We were here on the recommendation of one of my guests, having had the food once before, he deemed it worth a second round. The name “Broken Rice” was pretty catchy. I believe it spoke to the texture and type of rice served; I guess we would soon find out.
The decor was unlike any other Vietnamese restaurant I have been too. The restaurant was dressed modern and kept very tidy. From the exterior stone veneer and outdoor seating, to the crisp white table cloths paired with their gloss black chairs. Wooden chairs so hard that we left our meal with flattened bottoms and aching backs.
The French influences on the Vietnamese culture was evident here through the table linens and oil painted art work. A Parisian night in the city, framed in gold and hanging gingerly against an otherwise stark white wall.
The nods to the Vietnamese culture came from traditional artifacts and specific design elements. A row of teapots lined the top of an antique looking curio. The former used ornamentally and the latter used practically. The robust cabinet was home to extra dish ware and spare utensils. Towards the back, in an alcove above was a gathering of goods: what looked like a strum-able musical instrument and a heavy cast iron kettle. Beneath it a powered off flat screen television. And to its right was a stone chisel statue that looked to be standing on guard. Behind a draped curtain that gathered on the ground was their single stalled washrooms for men and women.
A thatched roof crafted of straw and bamboo stood right at the door way. You walked under and past this gazebo in order to enter. Similarly there was a wood tiled roof above the bar hidden at the back. It distinguished both areas as something separate from the dining room. Just to sidetrack: It just dawned on me that the majority of North American influenced establishments lead with their bar as a place to dine and drink. An optimal place to see and be seen. Whereas others have it tucked away at the back, as a place to prepare alcoholic beverages and an option for the single and lonely.
Overall the restaurant was an enjoyable place to dine in in our group of six. Our three small tables butted together gave us ample elbow room, we were comfortably able to pass and share appetizers. Though on this hot day we wished for a dial up on the air conditioning. Given the meal of hot broth and steaming noodles to come we found the heat hard to eat through. In temperatures too temperate I find my appetite decreased and I am less likely to order more or even finish my request of a smaller portion.
Their menu was as fusion as their decor felt. Written in English it was clear where their variations on the traditional Vietnamese cuisine lay. Arranged by small plates, noodle bowls, salads, and mains. The familiar pho noodle soup, vermicelli, lemon grass, and fish sauce were all present. Though partnered with the less common frog legs, salmon ceviche, shank stewed in Cabernet, and turmeric and rice flour crepes. Together this was my kind of food.
“Cassava fries”, crispy cassava wedges seasoned with paprika and served with a jalapeño garlic mayo. As a potato alternative you cannot bite in expecting the same texture. These were thick cuts of starch. I found their gritty and chalk texture made them less enjoyable to eat. An acquired texture for sure. Something that could have been helped with thinner strips, a deeper fry, and a lot more sauce to coat each stick.
“Duck confit sliders”. Listed as a “Broken Rice” favourite, and what my guest had to come back for. This was a steamed white flour bun filled with duck confit, pickled carrots, daikon, cucumber, onions, and cilantro; dressed in hoisin sauce. The sauce was dominating, its salty nature overwhelming; there wasn’t enough dough to balance out the flavour. And I found the pickled vegetables and the pulled duck lost under a spicy heat.
“Phnom Penh roll”. A salad roll filled with Chinese sausage, egg, carrot, Jicama, basil, lettuce, and peanuts; wrapped in rice paper and served along side a sweet peanut sauce. These were rolled carefully to display its full range of ingredients, a real visual treat. The surprise of the fried onions was enjoyed the most, along with the crisp lettuce it gave things a nice crunchy texture. Though as fresh as each bite was, it was a tasteless assembly without the sauce. I find you never get all the sauce that you need, my preferred ratio is 2:1 sauce to roll. So by me taking the last portion it meant I got to go to town with whatever that was left. A greedy scoop that didn’t have me considering the others I was dining with. Perfection.
“Spring rolls”. A combination of minced pork, carrot, taro root, mushroom, and onions hand wrapped in rice paper and deep fried; served with a fish sauce for dipping. It looked and tasted average, not too oily. And as is the case with most fried dishes it wasn’t very good when cooled down.
“Spicy hue lemongrass noodle soup”, round rice noodles with Vietnamese ham and beef in a spicy lemon grass broth. Surprisingly there were more ingredients than noodles in the bowl, a rarity at other noodle places that use the noodle as an inexpensive filler. The freshness of the ingredients added to the rich broth. It tasted authentic, just the right blend of sour and spicy.
“Pork three ways on rice”. Pork chops, shredded pork, and minced pork loaf on rice; served with a side salad. My guest found this nothing special, nothing that couldn’t be made at home. The loaf was most interesting, a spring roll filling reconstructed to this cake-like patty.
“Reconstructed pho”. Highly recommend by our server, his voice became enthusiastic as he wrote the order down. It was beef carpaccio laid over sautéed rice noodles in a ginger pho reduction, topped with deep fried crispy rice noodles, sawtooth herbs, pickled onions, and a hoisin drizzle. The obvious difference: this was dry pho, no broth, but the noodles tasted like they have been soaking in it. Of all the dishes this was definitely the most unique and the best presented.
“Lemongrass chicken and egg on rice”. Grill lemon grass marinated chicken and a fried egg on broken rice, served with a side of greens. Tender skewered pieces of chicken grilled with a good char. The egg broke releasing runny yolk to coat and soften the grains of chunky rice underneath. A standard, but well done entree.
I played it safe with what I knew I would like: the “House vermicelli”. Vermicelli with grilled chicken, pork brochette, and a spring roll. All elements were presented on a bed of greens and served with a decent portion of fish sauce. The chicken was not cooked consistently; there were more pieces that were dry and over cooked than there were tender and juicy.
“Beef stew noodles”. Slowly simmered beef noodle stewed with carrots, onions, and cilantro. The meat was similar to the taste and texture of beef brisket, chewy bites as hearty and as savoury as the broth it sat in.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I really enjoy this type of cuisine. Traditional dishes I know and love made all the better with special twists and unique variations. Good food in a clean and inviting environment. Located conveniently in my neighbourhood with ample meter and free parking if you look long enough, there is no reason why I wouldn’t return. Don’t deny your cravings.