Good Vietnamese in an arid area

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An Phat Pho Restaurant, 65a Ashley Street, Braybrook. Phone: 9077 7984

Where do all the newly arrived residents of West Footscray’s Bunbury Village do their shopping?

Sims doesn’t seem to be all that much busier – and we visit there often.

Nor do they appear to be hitting Braybrook’s Central West Plaza shopping centre, which appears to have had the same moribund vibe for years.

As well, food-wise Central West has never kicked any goals for us.

So that makes the arrival of An Dat Pho well worth celebrating.

 

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It’s situated on the other side of the car-park from Central West central, sharing a smaller business precinct with a fish and chippery, a charcoal chicken shop, a kebab/pizza place, a noodle shop, a TAB and a Subway.

I’ve tried them all except the latter two – nothing disastrous eventuated but nor did anything that inspired me to post on CTS.

So An Dat Pho is good news for locals – Vietnamese food in an area about midway between the riches of Footscray and Sunshine.

This is especially true as the very good Quan Viet, just up the road a bit on South Road, has closed, seemingly to be replaced in due course by some sort of noodle cafe.

On our visit, Bennie and I enjoy some good, solid if not spectacular Vietnamese food.

 

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Grilled pork skewers (nem nuon, $7) are yummy wrapped in lettuce leaves with herbs and dunked in dipping sauce.

 

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Com ga nuong (grilled chicken with tomato rice, $10) is a hit, with nicely flavoursome chook and fine chicken broth to accompany.

 

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Combination stir-fried thick rice noodles ($12) lets the meal down somewhat.

It’s OK but almost swimmingly wet – in fact, you could just about call it soup!

No problem – we like An Dat Pho and where it’s at, and the service has been grand.

We suspect gravitating towards the vermicelli, pho and rice dishes is the go here.

 

An Dat Pho Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

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Yumminess on Alfrieda

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Phi Phi Vietnamese & Chinese Restaurant, 28 Alfrieda Street, St Albans. Phone: 9366 5686

We’ve been here before … 28 Alfrieda Street, that is.

First as Just Good Food, then as Phuong Thao – and there was another incarnation in there along the way as well.

Such is the ebb and flow, the come and go of our foodie precincts.

The latest establishment to grace 28 Alfrieda is Phi Phi – and based on a beaut Sunday dinner, we think that is a fine thing indeed.

There’s a new fit-out and the staff are trying really hard and with much graciousness.

Phi Phi is a Vietnamese/Chinese place with a wide-ranging menu that takes in all you’d expect – seafood-based banquets right through to the most humble noodles and rice dishes.

The big ovens are still out back, so you can count on the roast meats still being the goods.

 

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When we visit, the place is fetchingly busy.

And we can think of no better testament to the place’s worthiness than the way complementary bowls of chicken soup are dispensed.

For two of our mains, we would have been very disappointed had we not got soup.

For another, it’s arrival was a pleasant surprise.

For the fourth, the chook soup addition was a shock and a big plus – now that’s class!

We don’t push any envelopes with what we order, but everything we have is good or much better.

 

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Hot and sour soup ($5) is far from being the hottest or sourest I’ve enjoyed, but it IS among the very best, so chock-full of pork, baby prawns, tofu, mushrooms and other goodies is it.

It’s fantastic!

 

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Soft-shell crab rice paper rolls ($7) and …

 

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… sashimi salmon rice paper rolls ($7) are both lovely, high-quality treats.

The crab taste, the fried-and-fishy tang of which can be off-putting to some, is nicely muted by the other protagonists.

In both cases, the rolls deliver fresh takes on the usual but nevertheless fit right in to the rice paper roll tradition.

 

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Fried won tons ($5) are just so good!

Obviously house-made, they are grease-free and plump with nicely seasoned minced pork.

 

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Hainanese chicken claypot ($11.50) comes with heaps of bok choy.

Its recipient is delighted to find the bottom rice has the desired, browned crunchiness!

 

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Of course, ordering Hainanese chicken rice in a non-Malaysian eatery is always a bit of punt – but can lead to nice twists.

In this case, the Phi Phi version ($10) comes with some non-Malay greenery.

The rice is good, too.

And as with the claypot rendition, the chicken is superb – beautifully cooked and tender, despite some of the pieces being quite dense, and expertly boned with not a deadly shard of nastiness in sight.

That I really, truly appreciate.

 

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Bennie goes for the salt and pepper pork ribs on tomato rice ($11), mainly because the lad is currently in a place where fried = good.

It’s all very nice, though I’ve had versions – be they pork, chicken, tofu, whatever – that have had more arresting zing in the seasoning department.

 

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One of our party goes real old-school by ordering beef with black bean sauce on rice ($12).

And why not?

We’re loving our dinner so much we confidently expect this, too, to be very good.

And so it is.

Like all the aforementioned mains, this comes with a bowl of chicken soup – not a usual move for a black bean-sauced dish and worthy of a “Bravo”!

 

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As we muse on our wonderful dinner, we count ourselves lucky that the food we like most is so affordable.

Our meal – including a can of soft drink and a durian smoothie – clocks in at a stupendously good $74 for four.

And that, in turn, has us reflecting on the fact our newly refurbished Yarraville pub has on its menu Singapore noodles priced at $26.

Yikes!

We’ll take Phi Phi any day.

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On an earlier reconnaissance visit, yours truly also went old-school with a serve of roast duck and soya chicken on rice.

 

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This $12 outing was also most enjoyable.

The meats were tender and expertly chopped, and the presence of not just soup but also ginger/garlic/oil mash and pickles made the dish memorable.

 

Phi Phi Vietnamese & Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

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Deer Park eats goss

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Western Pho in Deer Park is on the move.

The humble yet excellent Vietnamese eatery on Burnside Street – written about and given a new and glowing thumbs up from CTS regular Juz here – will move around the corner to the service road shopping strip on Ballarat Road in three months or so.

Proprietor Phi tells me there will be more food, more staff and more seating – the new joint will have a seating capacity of at least 60.

I caught up with Phi and his builder, “Junior” Espinosa of GE Builder, at the old premises as they were discussing the floor plan for the new place.

“Junior” tells me has worked on such CTS faves as Hyderabad Inn, Dosa Hut and Pandu’s – that’s a nice pedigree!

 

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The new place still bears the signage of the previous tenant.

 

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And just a few doors away preparations are underway for an Indian eatery and …

 

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… another Vietnamese place!

This phases Phi not at all – competition being good and helping to build a happy neighbourhood eats destination, he reckons.

 

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Meanwhile, in even more good news for locals, the current Western Pho premises on Burnside Street, will be renamed Western Roll and feature banh mi, rice paper rolls and the like, including sauces from Phi’s hometown near Cam Ranh Bay – and coffee.

It’s all happening in Deer Park!

 

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Care To Share?

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The Care To Share project is a fine community initiative that aims to “connect residents with local refugee communities through simple acts of sharing”.

There are three strands to this project started by westerners Bree Anastasi, Danielle Entwistle, Kerry Sanders and Nikii McCoppin – two of them involve food, so naturally CTS pricked its ears up.

The Welcome Table sees “families from the inner west of Melbourne to open their homes and dining tables for one evening to a local refugee individual or family” for the purposes of eating, sharing and conversation.

CTS, on account of the restricted space of our tiny pad, had to beg off from this one – as excellent an idea as it is!

Cooking Conections will see “cooking classes delivered by members of the refugee community to individuals from the inner West” at the Yarraville Community Centre.

Our interest in this aspect of the project was rewarded by a request that we host those events we are able to – a request we were very excited to agree to!

The three Cooking Connection sessions thus far planned are:

Tuesday, June 17, 6-9pm – Vietnamese
Vy Cardona, Vietnamese foodie extraordinaire will take you on a culinary journey – and you’ll learn to make beef pho, rice paper rolls, spring rolls and lotus root salad.

Saturday, June 21, noon- 2.30pm – Afghani and Iranian
Jamshid and friends will share some their stories and some of the staple dishes of their Afghani homeland. Qabli pulao, Afghan biryani and the sweetness of sheer pira may be some of the lunchtime delights.

Sunday, June 22, noon-2.30pm – Ethiopian 
Abdi from Konjo restaurant in Footscray will take your tastebuds on a sub-African journey – their famous kitfo, tibs, injera amongst others –  and hopefully their specially roasted Ethiopian coffee makes an appearance, too!

Consider The Sauce truly will be hosting the last two of those.

There is a maximum capacity of 12 guests for each session.

Tickets cost $48 per person and all ticket monies go towards costs associated with holding the classes. Yours truly and the chefs are volunteering their time.

Visit the Care To Share Project here, or you can go straight to the booking page here.

And you can read the story written by my Star Weekly colleague Benjamin Millar here.

The third aspect of the Care To Share Project is I Hear You, “an art installation comprised of letters, pictures and various story telling mediums contributed by individuals of the local refugee community that are participating in ESL classes”.

It will run at the Footscray Community Arts Centre from Thursday, June 12, to Sunday, June 29.

Rickshaw Run 2014

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A whole weekend fuelled by Vietnamese iced coffee, freshly-squeezed sugarcane juice and love …

Last year, I volunteered for a couple of shifts pulling a rickshaws, Bennie joining me for one of them.

This year, we are up for way, way more.

As much as we can get, in fact.

Why?

Well, our continuing adventures with Consider The Sauce and projects such as The Westies: Dishes of Distinction and the CTS Feasts are only strengthening our commitment to and love for the west, its food and its people.

As well, this year the Rickshaw Run is being co-ordinated by our great pal and partner in the Westies, Lauren Wambach of Footscray Food Blog.

We’ve been eagerly anticipating this night and the days ahead for many weeks.

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Getting set for the first night.

Several months before RR14, Lauren had suggested I would be perfectly suited for the role of meeter-and-greeter at our guests’ first stop – D&K Live Fish for fresh oysters.

And so it was agreed.

Turning up at about 5pm after my regular (paying) gig, I take in the scene and then get busy familiarising myself with my job.

Lemons, napkins, time schedule, touching base with David of D&K, oysters … tick, tick, tick, tick tick!

Am I nervous?

Only a little – the simple truth is can’t wait to get into it.

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Maribyrnong mayor Grant Miles gives rickshaw pointers on opening night.

And then it’s on!

I handle my first group, and then another, and then another – and so the night unfolds sweetly and with intense pleasure.

I find I am getting a real kick out of sending our guests on their way with smiles all round.

I develop a spiel that takes in the western suburbs, their many marvels and their incredible food, with plugs for the Westies awards as I go.

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My first group at D&K make short work of their oysters.

I soon discover that in each group of eight, there are some who oyster and some who don’t.

I let them sort it out for themselves.

A week or so before the run, Lauren had tipped me that a group from my NZ hometown of Dunedin would be passing my way.

But that is meant to be on Sunday arvo.

So I am utterly gobsmacked by what happens halfway through Friday night.

There I am, settling into my “welcome to the Rickshaw Run” groove and happily entertaining a wonderful group of gorgeous gals.

Then, with the conversation being focused on oysters, one of them asks me: “Have you ever had Bluff oysters?”

Here’s how the conversation unfolds:

Me: “I’m Dunedin born and bred – of course I’ve had Bluff oysters!”

She: “So are we!”

Me: “What?!”

She: “We’re all from Dunedin!”

Blimey!

Then unfolds a fabulous conversation and gales of laughter.

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From the left, Pip Gardner, Nicole Hesson, Maureen Williams, Sheryl McCammon, Barbara Anderson, Kenny, Alison Glendining and Karen Dalzell.

All of these women are about the same age as me, and the degree of separation between them and myself in terms of connections between friends, family and business is way below six degrees.

Here’s more conversation with the same chick, Barbara, who asked me about Bluff oysters:

Barbara: “So King’s High School – did you know Geoff Anderson?”

Kenny: “Yep – he was pretty much in the same class as me all through high school. His old man was deputy principal. He was a cranky old bugger!”

Barbara: “I married his son!”

Cue more uproarious laughter …

(Confession: My somewhat jaundiced memory of my high school years paints all the King’s High School staff – including those who were young and female – as “cranky old buggers”!)

Thank you, beautiful Dunedinites – I loved meeting you. Where were you in my teenage years?

In the meantime, my newly teenaged son has been having a ball and making himself useful at the same time.

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He’s bonded with Duncan at Toh’s Bakery and is stepping right up in terms of serving the Rickhshaw Run guests banh khot as they listen to the fabulous drummers of Wadaiko Rinko Noriko Tadano.

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As Friday night winds down, we head to Sen for a feed with our similarly ecstatic fellow volunteers.

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Then it’s home for some well-deserved sleep before arising and doing it all over again.

Fronting on Friday, I had been tired from a hard day’s work and wondering how I was going to get through the Rickshaw Run night.

By the end of it, I’m outrageously high on natural love juices.

I struggle to bed down for the night – and I’m not alone.

Lauren texts me in the morning: “I took ages to go to sleep!”

I get there eventually, despite the racket emanating from our next door neighbours’ party and their hideous taste in music.

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It’s fabulous to return to the scene on Saturday morning and watch our wonderful event unfold as the Saturday Footscray street similarly comes to life.

I happily swing into action at the “oyster bar”.

By this time, I am embellishing my spiel with tales of events and people who have already passed my way.

As well, depending on the group, I am finding there is sometimes a lot of interest in food blogging, how it works and my own personal journey.

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Adding to the fun and colour are periodic episodes involving some Footscray locals who think they know a good thing when they see it.

On several occasions I am obliged to explain that, no, the oysters are not for general public consumption and are actually part of a paid, ticketed event!

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Rickshaw passengers Tony and Rosa are offered sweet treats from their own business!

With the lunch rush over, I am able to wander around a bit and take in the greater Rickshaw Run picture.

For a lucky few groups on Saturday afternoon, their journey includes the impromptu generosity of canoli, beignet and biscotti from Cavallaro’s.

Wonderful!

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Then it’s time for us to go on our own Rickshaw Run.

I had been somewhat reluctant about this, seeing as both of us have been having such a swell time in our volunteer roles.

But we’re food bloggers, too, and duty calls … and the truth is we are looking forward to a yummy break and seeing life from the other side of the rickshaw.

We have a real nice time with Kylie, Gee, Sean, Paula, Jenni and Temple.

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We are delighted to be hauled around by our good friend Jane.

As with all other Rickshaw Run punters, our adventure includes making our own rice paper rolls at Sen and hu tieu soup noodles at Phong Dinh.

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As the day’s oyster action winds down, Lauren summons me to Sapa Hills for the dinner shift.

There’s a bottleneck of rickshaws happening.

Sapa Hills is mad busy so there is only one table available for Rickshaw Run purposes.

A suitably assertive marshal is required.

To my surprise, I find I enjoy this role, too!

It’s simple – explain to the guests what the situation is and that they have precisely 20 minutes from the time they are seated to enjoy their bun cha ha noi, charcoal grilled pork with vermicelli and herbs.

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After I’ve done my best to make everyone involved in the flow of what is, after all, a glorified progressive dinner, things move along nicely.

Long and his crew do their bit by making sure the food is on the table pretty much as soon as their guests are seated.

There is one group, though, that is uncomfortable with being given instructions and perhaps even with the whole Rickshaw Run arrangement.

One member of this group gives me a “death stare” of epic proportions.

That’s OK, lady – I love you, too!

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Out on the street and during this logjam, I witness a truly heartwarming scene.

As four rickshaws and their passengers await their tasty time in Sapa Hills, I see all eight guests deeply engaged in conversation with their haulers, who include our friend Georgia.

No way could this be defined as “killing time”!

We give the volunteer meal session at Sen a miss and head for home once more, tired but very, very happy.

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Sunday dawns beautiful, sunny and just right for a whole lot more of the same.

Today the rickshaw haulers are to include a beefy, friendly bunch from the Footscray Rugby Union Club.

At the “oyster bar”, I have long since done away with asking people their names. But I do persist with finding out from whence does every individual customer come.

They come from all over Melbourne – and in terms of the west, I am surprised how many emanate from West Footscray and Williamstown.

They come from all over, actually. From New Zealand, of course, and quite a few from Britain.

But it is only with my second last group that I meet my first North Americans – and even they’re Aussie residents.

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Halfway through our final day, I find my own passion and enthusiasm completely unflagging.

But Bennie is starting to feel a little jaded and bored.

So I am grateful to Lauren’s hubby, Paul, for whipping him away for a few hours to be in another place with other faces.

Hot food at the Croatian Club, if you don’t mind!

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My expected post-oyster Sapa Hills duties fall through on account of there being another ultra-keen volunteer raring to go.

And it’s too early to wait around to enjoy the camaraderie of the Sen volunteer shebang.

So it’s over for us.

Damn.

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A week or so before Rickshaw Run 2014, I became involved in some undignified dickering over the placement of the CTS logo relative to others on the official event T-shirt.

The matter was easily resolved.

But I later reflected on the episode with dismay, horror and revulsion.

It was a glimpse of the sort of ego-driven ambition that sometimes made monsters of myself and my colleagues in our big-time newspaper days.

I don’t want to go down that road again.

So I am profoundly grateful to the Rickshaw Run and all who sailed upon her for a timely reminder of what it should be all about.

I loved every single minute of it and enjoyed meeting with and talking to so many wonderful people from all over the west, Melbourne, Australia and the world.

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The photographs below constitute by far the biggest ever pic spread attempted on Consider The Sauce.

They are published in chronological order as our one night and two days of the run unfolded.

As I actually had a job to do and there were simply so many people and events going on all the time, I unhappily dispensed with the idea of taking names for captions.

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This Sapa Hills vegetarian alternative – eggplant done in the same way as is frequently accorded chicken ribs and calamari – was the best dish of the weekend for me!

CTS Feast No.4: Slurp!

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Pho House, 318 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9372 1426

It’s a thrill to contemplate that with the successful completion of the fourth Consider The Sauce Feast, a tradition has been established.

Long may it continue!

The fourth gathering took place at what has already become a favourite of ours.

Pho House adds just the right Vietnamese touch to Racecourse Road in Flemington, rounding out one of Melbourne’s best foodie strips.

So much quality and fun is such a small package!

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CTS Feat No.4 had some familiar faces from earlier escapades – namely Alistair and Michelle and their gorgeous daughter; and Charles, who brought along his daughter, Celina.

I was very excited to meet Pauline, a regular commenter on CTS with whom I enjoyed discussing Yarraville shopping and how to get kids to eat interesting, Pauline was accompanied by her pal, Sarah.

Also seated at our bubbly table was Jill from Spice Bazaar and her friend Angela.

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We were joined by a former colleague of mine, Corrina, and her partner Dave. So cool to have such a good mate from my previous life make an appearance!

Last but not least, we also enjoyed the company of my favourite food blogger in the whole world (other than myself) and Westies co-conspirator, Lauren of Footscray Food Blog.

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We started with samples of real nice and freshly made spring rolls and rice paper rolls before moving on to the soup dishes.

For the mains, everyone went the bowl route, with no one choosing the rice plate options.

Save for two customers, we all went for pho of various kinds involving a wide variety of beef.

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My own plain rare beef small was just fine.

There was much happy slurping done.

Pauline and Sarah went for the seafood curry laksa, which has a rather lovely story behind it.

When I had earlier asked Talina why she had laksa on the menu, she told me it was actually a carry-over from the previous inhabitants of the premises, the much-loved Vy Vy.

So another tradition continues!

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The girls enjoyed their laksa very much, and having dug it myself several times in recent weeks I can vouch for its excellence.

It’s mildly spiced and very creamy, but it’s the seafood that is the biz.

Apart from a plethora of surimi such as fish balls and fish cake, Talina’s laksa has fresh fish, a not very common laksa occurrence, and fat, bursty prawns that are very high on prawn flavour – also not a very common laksa occurrence.

Thanks to our Consider The Sauce friends for the company and thanks to Talina and her staff for taking care of us on what was an already busy night, even without us taking up so much space!

PS: Alistair, I can insert a close-up photo of the top of your noggin if you so desire.

See previous review here; the Pho House Facebook page is here.

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Consider The Sauce Feast No.4: Pho House,

318 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9372 1426

Wednesday, Janurary 29, from 7pm.

Menu:

Assorted Pho House entrees and snacks.

Choice of pho, laksa or rice dish.

Soft drinks.

Pho House on Urbanspoon

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Spring rolls for which to die

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Xuan Banh Cuon, 232 Hampshire Road, Sunshine. Phone: 0422 810 075

Regular Consider The Sauce readers may be familiar already with Xuan Banh Cuon.

The restaurant’s signature dish, pork and prawn banh cuon, was chosen as one of the inaugural winners of the Westies: Dishes Of Distinction, the exciting western suburbs food awards initiated by Consider The Sauce and Lauren Wambach of Footscray Food Blog.

See Westies stories here, here and here, and Lauren’s review here.

Since then, we’ve become regulars.

It’s fair to say Xuan Banh Cuon is our go-to Vietnamese joint in Sunshine and perhaps the entire west.

We love the points of difference, the friendly welcome, the freshness and diversity of the food – and its healthiness.

I’ve eaten a good deal of banh cuon there by now, and really enjoyed some of the other dishes, too.

I’ve loved the red specialty noodles with prawn, pork and homemade fishcake.

And the bun thit nuong (vermicelli with chargrilled pork) is a sinful delight.

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There’s still plenty of scope for CTS to explore here, but on the occasion of our first actual review of this splendid establishment, I’d like to rave about the spring rolls.

More specifically, the northern-style spring rolls with vermicelli (top photo).

These rolls are quite different from the familiar spring rolls served in Vietnamese places all over the West.

We’ve all had plenty of them – and enjoyed them.

But the contrast with these beauties is stark indeed, so great are they in terms of textural and flavour delight.

In order to nail the details, Carson, Nathan and other members of the Xuan Banh Cuon extended family who happen to be present gather around me for a round-table discussion.

The casings are made of rice and called banh trang. We settle on “rice glass” as an acceptable English variation.

They’re delicate and slightly crunchy.

Inside the rolls are bean shoots, mushroom, glass noodle, carrot, pork and prawn.

Sounds so simple, nothing too flash, eh?

The eating tells a very different story.

Especially when the rolls are mixed in with the chilli dressing/sauce and the gathered herbage.

If you order pho at Xuan Banh Cuon – and you can – you will get the usual and familiar accessories.

Order spring rolls, banh cuon or thit nuong, though, and you’ll get a much more lively and diverse mix – including lots of mint and coriander.

Delicious!

Xuan Banh Cuon on Urbanspoon

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