Thursday, October 22, 2009

October 17, 2009: Tinh Tam Chay

30/10/2013: Tinh Tam Chay has closed down.

One of the things Cindy and I love most about blogging is the input we get from our readers - we've discovered some great places and great recipes thanks to suggestions from various enthusiastic contributors. So we were both very excited when an unsolicited email turned up letting us know about Tinh Tam Chay, a new 'vietgetarian' place in St Albans. We quickly rounded up a posse of interested veg-folk and arranged a road-trip into the wilds of the western suburbs.

It's a strange little place - tucked in amongst a fairly nondescript shopping strip, seemingly co-sharing its premises with a churros place. It was all a bit odd. Once you're inside though, you're in capable hands - the guy running it was incredibly welcoming, adding to our excitement about the meal ahead.

It's a mock-meat heavy menu, with classic Vietnamese dishes served up with faux-pork and chicken. We started things off with rice-paper and spring rolls. The rice-paper rolls were filled with a combination of tofu and fresh vegies and were a clean and crisp start to the meal. The spring rolls were less healthy and thus slightly more delicious, although their filling lacked the variety of the rice-paper wraps.

I steered away from mock-meat, ordering a tofu-based dish: Dau Hu Chien Xa O't (fried tofu with lemongrass, served with steamed rice - $8.50, see picture at top). It was an excellent choice - crispy skinned tofu with a hint of chilli and a bright lemongrass flavour. A smear of chilli paste and a splash of soy sauce and I was in heaven.

The rest of the table spread their orders around nicely, meaning we all got to sample a range of what was on offer. The star of the show was Kristy's Com Ga Chien Don (vegetarian crispy chicken, served with steamed rice, $8.50) which, from the bite that I had, wouldn't be out of place on the menu at one of the fancier mock-meat places in Melbourne.

Cindy's giant Bun Bi Supon Chay (rice vermicelli with vegetarian shredded grilled pork, $8.50) was a success as well, with a crispy 'pork' bits, generous serves of vegetables and nuts and a tasty sauce to pour over the whole thing.

Craig and Toby were adventurous enough to order the Banh Tam Bi (Vietnamese spaghetti with shredded grilled pork, $8.50), which came with an intriguing coconutty sauce and lots of crispy fried bits and pieces.

The only dish I didn't try was Steph's, both because we were at opposite ends of the table and because a noodle soup isn't the easiest sharing meal. Still, it earned high praise from Steph and looked great (it looks even better in Steph's photo).

The dessert menu is basically two smoothies ($3 each) - avocado...

... and jackfruit.

These got mixed reviews - I think the idea of a sweet avocado drink put a few people off, but Cindy was pretty happy with the results, while the jackfruit smoothie lacked the avocado's creaminess but provided a more tropical flavour.

So our night in St Albans was a great success - Tinh Tam Chay does wonderfully tasty food for fantastically cheap prices and with friendly and helpful service. The only downside: the constant stream of animal cruelty images being shown on the tv near the counter - I don't think images of slaughterhouses are really the best appetiser. It may be a while before we can muster the energy to trek out to St Albans again, but I'm sure we'll be back - make the effort, it's well worth it and probably a step above its competition.

Update 10/5/10: According to the VNV, Tinh Tam Chay has stopped focussing on vegetarian food and is chock full of meat these days. Booo.

Address: 13 Alfrieda Street, St Albans
Ph: 9366 3952
Price: Mains $8.50, entrees $6


  1. Damn, why is St Albans so far away!

    I'm also a bit weird about the avocado smoothie thing, I had it in an asian place on Swanston St - a bit gross I thought.

    You exposing your lack of trivia knowledge at Grumpy's this week?

  2. I liked the lack of creaminess in the jackfruit smoothie! It was great!

    I really enjoyed this visit, it was deliciousness!

  3. weird, arent they already preaching to the converted (re animal slaughter videos)

    I dont usually tolerate animal libbers too well... I have made my choices and thats that, I see it akin to people trying to get me to convert to scientology or whatever... I find it pretty offensive actually so I wont be going there if thats the case.

  4. woow, look at the size of the tofu..!! yummm.... :9'
    Oh, and the avocado smoothie looks delicious.. It's funny, cause I used to always have avocado as a sweet / dessert dish, not as a savoury dish. But I love them both ways now.. :) [amanda]

  5. Oh yum, that tofu looks awesome! How peculiar about the animal cruelty videos - maybe to reinforce the feel-good factor in eating there? And that you'll order more while you're at it? =o/

  6. Hi Niki! Unfortunately we won't be at Grumpy's trivia for a week or two - Michael has injured himself and needs to rest at home. :-( I'll try to remember to leave you a comment when we're planning to return!

    Steph, I liked the jackfruit smoothie too! More refreshing without the creaminess, I think.

    Carla, we were pretty uncomfortable about it too. But the owner/chef was very sweet and would probably consider switching it off if customers requested it.

    Amanda, I am the other way around - accustomed to savoury avocado and now appreciating it in sweet food. :-D

    Hi Vee! The tofu was a highlight. The owner/chef is clearly passionate about promoting vegetarianism to prevent animal cruelty, but this approach doesn't make me feel appetised. :-/

  7. i'm so excited to go tonight! i think i'll get what you got cindy

  8. Have fun, Pip! It's a good choice - plenty of fresh veges and herbs as well as some tasty mock meat. :-)