I’m taroble at intros, so I’m just going to tell you to try taro.
White Taro, specifically. It’s the newest cafe to pop up in Surry Hills, serving up reinvented Vietnamese cuisine with a Western twist. Cringing already? Don’t, because you’ll throw that authenticity badge you so proudly wear out White Taro’s kitchen window before you can say “bo kho”. Don’t believe me? Read on to find out!
I jest, one can never get tired of taro milk tea. If you do, your tastebuds are broken.
Date Last Visited:
Address: 67 Albion Street, Surry Hills, Sydney, NSW
Recommended Dish(es): any dish with White Taro’s grilled chicken in it
While it would definitely be every shade of ironic if the facade of the building were painted black, White Taro doesn’t leave much to surprise – yep, it’s white. Being on the corner of Albion & Belmore – this makes it hard to miss, and depending on the time of your visit, you may be seeing just the faintest wisp of a crowd outside, waiting to take a seat.
It’s not yet reached “overhyped” status, something that many popular cafes experience (much to my chagrin). Hopefully that continues for a bit longer, before every Sydney food publication under the sun begins to overexpose it.
I’m well aware of the irony of that in this blog post, dear reader. I’m a part of the problem, I know.
Spacious isn’t the word I’d choose to describe White Taro’s interior, seating perhaps only 15 or so comfortably. Don’t be surprised if your group is squeezed together onto the communal-length tables, unless you’re a small enough party to be placed at the 4-seater bar. It’s really a 3-seater in terms of real available space.
There’s a big group table out the back which seats around 10, and on good days, several tables placed outside. Added up, White Taro’s seating is comparable to other cafes in the area.
Now that you’re here, what about the food? The menu is quite extensive, with over 20 items, available all day. That’s tough, so let’s see if I can’t help you navigate through the storm of baguettes and grilled chicken.
I’m liking the look of this, yes indeedy. I’m not even sure where to begin, so eeny meeny miny moe…let’s now talk about the bo kho!
Bo kho is a Vietnamese-style beef stew, which actually has French origins due to Vietnam’s occupation. White Taro takes it a step further and asks the question: would this work with baked eggs? The answer is a resounding yes, and thus the baked eggs bo kho is born.
While I’m well aware of the season we’re in, if you’re ever at White Taro and it happens to be a chilly day, this is what you order. Warm, rich, hearty and complex with herbs and spices, this will hit every spot and then some. There’s a very generous amount of delicious, chewy beef, two eggs and oodles of beans and pulses – you’re not missing out on your protein here, that’s for sure.
Carbs are provided courtesy of the accompanying baguette, which I should mention is baked in-house, unlike most cafes out there. While I’m not Vietnamese myself, I know that this will really speak to proponents of Viet eateries – they take great pride in their baking, a trait handed down from the French. It’s not just for show either – the baguettes are light, fluffy and retain a deliciously moreish crust and soak up the stew of the bo kho like a fantastically edible chamois.
The rule is set: if the temperature is below 15 degrees, this is the dish to get.
What if you only do chicken? Well don’t you worry, White Taro’s second secret killer dish is anything that has their grilled chicken in it. In this case, it’s the chook in broth – practically a bowl of ramen with some of the best Asian-style grilled chicken I’ve had in Sydney. I ain’t kidding, I just don’t come across chicken done this well often enough. This alone was enough for me and The Lady mutually deciding to return to White Taro twice in two weeks – a rare occurrence. It’s tender, it’s juicy, the skin is totally worth eating due to that addictive char, and it’s so flavourful, sweet and aromatic. It’s a constant reminder of why I love Vietnamese food.
Ah, and there’s also the noodles that went with the chicken. These were perhaps more along the average scale, being not particularly outstanding but in no particular way faulted. The noodles are springy, and there’s good volume, but the chicken is all I wanted.
I would say the dish makes for a good winter alternative to the bo kho, but ramen could be ordered anywhere else, why get it here? To its credit, the soup tastes quite nice, but I can only imagine how much sodium/MSG is in there. Well…I still drank it all. Phew, I thought I was health-conscious for a second there.
A friend’s order, I didn’t try the haloumi & eggplant baguette, but it’s also unlikely you can – it was a special for the week we visited, and thus won’t last. That said, I did learn a lesson – White Taro does have a rotation of specials to keep regulars coming back. Having said that, all I need…
…is the chicken 😀
Perhaps the one dish I didn’t try which led to some regret, the viet skewer chicken on brioche demands attention – both eyes and stomach. The strikingly dark brioche bun is, like all their other goods, baked in house, and universal feedback has been positive. The chicken? It’s a similar chicken to the grilled chicken in the noodle dish, so that’s an automatic win. The papaya salad is a nice-looking bonus, but the burger and chicken combo has already convinced me that this will be the first thing I get on my third, inevitable visit to White Taro.
Just from looking at Taro’s deconstructed banh mi, it’s no surprise that it’s likely the most Instagrammed dish at this cafe. While Vietnamese purists will absolutely balk at both the price and the presentation, I see it as an opportunity to have your banh mi in an “As You Like It” fashion. Don’t like too much fat? Carve it out of the pork belly. Fancy less pate? Don’t scoop as much. Want more butter? The whole pat is there for your taking – as much or little as you like. While complicated and possibly too much effort in execution, I do believe that this is the message White Taro intends to communicate to diners. This is a banh mi as you like it.
Having said all this, the reality is that it would be quite difficult to get all the ingredients and sandwich them into the yet-uncut baguette. It’s honestly just too much work, and thick slabs of pork belly just refuse to be cut cleanly or effectively to be sandwiched into a small-ish bun. I suspect that most diners, myself included will eat the components mostly separately, with combinations now and then. My preferred approach? Cut sections of the baguette, spread as much butter/pate/kumquat paste as you want onto the sections, and eat together with the occasional mouthful of pork belly. All the flavours will still be there; you won’t miss a thing.
What about the actual flavours of the components themselves? I was reasonably satisfied with the pate (very strong liver taste), kumquat paste (chewy gobs of sweet mixed with bitter rind), and pickled veg, but my views on the pork was a bit mixed. On the one hand, delicious crackling that’s well seasoned and thus flavourful. On the other hand, the lean parts of the pork were a little bit dry, and my second slab of belly was perhaps 70% fat. That’s a bit too much on the high side, which resulted in a fair bit left on the board.
The deconstructed banh mi is a very interesting concept. While it’ll always be ordered by first-timers, I’m not so sure if it would be a good repeat order. Certainly not so for me, there are far better dishes at White Taro, but hey it’s worth ordering once – anything for the gram 😛
And after all that, we return to a simple salad of flame grilled chicken w/tofu, red cabbage & fennel. Told ya it was all about that chicken.
Got my message yet? It rhymes with licken, and that’s what you’ll be doing after you’ve had their chicken.
This post is based on two independently paid visits to White Taro
A Vietnamese cafe? Well I never! What are your experiences with White Taro, let me know in the comments below!
- That grilled chicken, so juicy, so delicious
- Bread baked in-house, with heavenly results
- The coffee is variable – okay on the first visit, quite acidic and very foamy on the second
- The deconstructed banh mi is perhaps more for the novelty than efficacy; differentiating effort however is appreciated
- White Taro’s prices are a little pricier than the competition, and Vietnamese customers in particular will feel it’s overpriced
I have a new scoring system! Read all about it here.
Most important takeaway – three separate scores for food, service and ambiance to give the final score. The new system is not compatible with any score given prior to 11/11/2014.
F7 | S4 | A2