Whenever I'm in the mood for some authentic Vietnamese cuisine, Gia Hoi in Eastwood is my go-to restaurant. It was a dark and dreary day in Sydney, and I thought the aroma and taste of classic Vietnamese cuisine would be the best thing to brighten my spirits.
Located on the end of Rowe Street that is further away from the station, the restaurant is relatively accessible by all, with a large car-park situated a stone's throw away. Street parking is located directly in front of the restaurant. The restaurant is generally busy at all times of the day, resulting in loud chatter throughout the restaurant.
The restaurant is medium sized, and in the tradition of traditional Asian restaurants is neatly and sparsely decorated, with a violet light that makes you feel as if you're in a butcher. After we are shown to our seats, we place our orders quickly, and a free bowl of bean-sprouts, shredded lettuce and wedges of lemon are placed on our table before us - as an accompaniment to our dishes.
Bun Bo Hue - a specialty of Pho Gia Hoi
My partner ordered the Bun Bo Hue ($11.00) which comprises of slices of beef, pork, and congealed pig's blood in a mildly spicy and sweet soup, topped with shallots. His dish comes out almost immediately after we've ordered, and I don't hesitate in trying it. The beef is cut into thin slices, and is soft and tender. The pork is a block of solid white flesh, known as Cha Hue, and is somewhat like a Vietnamese version of ham. Whenever I eat Bun Bo Hue, the Cha Hue is the part I like to eat first, and it's no different today. The Cha Hue is flavoured with garlic and spices, and has a consistency somewhat similar to Spam with much less oily, and doesn't leave you feeling guilty after you eat it.
Some of the vast options that Gia Hoi offers
My dish, the Banh Canh Chua ($13.00) takes a considerable amount of time to be served, considering that we're in an Asian restaurant where the dishes usually come out immediately after ordering, so I occupy myself with the complimentary hot tea on the table, which is another staple of most Asian restaurants.
Low prices contribute to the restaurant's appeal
After around 10 minutes, a waiter arrives with the Banh Canh Chua, which is a foray into the unknown for me. Banh Canh Chua is yellowy in colour, with round udon noodles, and minced prawn and crab-cakes. There are fragments of an egg in the soup, which give the soup a lovely, thick consistency. The pieces of coriander in the soup give it a fragrant aroma and taste. However, other than that - there isn't anything really special or extraordinary about this dish.
The somewhat bland Banh Canh Chua
The minced prawns taste fine, but are nothing spectacular. The soft and creamy crab-cakes are probably the best part of the Banh Canh Chua. The Banh Canh Chua lacks the simple yet delicious taste of my favourite Vietnamese dish, Pho Tai. I was looking for a wow factor but unfortunately didn't find it.
Eerie violet light of the restaurant, somewhat evocative of a butcher.
Overall, I much preferred my partner's Bun Bo Hue - a dish that looked simple but effectively balanced the flavours of sweet, bitter and spicy to create a complex taste and treat for the taste buds.
Although I'm sure Gia Hoi has an abundance of more tasteful dining options, I left feeling unsatisfied with my choice of food today.
Free bean sprouts for all
The service was polite, but brisk as I always find in most cheaper Asian restaurants. Some may have problems communicating with the waiters and waitresses as they have a limited command of the English language, as I found when I went to pay my bill ($24.00) and had to repeat a few times which table I had been sitting at. Gia Hoi has a vast number of menu options, and judging from its crowded tables and loud atmosphere - it is definitely a favourite with the locals. However, I will be sticking to tried and true favourites the next time I return. Most people will find that it is a restaurant for a quick and casual meal, and not a place to linger at and converse with friends for hours.
Where: 219 Rowe Street, Eastwood
Why: Visit for the Bun Bo Hue and Pho Tai
Cost: Bun Bo Hue ($11.00) and Banh Canh Chua ($13.00)
When: Open from 11am until late, 7 days a week.
Good for kids: The restaurant is generally family friendly.
Take away: Take-away is probably a better option than dining in, as there is a 20% discount for take away.