: 073255 9778
Website: Cafe O-Mai