Baguette, The Viet Inspired Deli
A couple of comments were posted recently about a new banh mi shop in Singapore , so we came here (Raffles City Shopping Centre #B1-55, 6336-0057) tonight to check it out. I was quite impressed with the menu for this little stall at first, as they not only listed banh mi (called the "Saigon Baguette" here), but also some other old favorites of mine like bun thit nuong cold rice noodles, soda chanh, and goi cuon spring rolls. We got excited and basically ordered all of them.
First things first. The namesake "Saigon Baguette" used a wider and softer kind of bread, allegedly to help prevent from the usually harder crusted baguette from scraping the roof of one's mouth. I was a bit apprehensive at first about deviating from that, but fortunately the bread turned out commendably light and tasty (and yes, it did successfully address the mouth-scraping problem, although I don't think this new shape qualifies as a baguette anymore). The fillings generally turned out fine too, although the sandwich fell short in one huge way: it was slathered in mayonnaise, whose taste ended up dominating the entire sandwich and thus covering up the critical aroma from the pate and such that make banh mi so uniquely Vietnamese. The taste was still good on its own right, but I wanted banh mi really for the sake of that unique pate/cilantro/jalapeno edge, which the mayo covered up here.
The other items seemed to have echoed this "close but no cigar" approach. The meat for the bun thit nuong was grilled on a cool little contraption in front of us (which got me excited), but then it lacked things like the chopped-up egg rolls (and was also oddly served in an American Chinese takeout box, which made it a bit hard to eat the very short but thick noodles that they threw into it). Moreover, the rice paper spring rolls were not as freshly and tightly wrapped as they could have been, while the soda chanh had too much syrup and not enough fresh lime juice, thus creating a rather artificial taste.
Until I try that sandwich without the mayonnaise, this place won't be the kicka$$ source of banh mi that I was hoping to find in Singapore. But it is an encouraging start at least, and I've just got to remember how to approach these guys if I come back again: ask for no mayo on the sandwich, lower my expectations on the spring rolls, and pass on the bun and soda chanh.