Cafe Sua Da sits quietly on Elgin Street, nestled between the stately grounds of Melbourne University and the city-end of Lygon Street. Taking its name from the Vietnamese version of iced coffee, it’s a great little place to stop off for a snack or three. Hell, let’s make it a long lunch.
We just booked tickets to Vietnam for later this year, making it my third visit to the beautiful south east Asian country. Rightly so, I’ve had a severe craving for a real bánh mì to suppress my travel yearnings until we hit the tarmac in Ho Chi Minh City in October. Thankfully, Cafe Sua Da is here to help.
Let’s digress for a moment to talk about bánh mì, though, because I’ve got a bone to pick with a lot of places in Melbourne that seem to think that it’s basically a glorified salad roll with some pork in it. Hell naw. A real bánh mì is a work of art – a playful balance of colours, flavours and textures. It has seen something of an upsurge in popularity recently, driven mostly by the proliferation of places like Roll’D that give city dwellers a place to queue up for half an hour so they can tell their Instagram followers that they went there. Despite that, there are a few bakeries across Melbourne’s suburbs that know how to do it well. Indeed, I had my first from Nhu Lan in Footscray many years ago and it’s been a benchmark meal ever since.
So when the lovely lady at Cafe Sua Da asked if we wanted pâté and fresh chilli, I knew we were in good hands.
Peer into the glutton’s-eye-view image above – what do you see? Succulent pork, marinated in a blend of delicious spices (I’m getting star anise or five-spice from this one, but not entirely sure). Then there’s fresh coriander and crisp vegetable fillings to round out the flavours.
But it’s what you don’t immediately see that gives the bánh mì its incredible and irresistible lure – and sorry dieters, but it’s all about the fats and the carbs. The baguette should be one single unit, not cut from a longer loaf. You also want the ones with the pointed ends, not the round ones that upset the bread:filling ratio. You’re going to need a spread, preferably butter, in addition to the pate (also a requirement). I even saw a dude in Hoi An brush the outside with ghee as well.
Cafe Sua Da ticks pretty much all the bánh mì boxes. Not perfect but pretty damn good. As we sat in the sun near the Royal Exhibition Building, I found myself thinking that it would be hard to find a better one without travelling to Richmond or Footscray.
The rest of the menu looked pretty great, with an interesting selection of Vietname fare (pho and rice paper rolls) in addition to some of the usual cafe standards. If you’re in the area and craving a little something-something, feel free to drop into this charming and often-overlooked little cafe. Your curiosity will be rewarded.