Chikko Cafe is one of those oddities that you occasionally stumble across in the urban environment.
Whether they stand out like a sore thumb (a la Castle Zayee), or fade into the urban canvas (Global Kitchen), these establishments all have a strength and they play to that strength in the best possible way. The outcome is great food and a fiercely loyal following!
In Chikko’s case I had been living in ignorance for the last 9 months. Located on one of Hobart’s busiest roads (267 Main Road, Derwent Park) only 10 minutes from my place of work, I must have driven past this Vietnamese cafe dozens of times, yet never had I gained even an inkling of its existence! A rather unassuming façade and only a couple of smallish signs announce its presence, with the much larger second hand dealer located adjacent always seeming to draw the drivers eyes.
If it hadn’t been for the Eating Tassie forum, I probably would have continued in my state of ignorance indefinitely!
Parking can be difficult, as I found on the day, so you may want to turn onto Lampton Avenue at the traffic lights, cross the railway lines and park on Howard Road to your left (this is the shortcut that takes you past the show grounds to the Brooker roundabout).
It always makes a difference when you’re greeted with a smile, and in the case of Chikko I felt like a regular from the moment I stepped inside!
With a welcoming grin the proprietor gave me some time to take in the numerous menu options and to peruse the contents of the cabinets, before offering me a menu and respectfully asking if he could assist in my selection.
I’m guessing that Chikko would get a fairly even split between takeaway and dine-in clientele, and the menu has been written to cater more than adequately for both. I was eager to try something that best reflected the capabilities of their kitchen so I took up the offer and asked what he would recommend as a quick and filling lunch time meal.
I was expecting a recommendation for the Banh Mi, but surprisingly he pointed me towards one of the menu items scrawled on a piece of A4 paper on the wall; a bun.
Translated to English, ‘bun’ is the Vietnamese term for vermicelli noodles, and in this instance I believe that what Chikko are offering is in fact their version of a Bún thịt nướng. As with all dishes there are going to be variations on a theme, but in this case Chikko stayed fairly close to the traditional ingredients.
According to the menu, a bed of vermicelli noodles topped with lettuce, pickled carrots, sliced cucumber, mint, coriander and spring onion, and your choice of protein and spring roll. Options included grilled chicken, grilled pork, curry beef and vegetarian. To the side was the essential bowl of marinated fish sauce!
Three positives really stood out to me with this dish; the chicken, the fish sauce, and freshness of the ingredients.
Just like hearing a few notes from a song can take you to a different time and place, food also has that miraculous ability to trigger memory. In this case, just for an instant, the first mouthful of chicken transported me to the hustle and bustle of a south-east asian hawker market. The strangeness of it all, the shift in cultural palate, the fresh raw flavours… It only lasted an instant, but there was something in the ingredients of that marinade and the way in which it was cooked that made this a special dish!
If that wasn’t enough, the fish sauce topped the dish off beautifully. Extremely well balanced, fragrant, fresh and light but giving depth to the dish and binding the more substantial ingredients together in harmony.
There were a few negatives, but they weren’t enough to spoil the dish:
Firstly, the beef spring roll left me with mixed thoughts…very light and delicate in flavour, without any evidence of excessive grease/fat, yet that very same delicacy left me wanting more in flavour and seasoning (perhaps this is a case where my palate needs to adjust, rather than vice versa?). A great textural element to the dish though. Secondly, the carrots were advertised as being pickled, yet there was no evidence to me that this was the case. And thirdly, spring onion was included in the ingredients, yet there was none to be found on my plate.
As I paid my bill and walked out onto the sunny side walk, my belly thanked me. So fresh and light, yet substantial enough to keep me going for the rest of the working day.
The team at Chikko Cafe are on a winner!
Their motto is “The place where East meets West”, and in my opinion they’ve done an admirable job in meeting the brief. Authentic flavours and a great feel for balancing the savoury, sour and salty elements of a dish.
The menu is extensive and I’m very keen to go back and try a few more of their meals, particularly the Banh Mi!
They’ve got some good lunch specials and in my opinion are fantastic value for money. Unfortunately, their location isn’t conducive to a lot of foot traffic, so they are going to have to rely heavily on word-of-mouth for new business.
So get out there and give them a try, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!
Taste – 3.5/5
Menu – 4/5
Atmosphere – 2.5/5
Service – 4/5
Value – 4/5
Overall – 3.5/5