Parle’s fluorescent blue exterior stands out among the harsh grays of busy Dalhousie Street, enticing customers with its bright colours and cheerful appearance. Once inside, things somehow look even more cheery. The interior checks off all the boxes of a cool, modern, “Instagrammable” restaurant. There’s a plant wall in the corner, a stylish seating area adorned with swanky bamboo chairs, a bicycle suspended on one of the walls, dozens of umbrellas hanging from the ceiling, and a pink neon sign in the middle of the restaurant that reads “Feed me banh mi and tell me I’m pretty.” The whole area is seemingly tailor-made for photo ops.
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Parle began in the early days of the pandemic as a venture called Viet Fresh by owner David Wen, but operated under an umbrella business called Casper Kitchen (I was initially very confused by the number of different names used for one restaurant). Casper Kitchen riffs off the industry term “ghost kitchen,” meaning a stand-alone kitchen focused entirely on takeout and delivery. What made Casper Kitchen unique was that it wasn’t simply a takeout restaurant, but more of an umbrella business that included numerous restaurant brands partnering and operating under the same roof. The Casper Kitchen brand included Viet Fresh, as well as Banh Mi Bros, Old’s BBQ, and Fried Chicken For the Seoul.
With the shutdowns and periodic indoor dining restrictions over the past two years, the Casper Kitchen brand has been able to enjoy massive success due to its delivery-focused model, which allowed Viet Fresh to “go solo” and open their own dine-in location, Parle, which opened its doors in February.
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Unfortunately, my partner and I came to the restaurant at an awkward time between the lunch and dinner rushes and were therefore unable to experience Parle at its liveliest. We joined a number of couples enjoying their late lunches in the funky space and were immediately lulled by the quiet low-fi music playing in the background. Our senses were confused by the restaurant’s vibrant décor and the low-energy atmosphere that accompanied it.
When the food arrived, we were immediately awakened from our daze. The spring rolls and wontons were perfectly crispy and packed with flavour, accompanied with a lovely sweet chilli sauce. The real stars of Parle, however, are its soups, namely the pho with its rich broth, tender meat, and aromatic spices. The menu also features many other classic Southeast Asian dishes, such as banh mi sandwiches, vermicelli bowls, and pad thai, along with a number of vegetarian options.
Drink-wise, the menu is currently devoid of anything alcoholic, but a bar with wine glasses hanging above it in the corner of the restaurant suggests that this will be changing in the near future. An exciting cocktail list to go along with some craft beer and wine would greatly compliment the restaurant’s colourful décor and make Parle even more hip and exciting.
Like any artist splitting from the band and delving into a solo project, Parle may need some time before it fully establishes itself under its own brand, but its exciting menu and vibrant atmosphere have already shown much promise. I am excited to return at a busier time and see which direction they take next.