Vibrant Vietnamese on Moore Street
What’s the story?
Bun Cha opened on Moore Street in early 2018 and immediately stood out from the few Vietnamese restaurants in the city thanks to their slick website and professional food photography. We weren't the only ones who noticed, as they had Lucinda O'Sullivan and Tom Doorley through the door in the first couple of months. She hated it, he loved it, but slowly they seemed to be building a fan base for their eponymous bun cha and banh mi. Opened by the same people who own the oriental supermarket next door, we're told it's one of only three Vietnamese restaurants in Ireland that are owned and cheffed by Vietnamese people, and that bringing a taste of home to Dublin was the main goal. So far so convinced.
Where should we go for a drink first?
We recently made the welcome discovery that Wines Direct have a wine shop and bar in Arnotts with €7 corkage on anything off the shelf, as well as plenty of wines by the glass. It closes when Arnotts closes (from 7-9pm depending on the night) so would only work if you're in early, but it's your best bet for wine around these parts. If you're after a pre or post beer head for The Big Romance on Parnell Street for one of the most interesting selections in town, and if you fancy a caipirinha or a mezcal mule make your way to Wigwam on Middle Abbey Street
Where should we sit?
There's a Vietnamese canteen vibe that means you probably won't sit here all night, but it's perfectly comfortable for a quick bite to eat. If you're on your own there are a few counter seats looking out onto Moore Street, otherwise grab one of the benches against the wall.
What's good to eat?
From what we ate the unmissable dishes were the bun cha (grilled pork with noodles) and the bun nem (fried spring rolls with noodles). The chargrilled pork in the bun cha has an obscenely smokey flavour that has to be tasted to be understood (we're talking big green egg flavour), and the pork spring rolls must be up there with the most blisteringly crisp (and delicious) in the city. The balance in the dipping sauce with bits of carrot, kohlrabi and chilli is perfect, and we loved the amount of fresh coriander and mint jammed onto the plates, which is something other Vietnamese restaurants here can bizarrely be lacking.
We also loved the wonton soup with shrimp wontons, char siu pork, egg, broccoli and spring onions, and a lemongrass paste to stir into the rich, deeply flavoured broth, that could only have come from hours of cooking. It's a huge bowl of food for €11.50 so only order if hungry or you're prepared to take some home (in their lovely cardboard boxes).
Our waiter told us one of his favourites was the dry mixed noodles with roasted pork xa xiu, and it was a disarmingly simple bowl of what looked and tasted like super noodles, with slices of pork, crunchy pak choi, shallots and peanuts. Once we got past the super noodle prejudice we really enjoyed the mix of textures and flavours from the sweet pork, slippery noodles and crispy shallots, and it's a dish we're now actively craving.
Summer rolls with prawns weren't the most exciting thing we tried, and could have done with a more amped up flavour, and "fried golden dough" or "quay" were just sticks of somewhat bland savoury dough, but will fill a hunger gap until the mains arrive. In Vietnam these are usually eaten with congee or pho, so that might improve things.
We didn't try the banh mi but have it on authority they're as good as many in Hoi An, and will definitely be going back for the pho once the weather turns cold again (which should be any day now).
What about the drinks?
We'd been told to try the sugar cane juice which is freshly squeezed in the kitchen downstairs, but they were out of it, so instead tried a lychee and mint juice, greener than anything naturally occurring in nature. We wouldn't recommend this unless you like the idea of drinking lychee toothpaste. They do have a short wine list and it's predictably unappealing, but we've seen worse so if desperate you could find something, and randomly they do cocktails, including sex on the beach. Proceed with caution.
And the service?
Both times we ate here our server was so sweet and welcoming, and very happy to tell us his favourite dishes, both here and back home in Vietnam. For him this is the best Vietnamese food in the city, and when it comes to the bun cha and bun nem we'd find it hard to disagree.
We've always struggled to understand the lack of Vietnamese food in Dublin when it's so prevalent in cities like London and Melbourne, and such a vibrant, fresh cuisine that most people seem to fall in love with on tasting. It's easy to say that the best Vietnamese cuisine is going to be found in Vietnam, but if you can't afford a plane ticket Bun Cha's doing a pretty good job of bringing it to us.
11 Moore Street, Dublin 1 www.buncha.ie