I’ve visited the fabulous country of Vietnam several times, so when I dine at a Vietnamese restaurant, memories of devouring a crunchy Banh Mi from restaurants visited by food royalty like Anthony Bourdain, and sitting on little plastic stools in the streets slurping on bowls of delicious noodles swimming in flavoursome broth, laden with fresh herbs are instantly evoked.
So I was excited to discover Kingston’s newest Vietnamese eatery, Bui’s Restaurant. The restaurant opened just over a month ago on Giles Street in the space previously occupied by Madam Woo.
It’s owned and operated by siblings Nam and Thanh Bui. Nam knew it was time to make his food dream come to life when he saw the site was available.
“I’ve been cheffing for 15 years and I’ve always wanted to own my own restaurant. When I saw the opportunity in Kingston, I knew it was the time to continue to build my skills and bring fresh produce and delicious Vietnamese food to the people of Kingston,” he said.
Nam is the head chef and his offsider in the kitchen is his sous chef, Suriya. The pair share a friendship of 20 years, and between them they have 30 years’ experience working in various hospitality roles.
Vietnamese art and décor are tastefully displayed on the walls and throughout the restaurant. It seats 70 people and there’s an additional dining room behind the kitchen. The restaurant is long and quite narrow, and the ceiling is curved, a feature that already existed and made me think of sitting under the roof of a Vietnamese boat like the ones featured on paintings and hats on the walls.
Thanh has years of experience working in hospitality, so the three have combined their skills and experience to create a warm and inviting space with delicious food.
We order the duck rice paper rolls and the Vietnamese pawpaw salad served with crispy pork belly, prawns and cashew nuts. I did a quick Google search before I arrived and found some photos of a banh xeo (crispy savoury Vietnamese pancake) but I couldn’t find it on the menu.
I love this dish, so I ask Thanh about it. It’s not on the menu, but they’re happy to make it. Of course, I want to try the secret menu item, so I put an order in for one.
As we wait for our lunch, tables of other couples and small groups fill up the restaurant and a few people pick up takeaway orders.
Each dish is fresh and flavoursome, exactly what you would expect them to be. There’s a balance of sweet and salty with a hint of chilli.
The banh xeo was delicious and packed with pieces of pork, prawns and fresh bean sprouts. If you order this dish, make sure you wrap a piece of it up in a lettuce leaf, top it with fresh herbs and add a spoonful of the dipping sauce.
Nam brings out one of Bui’s house specials, a bowl of crispy pork belly served with green apple, garlic, chilli and lemon sauce for us to try. He tells us the vermicelli salads are also a popular option. You can choose from marinated beef, chicken or tofu fried with lemongrass. It’s served with spring rolls, mixed herbs and vermicelli noodles.
The broth for their pho is cooked for 12 to 15 hours and many of their dishes can be made gluten-free with a selection of vegan options also available.
The menu is inspired by other Asian cuisines from different restaurants and cafes Nam’s worked at, but he’s added a Vietnamese twist to each dish by using Vietnamese ingredients.
We order a Vietnamese iced coffee to finish. Next time we’ll be sure to try the DIY campfire beef rice paper rolls and the banana pancake with palm sugar, coconut and ice cream.
Bui’s Restaurant is located at 38 Giles St, Kingston and is open seven days for lunch from 11:00 am until 2:30 pm and for dinner from 5:00 pm until 10:00 pm.