Ever since my most recent trip to Hanoi, when first I spilt a bowl of bun cha all over myself and then proceeded to fall in love with it, I have been looking for somewhere to try an equivalent dish in Hong Kong. BEP’s lemongrass pork vermicelli comes close, but it’s just not the same. When a restaurant bearing the name Bun Cha Vietnamese Café & Restaurant opened up in Soho, I was therefore determined to put it to the test.
What I first noticed about Bun Cha is that the staff are all Vietnamese, immediately adding authenticity and setting high hopes for a truly Vietnamese experience. It’s a small, pretty non-descript space on Aberdeen Street and yet it is always buzzing – a clear indicator that they must be doing something right. The open kitchen fills the room with incredible aromas and I loved seeing all the colourful, fresh herbs lined up ready to be created into something magical.
Although the starters actually came after the mains, I’ll talk about these first, since I like order. The cha nems (fried spring rolls with pork and shrimp) were excellent and certainly as good as ones I’ve tasted in Vietnam. The skin was perfectly crispy yet light, and the filling generous and flavoursome, made even more so by the fresh herbs, lettuce and nuoc cham sauce.
The cha la lot – grilled pork patties wrapped in pepper leaves – were also delicious. I was expecting these to be a lot heavier and denser, yet the patties were tender and light, whilst the leaves were nice and crisp with a sweet, slightly peppery flavour.
Try as you might, it’s near impossible to find an authentic pho in Hong Kong. Chef Peter Cuong Franklin does an excellent one at Viet Kitchen, but most of the standard Vietnamese chain restaurants seem too concerned with turning tables and cranking out as many bowls of pho as possible to care too much about creating that same intense broth you’ll find on the streets of Hanoi. Bun Cha’s Pho Bo, however, was certainly up there amongst the best in Hong Kong. The broth had a lovely rich flavour and the thin strips of sirloin were served at a perfect, tender medium-rare.
Lastly, the bun thit nuong, AKA bun cha, was easily the best I’ve tried in Hong Kong. Although there was no sign of the little old lady squatting near a charcoal pit, like there was at our favourite spot in Hanoi, the lemongrass pork still had that delicious charred flavour that makes this dish what it is. They were also generous with the herbs, peanuts, veggies and noodles, which all paired beautifully with the pork and more of that addictive nuoc cham sauce.
By the end of our meal, we had started to feel like we weren’t wanted there anymore and felt the wrath of whom we assumed was the owner, as queues were beginning to form outside. I therefore can’t say that the service was particularly friendly, but then again we had been there much longer than any of the other tables. Prices, though obviously not as cheap as Vietnam, were very reasonable, with a bowl of pho or bun cha for $68. If you’re looking for a truly Vietnamese experience this side of Vietnam, Bun Cha Vietnamese Café & Restaurant is your best bet. All they need to complete the experience are some child-sized tables and stools spilling out onto the road!
Bun Cha Vietnamese Café & Restaurant
Shop 1, King Ho Building
41-49 Aberdeen Street
Tel: +852 2858 1900