Bac to Nam

Burleigh Gold Coast Motel 1910 Gold Coast Hwy (Cnr Christine Ave), Miami Ph 0455 031 412

Like many other foodies, I have my little obsessions. For me they’re mostly Asian: Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings), Gyoza, Sashimi (make that almost any raw seafood), Ramen (in progress) and Phở. They’re umami or savoury tastes.

Phở. My eyes roll back as I remember Hanoi. The city captured my heart, as did their version of phở. Not game to eat from the street cart, I found that even the hotel’s breakfast station phở was amazing!

I seek it out here at home, trying in vain to find a version with layers of meaning, achieved by hours of stewing and skimming beef flank before loading with slices of the cooked beef (or chicken), noodles, greens and bean sprouts, the richness cut through with Vietnamese basil, chilli and, most of all, a squeeze of tiny native lime.

It’s what draws us to Băc to Nam, a Vietnamese restaurant nestled into a motel in Burleigh. Not only inferring a journey ‘Back to Vietnam’, the name also means ‘North to South’, the restaurant’s concise menu spanning the length of the country.

When locals Sheree and Andrew Ly bought the Burleigh Gold Coast Motel recently, they decided to turn the disused ground floor storage area into a restaurant.

“We wanted to show off authentic Vietnamese food, the sort of food that Andrew’s mother makes,” Sheree told me.

Andrew’s as Aussie as they come, but his life didn’t start out that way. Born in Saigon, he was three years old when his family fled Vietnam as boat people.

“It took Dad two years to save up the money to get onto a boat; one ounce of gold for each person and there were eight of us: Mum and Dad and six kids. Dad was an optometrist, so he made fake Raybans to sell to American soldiers. That’s how he raised the money.” (That’s a lot of glasses!)

I glance up at the photo just inside the door of the restaurant. It’s a rare treasure: an enlargement of a tiny black and white snapshot of Andrew’s family crowded onto an open pontoon boat, hanging on for dear life.

“I don’t remember too much of it,” Andrew says. “The US Army just said ‘Go!’ We had to walk out of the house with nothing so no one would suspect that we were leaving. I remember the M16s firing away as diversion when the boat pulled away.

Mum’s brother left on a different boat. The boat sank and no one survived.

We landed in Indonesia and lived in a rundown shed on the beach, waiting for processing. It was fun for me, the youngest, playing on the beach, but my brothers had to row to Indonesia [Java?] each day to work and get money for food.

Somehow, in processing, the extended family got split up, with Mum’s sisters ending up in Canada and Luxembourg. My family came to Australia, to the East Hills Migrant camp in Sydney.”

Realising a gap in the market, particularly on the southern end of the coast, Sheree and Andrew sought to recreate the food of his family’s homeland. With the help of Chef Tien Truong and Andrew’s mum, who came up to spend time with Tien in the kitchen, they’ve achieved just that!

An authentic Vietnamese menu! It’s a rarity on the Gold Coast, more often a few Vietnamese dishes are mixed into a ‘multi-Asian’ menu of Malay, Chinese and Indonesian, as if they’re similar!

The Băc to Nam menu features some of my favourites: Summer rolls (or Spring rolls if you prefer) to start, of course there’s Phở (I don’t care about the meat; for me it’s all about the stock, boiled and skimmed for hours, freshened by the addition of Vietnamese mint, chilli and lime at the table), Vietnamese Pancake (oh yum!), Green Papaya or Vietnamese Beef Salad, and I now have a new favourite – Tien’s Coconut Chicken Curry. Try out the Corn or Banana Sago for dessert or the Coconut Pandan Jelly ($6 each) and don’t skip the Băc to Nam Lotus tea, either hot or cold. It’s amazing! With entrées priced under $10, main courses $18 and under, and BYO wine for a small charge, it’s a well-priced taste of an exotic cuisine.

Check out the lunch specials for extra value, and I heard a whisper that a banquet taster menu may soon be on offer. That will make the choices easier!

It’s easy to feel the authenticity of this modest restaurant, with its bamboo-clad walls, family portraits and photographs of the couple’s recent trip back to Vietnam. ‘This is who we are,’ the place shouts. ‘Welcome to our family.’

Families can sit out in the courtyard beside the children’s play corner. There’s an old rickshaw the couple brought back from Vietnam, as well as a replica boat over the entrance, complete with ‘seeing eyes’ at the front to guide it back home safely after fishing.

Best of all, you’ll receive a warm welcome from Sheree and the team. Eager to share explanations about the food and quick with a smile, their service is genuine and attentive.

Maybe, like me, you’ll easily find a new favourite on this menu – an obsession in the making!


Read more of Marj’s reviews on Good Food Gold Coast


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