Gold Standard Pho and BanhMi+Kopi, 2 new pork-free eateries in the Klang Valley, specialise in perennially popular Vietnamese fare

Daren Yoon & Fred Leung Of Gold Standard Pho

Did you make it a point to travel to Vietnam to try ‘the real thing’?

Daren Yoon: We made multiple visits to Vietnam and tried a wide variety of pho in addition to other Vietnamese dishes. Some places were excellent, but we actually didn’t like the majority. Historically speaking, pho is cheap street food, which explains why the quality of ingredients—especially the meat—ranged from mediocre to poor. Chain restaurants were inconsistent from one branch to another. It was an eye-opening experience. Identifying the challenges in Vietnam really helped us prepare for our launch in Kuala Lumpur.

How does pho differ from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh?

Fred Leung: The North and the South are less different today than in the past. Southern pho usually contains softer noodles, a lighter broth, and more garnishes.

Internationally, most Vietnamese restaurants serve southern pho, which is also what Daren and I prefer. We like the texture of the noodles, the aesthetics of the golden broth, and the appeal of offering a wide assortment of vegetables, herbs, and sauces so that each bowl is your ideal creation.

In Vietnam, vendors make a show of piling their mini scales with meat to prove that everyone gets an equal share of the premium stuff. Do your chefs have a system for apportioning ingredients?

Daren Yoon: We have ambitious plans for Gold Standard Pho and the consistency of our product is absolutely critical. Every single batch of broth is reviewed by multiple persons before it’s allowed to be served.  All ingredients are measured to exact specifications and anything that doesn’t meet our standards is immediately discarded.

Where health standards are concerned, we aren’t looking to simply meet the local requirements but to exceed them. The term 'gold standard' isn’t just a catch phrase—it is our code of conduct in every aspect of the business, whether food quality, service, or ambiance. 

All kinds of cuts can be found in Vietnamese pho, from tendon to spinal cord! How about at Gold Standard Pho?
Fred Leung: Our pho is currently available in three types of broth: beef, chicken and vegetables. Our beef pho and the accompanying cuts, which include rare beef, beef balls, tendon, and tripe, are made from 100% high-grade Australian beef. During the development stage, we never found beef balls at the local market that met our standards. Unsatisfied, we decided to have our Vietnamese chef create homemade beef balls. The same can be said for many of the items you see on today's menu, including our sauces.

We will expand our offerings in the future, but we’re more interested in getting things done right than done fast.

When I slipped into your restaurant to sample its signature dish, I was delighted to discover a deeply delicious beef broth with herbal undertones. But no average pho stock takes 30 hours to simmer. Would you say that Gold Standard Pho is about augmenting street food?
Daren Yoon: When we decided to take on this project, we made a commitment to each other that we would create the pho that we wanted to eat, regardless of cost and time. Making the best pho possible has been the compass in our decision-making.

Must it take 30 hours to make broth? Of course not. There are recipes out there call for as little as 2 to 3 hours. We never sought a 30-hour recipe, but I can tell you that each and every hour serves a purpose.

It has taken us nine months to create a delicious pho broth without using pork, while also reducing sodium levels to create a healthier product. While we may compromise on certain things, we are decidedly uncompromising when it comes to the quality of our pho.

Gold Standard Pho | 17, Jalan Telawi 2, Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur | 03-2202 0932 | View the menu

Phuong Mai Dinh Of BanhMi+Kopi

The history of banh mi is long and convoluted. Some credit the sandwich's origins to the French occupancy, others oppose the ‘whitewashing’ of a Vietnamese creation. What's your take?
In Vietnamese, 'banh mi' literally means bread without any fillings, although the English-speaking world knows it as the ubiquitous Vietnamese sandwich.

It was introduced to Vietnam by the French via the baguette, and became popular in the 1860s when Vietnam formed part of French Indochina. Know that banh mi may look like a smaller replica of the French baguette, but it is not. Banh mi is airier and the crust is thinner and crackly. As a Vietnamese, I have no argument as to its origins, but I admire the Vietnamese bakers of those hard times who came up with such a brilliant product.

How ‘traditional’ are BanhMi+Kopi’s sandwiches per se?
As a Vietnamese who has lived in Malaysia for 10 years, I would describe our sandwiches as Malaysian-inspired. We have mixed flavours to create a unique product.

The idea is rooted in Vietnam, but the leaves of inspiration sprouted in Malaysia.

Where did you cut your teeth in the culinary industry?

My parents were lecturers in Vietnam and none of my relatives have any F&B background, but my interest in cooking started since I was a kid. I dabbled in baking, cooking, and whatever I could do with my tiny hands. 

When I was coming close to finishing high school, my late mom asked my 17-year-old self what I wanted to be in the future. I told her I wanted to be a chef. Vietnam did not offer any diplomas or degrees in the culinary arts at the time, which is why my mom decided to send me to Malaysia, which was her second home. On a side note, mom was a human resources manager in Petronas Carigali Vietnam for 13 years and travelled back and forth to Malaysia for business. I was introduced to roti canai, mee goreng, and nasi lemak at an early age.

My new chapter started in 2009. I moved to KL to pursue my Bachelors in Culinary Arts and Foodservice Management at Taylor’s University and graduated in 2013. I’ve worked in various restaurants and resorts including a part-time stint at Sao Nam Fine Vietnamese Cuisine. It was then that I realised I should bring Vietnamese cuisine to the next level.

How did you go cahoots with the fun bunch behind myBurgerlab, Grub by Ahong, and Inside Scoop?

My culinary classmate Hong Yi was a fellow geek at myBurgerlab. Last July, he saw a Facebook post by myBurgerlab co-founder Chin RenYi about potentially opening a 'Banh mi lab' in Malaysia. RenYi, Hong (founder of Grub by Ahong) and Edmund (co-founder of Inside Scoop) were travelling through Saigon at the time. My friend quickly texted to ask if I was interested to meet RenYi. Without a doubt, I said yes.

How fared your first pop-up at the Zhongshan Building? Have there been more since and how can our readers stay updated about future events?

We have done 3 pop-ups so far: at Inside Scoop's HQ where you were invited, the Zhongshan Building and GMBB Mall. The response has been good! We're still seeking a permanent place to set up our first store, but plan on having a few more pop-ups. Follow our Facebook page
myBurgerlab, Grub by Ahong, and Inside Scoop all allow for a reasonable amount of customisation in, say, one's choice of toppings or degree of (steak) doneness. Does BanhMi+Kopi cater to specific requests or dietary restrictions?

Yes, we can customize our products to meet special requests. We want to deliver products that are suitable for a wide range of consumers. Our concept is inspired by the Subway model, except as an Asian sandwich chain with a focus on banh mi.

BanhMi+Kopi | Presently operating on a pop-up basis | Send a message

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