Mission Vietnamese is one of the new eateries that has opened at the Cooparoo Square development. An enclave of restaurants has been created in a residential and entertainment combo, on a somewhat larger scale than the now typical cafe under an apartment block setup. On the weekend evening we were there, the symbiosis certainly seemed to be working. The restaurant was packed, with all the tables in the outside area occupied.
It was easy enough to find, at one end of the Food Street. A neon sign proclaiming it to be Mission Vietnamese sat at the front of the restaurant, above the service counter, which was decked out to look like a bar, but with sauces on the shelf above instead of alcohol. There was some seating in the restaurant space, on tall stools at bar-height tables, but at least as much seating in the sheltered walkway area outside of it, a bit like outdoor hawker stall seating, but more protected from the elements. There were people waiting in that walkway space outside the restaurant, and it wasn’t actually clear what the system was to get a seat. There wasn’t a clear line, and as we discovered, the majority of people there were waiting to get takeaway food from the restaurant. We approached one of the bandana-clad waitstaff, who soon found space for us as some other patrons finished their meal.
We were brought copies of the menu, and unfolded it to find sections of Starters, Vermicelli noodle salad, Banh mi, Pho, Curry, Stir fry noodles, and Rice. We had been expecting typically vietnamese dishes, rather than items like Singapore curry laksas, Singaporean stir fried noodles and Pad thai. There were also a number of printing errors through the menu, like the spiel about their banh mis being repeated across several other sections, and a few spelling mistakes. While they may not seem like major issues, it alerts one to lack of attention to detail and lack of care in presentation.
Given that their speciality was meant to be vietnamese food, we stuck to ordering vietnamese dishes, namely their special beef pho, and the grill(ed) lemongrass chicken and grill(ed) lemongrass pork banh mis.
The special beef pho arrived at the table with pink meat slices and white rice noodles floating in cloudy broth, garnished with elipses of spring onions and bits of parsley. The blurb stated that the beef broth there was brewed for 48 hours. It tasted sweeter than we have found other beef broths to be, and lacked the richness and depth of flavour of the broth at Cafe O-Mai and Pho Queue. Like a musical composition, while it had high notes, it lacked the complementary middle and base notes to fill it out. The rice noodles were thin and slippery. The thin beef slices were pink in the middle when served, but they continued to cook in the broth. They were tender on eating. Despite it being called the special beef pho, it didn’t have the interesting and more textural bits you would get in a special pho elsewhere. The bean sprout plate that accompanied it had more sprigs of parsley on it, but not the fresh basil leaves that usually go with the dish.
Oddly enough, the two banh mis we received came with different baguettes. One had a crisp outer skin. The other was missing that flaky crunch, and the bread was dry and stale on the inside. In both cases, sections of the bread were made soggy by a runny sauce with a Bovril-like flavour. Instead of being served a lemongrass pork and a lemongrass chicken banh mi, we seemed to have been given a beef one in place of the chicken, and the beef was on the chewy side. There was a good lemongrass flavour to the meats though. The carrot strips were pickly and crunchy, for a contrasting texture and brightness. They weren’t enough to lift the banh mis though, which on balance were decidedly average.
The waitstaff were efficient and friendly, despite the hectic demands of the dinner crowd. Mission Vietnamese failed to deliver on the most important front though, the food. Vietnamese cuisine is meant to delight the palate with a mix of salty, sweet, sour, and spicy flavours. We did not find the lively, complicated depth of flavour in the food at Mission Vietnamese that you consistently get at other stalwarts like Mrs Luu’s or Cafe O-Mai. They were also missing the attention to detail and care in preparing the components of each dish, for instance the cloudy pho broth and the stale banh mi bread. Given the other good alternatives around, they will have to step up their game.
Price point: Pho $12 to $15. Banh mi $8.50. Other rice and noodle dishes $12 to $14.
Address: Shop 11, 300 Old Cleveland Road, Coorparoo
Phone: 07 3397 1380
Website: Mission Vietnamese