It was the interior deco that caught my eye as well. There were far and few in between Asian food outlets in the Wollongong area when I first moved there many years ago, perhaps a few Indian and Indo-Chinese ones selling pan -Asian menus. Now that the demographic diversity of the greater Sydney Basin is more reflected in gastronomic choices in this seaside town, I can now cite three recently opened places selling the pork roll ala Vietnam - the Quay Canteen at Crown Street Mall, the Bakery Boys at lower Crown Street and now Saigon Senses.
And yes, the belly pork roll which I had as takeaway at Saigon Senses is the clear winner - wholesomely generous, bursting with flavour and brimming with the garnish of pickled slices of crunchy veg. Roast belly pork per Vietnamese recipe is closer to the Cantonese version than to those in Spain, Germany or Italy. maybe it is the added spices for taste, perhaps it is the French effect with a baguette - make your choice as to multigrain, wholemeal or more. The meat is tender here, well cooked for the palate, better than pulled pork and the crispy crackle is the bonus of the experience.
There is only a simple menu here, but easily divided in to wraps, soups, rice dishes, vermicelli and rolls. Normally I gyrate towards the combination of broken rice, served with side garnish and a well charcoal grilled meat like chicken or pork chop, but here they have beef as an option as well. This one plate combination is a good idea for a lunch time selection and can be a take away. I am not partial to those mixtures of meat and dry vermicelli but do like the wraps, especially those packed tight with fresh veg and ingredients like prawns and bite-sized meat cubes.
I had one evening walked into Saigon Senses, knowing it had closed up for the day,and said hi to Mr. Bao Dang, who is one of the co-owenrs of Saigon Senses with Ms. Thuy Huynh. This affable young man has a natural smile - and when I next dropped by on a nearly lunch hour, Bao seemed to do everything in preparing the food for me. Easygoing, Bao was efficient in getting the orders from other customers. I like the way Bao displays the bread rolls as if it is in a French cafe. Both Bao and Thuy left behind their training and career in IT and education to go into the food business - they previously operated at the food court in Wollongong Central.
I have yet to try the Vietnamese meatballs, an interesting choice that plays on the Wollongong market's penchant for meatballs from such diverse places as Italian restaurants and Subway rolls.
One thing that stood out is the lemongrass flavoured tofu - soy being essentially neutral in taste, this brings a rather Thai twist - lemongrass is also available for beef. The roll I may go for on a next visit is one containing mayonnaise and egg.
The iconic item of pho served here relies on its gentle soup stock, not over powering with five spice powder but simmering along easy on the palate like a slow boat along a quiet stretch of Halong Bay. Pho as you know originated from the Hanoi area - there is an image of an elephant and farmland vista from Sapa on the wall of Saigon Senses. I found the breast meat cuts woody and not as juicy tender as I have had at some other cafes in a few Sydney suburbs.
Address is 200 Crown Street, Wollongong NSW.
Saigon Senses is open every day from 10am to 4pm.
Contact +61 403 831 368