Price: $10 (salad) or $8 (bánh mì)
Verdict: The salad is one of the better healthy options we've reviewed but the Banh Mi falls well short of others around town.
Tip: Stick to the salad and don't forget to pick up a container of dressing.
Location: Bottom of Exchange Plaza, off Sherwood Court.
After hearing about Urban Bowl on The Food Alternative, we were inspired to give it a try. Urban Bowl is the brainchild of Tam Nguyen of Butty's Food Truck fame. And while we are absolutely devastated that Butty's is no more, and will mourn the demise of their Rib Burger for years to come, it's nice to know that the keen food mind behind that delicious burger can now be found at a brick and mortar store every day. No more chasing that food truck!
Nguyen has used Urban Bowl to flex his Vietnamese muscles, gastronomically speaking of course! They serve a selection of Vietnamese favourites such as vermicelli noodle salads (bun bo xao), rice paper rolls and the ever popular Vietnamese inspired bánh mì (Vietnamese baguettes) and salads. The vermicelli salads look great but at $11, are unfortunately ineligible!
Being men with healthy appetites, it's rare that one of us will order a salad. But on this occasion, the poached salmon and red rice salad was a real winner. A decent amount of well-poached salmon was hiding under a heaping of roasted peanuts, fried shallots and chilli (optional of course), served with mixed lettuce, bean sprouts, spring onion, pickled carrot and grains of red rice, which helped to fill out the meal. To top it off, it's served with a black sesame seed prawn cracker and your choice of traditional (presumably nuoc cham), palm sugar or pineapple dressings. On the whole, it was fresh, reasonably filling and full of the texture and balance of spicy, sweet and sour that you expect from Vietnamese food. While we would have liked a bit more zing in the dressing, the juicy poached salmon pulled it all together.
We were less fortunate with the bánh mì, both the braised pork and grilled beef were ordered. Bánh mì is big business in the Perth CBD at the moment. The bánh mì from City Provisions is still the gold standard in our opinion, with Le Vietnam (review coming soon) a contender. Unfortunately, Urban Bowl's bánh mì is not quite there. Whilst the fillings were extremely fresh and tasty, the bun itself was a let down. Although both white and multigrain options are offered, they are dense, western style baguettes. The best Vietnamese baguettes are much lighter, with a paper-thin crust that showers you in flaky crumbs the moment you bite into it. The pate inside the banh mi is made in house and is fantastic and the dusting of toasted peanuts were a welcome addition. The beef brisket was dry and did not impress us. However, the braised pork itself was quite juicy and flavoursome. If they could improve their buns, the braised pork bánh mì could be one of our favourite bánh mì options in the city.
We'll definitely be back to Urban Bowl, especially when we're feeling like a healthier lunch option, it is worth mentioning that the fresh rice paper rolls look delicious as well. That poached salmon is reason enough on its own! But we'll still be going elsewhere to satisfy our banh mi cravings.
And Tam, if you're reading this, is there any chance you bring back the Rib Burger as a Pavarotti special?
What do you think of Urban Bowl? Let us know how you think their banh mi stacks up to others around town.