194 Smith St
Collingwood, VIC 3066
As a pharmacist (and someone with common sense), I totally understand the need for the Food Safety Standards, but I can’t help but feel a little resentful that as a result, the closest we get to street food is the burger truck. Thus it makes perfect sense that I spend most of my time scurrying between, and trying to find new restaurants that serve street-styled food because hey, it’s cheaper than flying overseas.
A while back, on my way to Peko Peko, I spied with my little eyes Xeôm – a shiny new Vietnamese street-food restaurant in the heart of hipster country. Before too long, I was back on a warm afternoon to try their selection of rolls, salads, and noodles. It seemed like a lot of people had the same idea, and the hip new restaurant filled up before too long.
I was a little disappointed to discover, upon closer inspection, that the menu was more along the lines of Vietnamese staples marketed as street food. After all, rice paper rolls are still rice paper rolls, even if you rebrand them as ‘sexy rolls’, mark up the price, and serve them in a chilled-out restaurant decked with shelves of Vietnamese canned foods. Still, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I was still eager to see what Xeôm had to offer.
Our first dish was the Grilled Chicken and Spring Rolls Vermicelli Noodle Salad ($13), aka bún. The presentation certainly won it some points right off the bat – the salad was scrubbed squeaky clean and divvied out into little portions, and the large chicken chop had tantalisingly charred edges.
When mixed through with fish sauce, this was your classic Vietnamese vermicelli salad, albeit with more care taken with the ingredients. The chicken was stand-out – hot and juicy with a hint of lemongrass, but the spring rolls were disappointing in that they weren’t the crunchy rice-paper kind, but the frozen cocktail kind. The overall flavour was a bit less punchy than you’d expect for Vietnamese food, and unfortunately the only herb was a small pinch of wilted mint. Thankfully, the overall impression of the salad was of delicacy, rather than blandness.
The bánh xèo – or as it’s called here, the Combination Pork and Prawn Crispy Vietnamese Pancake ($14.8) – is Vietnam’s answer to crepes. Except instead of sugar and butter, the crispy rice-based pancake is seasoned with turmeric, and stuffed with protein and bean shoots.
This is one of those dishes that’s as tasty as it is fun. Sure you could eat it with a knife and fork but the best way to go about it it is with your hands. Rip up a piece of the pancake (make sure to get the meat and veggies as well), wrap it in a lettuce leaf, add as much or as little of the herbs as you would like, and dip it into the fish sauce. Though not mind-blowing in any aspect, this is a dish that’s just plain enjoyable to eat.
Though I don’t do this very often, I had to double back and get my camera so I could take a snap of this awesome sink set-up.
I’ll be honest – the food at Xeôm is more or less the same as what you’d get at a halfway decent Vietnamese restaurant, except the prices are higher, the portions are smaller, and the tables are cleaner. All that said though, I was surprised to find that I actually quite liked my meal at Xeôm, because sometimes it’s nice to eat traditional Vietnamese food without worrying about why the tables are so sticky.
Rating: 12.5/20 – worth a try.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.