My family were introduced to Tra Vinh many years ago by one of my mother's friends. Located near the corner of William and Brisbane Streets in what is considered Northbridge (but is technically Perth), its hardly located on a busy thoroughfare akin to James or Francis St - especially when you consider our first visit was before the massive rejuvenation that William St has undergone in the last few years. Though slightly out of the way, the place always seems packed during peak times - a situation that has continued even with the opening of a second, more conveniently located branch in Northbridge proper.
Tra Vinh's decor is fairly basic; long share tables run in the middle of the room with smaller four-person tables at the sides. The lighting features the unhealthy blue glow of fluorescent lighting, and their drinks fridge seems to be the brightest light source in the room. Clearly, people don't come here for the vibe and yet when we arrived the place was near capacity - the above photo was taken at the end of the meal and is not indicative of how busy this place was a mere half hour earlier. This is definitely a place where the food speaks for itself.
Alissa and I have been to Tra Vinh quite a few times, and really enjoy their pho and other noodle soups the best. Since returning from Hanoi, we've developed a strong, cultish appreciation for Bun Cha - that classic Hanoi dish of noodle, grilled pork, fresh herbs and a sweet and sour dipping sauce - and seeing versions of Bun Cha on the menu at Tra Vinh, we had to know it if held its own against Little Lang Nuong in Girrawheen (our favourite place for Bun Cha in Perth) or even the incredible Bun Cha Dac Kim in Hanoi. While waiting we sipped on refreshing glasses of coconut water; perfect for what was a humid Perth night.
But before digging into the Bun Cha, we ordered some entrees. First to arrive was a plate of the slightly unusual Prawn Spring Rolls. I think the Vietnamese do incredible spring rolls, and these were no exception. Meat spring rolls can sometimes be a bit too dense compared to their vegetarian counterparts, however the same could not be said for these. The prawns inside had been coarsely chopped, maintaining some of the springiness of prawn flesh while in tube form. Combined with the sweet/sour/umami dipping sauce ubiquitous to Vietnamese food, and these were a seriously delicious entree.
Though the one entree was probably enough for the two of us, we decided to add a serve of Stuffed Chicken Wings to our order for the sake of the Ministry. This dish is common to many Vietnamese restaurants throughout Perth, however we ironically never ate them in Vietnam. Though of course lacking a direct comparison, these were larger than the Stuffed Chicken Wings served at Il Lido, though very similar in flavour. We had the Stuffed Chicken Wings during an unblogged return visit to Little Lang Nuong, and I would say Little Lang Nuong's version was tastier than either Il Lido or Tra Vinh's. Regardless of comparisons these are always a tasty entree, and Alissa and I happily chowed down on the fried chicken goodness.
It was probably good then that we went with something lighter like Bun Cha for our main. The traditional Bun Cha as served at Bun Cha Dac Kim in Hanoi comes with grilled pork belly, grilled pork patties, nem cua be (a special fried spring roll with a rice paper wrap) and an assemble-it-yourself hobby kit form. Little Lang Nuong serve their Bun Cha in this traditional manner, however we've sadly found nowhere else in Perth that offers the total package - they tend to only offer a choice of spring rolls, grilled pork or pork burgers, and/or they the spring rolls included are just stock-standard vegetarian spring rolls. Tra Vinh offered a few versions (none with everything), and so Alissa and I decided to try the grilled pork...
... and the pork patties versions, served with the same combination of noodles, grated carrot and daikon, sliced cucumber, lettuce and herbs, with dipping sauce/dressing on the side. The dressing was pretty good, probably marginally better than Mama Tran and U & I Cafe's dressing, though not quite as impressive as Little Lang Nuong. The amount of herbs served was also a little scant, and they served their cucumber cut thicker than I would prefer. Mixed altogether it was still a tasty dish, and if the grilled pork and the pork patties didn't quite meet the high watermark of Little Lang Nuong's flame-grilled deliciousness, they were probably the second best examples we've found in Perth yet. If only they had a dish that included a mix of both, and some nem cua be spring rolls to add to the mix.
The Verdict: Very Good
Of the Northbridge/Perth CBD Vietnamese restaurants, Tra Vinh's remains one of our favourites, and we'd definitely continue coming back here in spite of better looking, more centrally located places; the prawn spring rolls are really good and though we didn't order it this time, they make a very good Pho. Bun Cha here is pretty good, however we're still looking for a place that beats Little Lang Nuong. So it looks like we'll have to continue driving to Girrawheen for the foreseeable future every time we want our Bun Cha fix.