Housed along the Beach Road stretch of shops is casual Vietnamese joint Cô Hai Bánh Mì.
Although this long-established eatery serves up a wide variety of Vietnamese street food, it is perhaps best known for bánh mì.
Even though I have little knowledge of the cuisine, I arrived as soon as they opened, eager for a hearty Vietnamese brunch.
The storefront is pretty inconspicuous, save for some magazine cut-outs plastered on the glass, including a photo of Barack Obama chowing down on a bánh mì.
Walking into the small, but comfortable double-storey space, I caught a glimpse of some freshly baked baguettes in the back.
You can’t possibly miss the wall accents and kitschy decor, complete with artificial flowers and the like.
Are cluttered spaces indicators of authentic, honest-to-goodness food? That’s up for debate.
We started off with coffee, and boy, it was the REAL deal.
Sure, the sweet and strong Iced Vietnamese Coffee Condense Milk (S$3.50) was great. As black coffee drinkers, however, we found ourselves hooked on the aromatic Iced Vietnamese Coffee (S$3.50).
Smooth and thick with a natural sweetness, this much-needed boost of caffeine was invigorating, to say the least. It even reminded my dining partner of the coffee he had in Vietnam.
How can anyone visit a Vietnamese restaurant and not order pho?
We ended up with the most basic option of Sliced Beef Noodle Soup (S$9), but I suggest you go for the Special Noodle Soup (S$10).
Beef slices, brisket, tendon and beef balls for only a dollar more? Now that’s great value.
The pho was served with the usual sides of beansprouts, Thai basil, sliced chilli, and lime. How do you like your beansprouts? Raw and crunchy, steeped till soft, or just in between?
Come to think of it, I should’ve asked for more limes since I like my broth tangy.
Sure enough, this comforting bowl delivered.
It evidently wasn’t something to die “pho”, but I must commend the zingy and peppery broth for being different.
The slippery and silky rice noodles swimming in a sea of fresh scallions and onions were slurped up in no time. Maybe I ought to start having pho for breakfast!
My only gripe? The unpleasant tough and leathery slivers of beef.
A rattan basket of Fresh Spring Rolls (S$5.50) arrived looking like a petite “garden bouquet” of some sort. If you’re averse to all things fresh and green, you might want to skip this.
To be very honest, I don’t really fancy Vietnamese spring rolls. But that’s just my distaste for coriander speaking.
Each rice paper roll had been tightly packed with shrimp, pork, vermicelli, cucumber, lettuce, lemongrass, and coriander. The neat cross-section was oddly satisfying to look at.
We dipped each roll into the accompanying sweet dipping sauce, flecked with carrot strips. Vietnamese dipping sauce, or nuoc cham, is typically prepared with a base of either fish sauce or hoisin sauce. This one, in particular, had a syrupy sweetness and a hint of vinegar.
With every mouthful (two per roll, to be exact), I was overwhelmed by a fresh, herbaceous burst of flavour. Chewing was a little tedious, but it made me feel “healthy”.
This was my first time having bún chả, and I was quite intrigued by the Ha Noi Boon Char (S$12).
You’re apparently supposed to dip the side of herbs (we got lettuce) and rice vermicelli into the broth, much like Japanese soba.
We received a small portion of vermicelli and a large bowl of broth, so the ratio was “off” from the get-go. You’re not supposed to drink the concentrated broth by itself, but you can if you want.
Despite being clumped together, the vermicelli still lost some of their springiness and broke off into little bits upon being submerged.
The immensely sweet and robust broth was thankfully balanced out by the meaty grilled pork, pork belly, fried shallots and radish slices.
Those lightly charred pork nuggets were seriously addictive.
Finally, it was time for the most anticipated dish, the Co Hai Baguette (S$10).
My eyes grew wide as the quintessential breakfast staple was served. The crusty baguette was packed with ham, Chinese sausage, roasted BBQ pork, pork floss, pâté, cucumber, chilli, coriander, pickled carrots, and daikon. Wow.
More pickles would’ve been preferred, but every mouthful was immensely satisfying. There was no sign of sogginess anywhere as well.
I struggled to comprehend the myriad of taste sensations I was experiencing. Salty, sweet, sour, crunchy, vinegary, greasy, fatty — it was a party in my mouth. Devouring this bánh mì was also a “crumb fest”, and that’s why people eat bánh mì at roadside stalls in Vietnam.
Those with a higher spice tolerance, feel free to add in chilli padi for more oomph.
From the perspective of a novice, this was the most legitimate Vietnamese joint I’d ever dined at.
Cô Hai Bánh Mì is the go-to for a casual Vietnamese fix. Avoid the lunch crowds and go at odd hours for a relaxed, authentic dining experience.
Expected Damage: S$15 — S$20 per pax
Our Rating: 4 / 5
Cô Hai Bánh Mì
359 Beach Road, Singapore 199575
Cô Hai Bánh Mì
359 Beach Road, Singapore 199575