Sometimes you have to wonder how a restaurant got its name. When you see a shop being renovated (this site used to be Bobbin and Ink) you wonder what thought processes are going on in the renovation and naming stage. The name Dear Cafe doesn't immediately signal a Vietnamese eatery is inside, the main game of this place at the top of King Street. It turns out the resto was named by the owners 12 year old son who thought it was a sweet way to think of his Mum, as in the 'Dear Mum' you would write on top of a letter. Perhaps a job in branding might not be in his future but at least we know he loves his mummy.
This is a family business, where cooking, serving and cleaning up is all kept in house. The friendly owner is keen to know how your meal was, and the menu has been tweaked since opening to reflect feedback and new ideas.
In this part of King St Thai joints rule, so to get a Vietnamese place up there offers a bit more choice. The menu offers the greatest hits of pho, rice and noodles and the prices are fair. There's a few breakfast dishes and takeaway coffee that ticks off the 'cafe' part of the name, but the large majority of the dishes are Vietnamese style.
Pork chop with egg and shredded pork, $10.50. Grilled thin pork chops with shredded pork skin mixed with rice and a fried egg with a runny yolk is one of those wonderful food combinations. While we're more used to getting to broken rice rather than a regular medium grain with a dish like this, all the other flavours you would expect are there.
Special beef noodle soup (Phở bò đặc biệt), $10.50. A sweeter style soup broth filled with tripe, meatballs and meat. The best part is the dunking sauces, a trio of hoisin, chilli and a housemade chunkier chilli sauce flecked with tiny shrimp.
Beef noodle soup (Phở bò), $9.50. All the regular meat and none of the strange meaty bits. It's a big bowl of broth, great if your after some serious rehydration.
BBQ pork and spring rolls vermicelli, $10.50. This dish is one of Alison's favourites, the mix of grilled pork, salad and crunchy spring rolls all combines together, gets coated with the sauces from the pork and flavours everything. Pour over the side sauce, a kind of thin sweet chilli sauce, to get your desired flavour mix. Our hint is to only pour half on at the beginning and the other lot when you've eaten through about half of it. You get an even distribution of the sauce throughout.
Lotus pork and prawn salad, $11.50. A fresh and bright mix of ingredients, with hits of red chilli to play spicy roulette with. The lotus root is crunchy and a little stringy, like the strange bits of string on celery but finer.
One of the newer dishes on the menu is a Crab soup (Bún Riêu Cua). This is one of those magical soups that starts out thick at the top but changes and waters down as you get through it. The rice noodles underneath help with the transfer of the crabby, eggy pieces in the soup. It's a big serve as well.
Dear Cafe is at 28 King Street Newtown, up the top end near Goulds. Phone 02 9517 3388.