Good Vietnamese in a good spot

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Mamma Cho’s, Shop 1/419 Gordon Street. Maribyrnong. Phone: 9318 8691

You won’t find anything much different that can’t be had at a recognised Vietnamese precinct such as Footscray or St Albans.

But Mamma Cho’s, sited at the Edgewater shopping “centre”, is on to a pretty good thing, we reckon.

The place is crisp and attractive.

The service is friendly.

There’s a heap of parking, even on a busy Saturday.

And, perhaps most attractively, Mamma Cho’s is nicely situated at what is for many CTS readers a handy, easy stop between either going to or returning from Highpoint or other shopping chores over that way.

 

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OK, we skipped Saturday breakfast, which may have sharpened our appetites somewhat … but still, we loved our lunch of simple, regular Vietnamese food of the kind we’ve enjoyed countless times.

My crispy skin chicken with tomato rice (com ga chien don com do, $11.50) was just right, the egg-studded rice nice and fluffy, the chook coming easily from the bone and the soup/broth hot and not too sweet.

Upon request, the sweet chilli sauce was replaced with the much-preferred (by me) soy sauce studded with fresh red chilli slices.

 

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Bennie liked his beef pho ($11).

Having tried it on a previous visit, I can attest to its quality.

 

Mamma Cho's on Urbanspoon

 

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Pho Fever in Sunshine

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Like the wonderful and somewhat similar Rickshaw Run in Footscray, Pho Fever is a great enterprise – in this case, throwing a tasty spotlight on the Vietnamese food of Sunshine.

I didn’t make the previous year’s event, so am delighted to accept a complementary invitation from the Sunshine Business Association to attend in 2014.

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After being welcomed by Simon and Phong, it’s up the red carpet for tonight’s punters.

Oooh, funky glamour in Sunshine!

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As we enjoy a drink of iced coffee, I love chatting to CTS reader Loren (on the right) and her sister, Kate.

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And chatting, too, to my good pal Jacqui of Urban Ma and her hubby, Wes.

It’s been far too long between drinks, so to speak, for Jacqui and I … so a good thing it is that later on in the night, and from our respective homes, we tee up not just a lunch but a dinner, too!

After introductory words, the punters split into two groups to visit three different restaurants each.

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Our first stop in a CTS favourite – Pho Hien Saigon. (See most recent story here).

Cung explains how his restaurant’s pho is the result of experimenting with his father’s “too strong” recipe.

He talks, too, of the various condiments and how they are used.

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I have a simple pho of sliced chicken. It is superb, with the broth having that coveted “crisp and clean” thing going on.

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Then it’s across the road to Thuan An, where Julie and her team have set out a beautiful table featuring candles and pho spices and condiments.

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Here I switch to equally simply sliced beef – and it, too, is very good, the broth having a robust but not overpowering flavour.

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I really enjoy meeting and talking to fellow westies Le Yen, Peter, Tracey and Malcolm. That latter pair are actually from Woodend, but as always I am keen to cast the westies boundaries net wide!

Besides, Tracey is the brand new marquee manager for the Sunshine Business Association.

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Before departing, we are invited into the kitchen to gaze admiringly at the stockpots already hard at work for the next’s day’s brew.

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Then we’re off for a minute stroll to right next door and Nhi Nuong 2 Sister Restaurant, where we are greeted – and entertained – by the sisters, Yen and Elizabeth, themselves.

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Here the food and drink goes in another tack in the form of wonderfully chewy and delicious bo la lot (beef in vine leaves), spring rolls, freshly-squeezed sugarcane juice and Nhi Nuong’s signature tra moc tien tea with its subtle flavour of pandan.

Thanks for having me!

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Alfrieda Street gem

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Phuong Thao, 28 Alfrieda Street, St Albans. Phone: 9366 5686

We first wrote about a restaurant at these premises a long time ago when it was called Just Good Food.

Since then it’s also been branded as Quang Thao but now has settled on Phuong Thao.

I have no idea if there has been or is any continuity between back then and now in terms of management, staff, cooks and so on.

Though the giant roast-meat ovens out back are still very much evidence.

I like the fact that it’s roomy and not as packed as a handful of the other Alfrieda Street hot-spots.

I like, too, that every time I’ve arrived at the place there has been a reassuring number of locals and regulars who obviously know what they’re about when it comes to their tucker.

I like it that for third lunch in a many weeks I am greeted similarly.

Yes, I have grown to like this joint.

(It was here, too, by the way, that I sourced the chicken feet that made Bennie’s thankfully short-lived stay in Sunshine Hospital just that little bit more tasty …)

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You can order pho at Phuong Thao, but why would you when there is so much other fun stuff to ponder?

There’s Chinese roast meats, of course, but the heart of what’s available appears to be Vietnamese.

They have four-person banquets that go from $107 way up to $357 for the bells-and-whistles lobster version.

On a more prosaic level there’s soft shell crab with salted egg yolk (cua lot rang hot vit muoi, $18.50), coleslaws that are surely mammoth serves given they cost $25 a pop, rare cooked beef with lemon (bo tai chanh, $25), fish in clay pot with caramel (ca kho to, no price lised with the photo on the wall) and goat casserole (lau de, $35 and $55).

For my first couple of visits I have the same fine dish – hu tieu nam vang or rice noodle in Cambodian style (top photo, $10).

It’s a super soup blast.

In addition to the rudimentary green onions and coriander, there’s quite a lot julienned celery for extra and delightful crunch.

The prawns have good, strong and fresh flavour and the slices of pork are grand, though I could live without the gooey-centred small eggs.

The broth is hot and fine, and has floating in it minced pork and – the bowl’s primary flavour factor – granulated garlic.

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For today’s lunch I go more basic and familiar with tomato rice with marinated diced beef ($10).

As I have found elsewhere with this dish, looks can be deceiving – what appears to be a smallish serve is more than adequate. Something about cocooning the main players in a lettuce-leaf cup, I reckon.

The beef chunks are a little larger than is usual, beautifully tender and nicely crusty on the outside.

The rice seems more like just plain fried rice with negligible tomato factor and is a little on the dry side.

Phuong Thao on Urbanspoon

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Werribee gets a pho joint

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Pho 128, 72 Watton St, Werribee. Phone: 8742 3128

Our plans for a long overdue first visit to a Seddon Indian place are nixed upon learning there’s parent night at Bennie’s new school.

So timing is of the essence – there are places in Werrribee we have yet to try, but their turnaround times are an unknown quantity, so we head for the town’s relatively new pho joint, Pho 128.

We wonder if it will deliver pho-house quality without the critical mass of Footscray, Sunshine or St Albans.

Pho 128 certainly looks the part, with Bennie even opining, “This looks like it’ll be good”.

But a closer inspection reveals the sort of approaches no doubt necessary in a location such as this.

There are no Vietnamese names for the dishes, for instance.

And there’s even “pho seafood”, with crabsticks.

Having earlier resolved to test Pho 128’s benchmarks – a bowl of simple, straightahead pho and one of the rice or vermicelli options – we let our curiosity run free and cave.

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Bennie’s beef stew has the correct flavour, even if it is rather tame, and the beautifully tender chunks of beef (off the bone) and carrot.

But the liquid is viscous, and perhaps even thickened, in a way you’ll never find in the likes of this Footscray institution‘s bo kho.

As well, the rice noodles are thick and white, rather than thin and transparent.

Still, Bennie likes it.

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My Vietnamese chicken curry is likewise not quite as expected.

It’s a much darker colour than the classic chook curry found at this St Albans’ fave; the gravy is thicker, too, giving the dish an almost Japanese vibe.

As ever with Vietnamese chicken curry the proof is perversely in the potato chunks – and these half-dozen or so are very fine indeed, curry-coloured to their very core.

The meat is boneless, a tad on the tough side but quite tasty.

Not meeting expectations fostered by familiarity with the west’s hardcore Viet hubs is no sin and we’ve enjoyed our quick, pre-school function meals.

But we can’t help but feel we may have well and truly goofed by not sticking with the original pho-and-rice scenario.

Pho 128 on Urbanspoon

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Vietnamese gumbo?

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Bun Ta, 108 Hopkins Street, Footscray. Phone: 9687 4130

Bun Ta is a brand spanking new Footscray joint.

Sort of … see below.

It has a dish I have never spied on a Vietnamese menu before now.

I know this because, being a fan of almost everything to do with New Orleans and South Louisiana, had I ever before come across something described as “Vietnamese gumbo rice vermicelli soup”, nothing at all could have prevented me from ordering it.

So I pounce on it at Bun Ta, despite eliciting only the most vague descriptions of the dish and its protein protagonists, and a gentle warning that it is of “strong flavour”.

As I soon discover, the “gumbo” is presumably meant to be “jumbo”, as in the fat chopstick-defying noodles.

Oh, how wonderfully Westie – stitched up by a linguistic menu glitch, and ending up with a damn fine lunch anyway!

Such menu snafus are, of course, one of the routine pleasures of eating out in the west.

They’re good fun and I mean no mean-spiritedness in pointing this one out.

But sometimes you just have to laugh and go with the flow.

As it is, I really like my bun mam kho ($10).

It comes across as a Vietnamese take on tom yum – the broth is slightly sweet, slightly sour, slightly spicy and all delicious.

It’s made, I am subsequently told, using fish sauce and lemongrass among other ingredients.

The slithery noodles are joined by pork belly, fish, squid and prawns.

But this is not a meaty affair – these ingredients have a gentleness about them that is in harmony with the whole, which includes some in-bowl greenery and much more on the side.

It’s a real nice alternative to the more familiar (in these parts) pho or hu tieu dishes.

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Bun Ta is actually the much-loved stalwart Huy Huy given a new name and a swish new look.

The ownership, I’m told, is the same, and I’m guessing much else is as was.

But still, this sort of rejuvenation is good for everyone and I suspect Bun Ta will become just as revered at its earlier incarnation.

The new place has four kinds of coleslaw for $12-14 and three kinds of pancake for $13 amid many familiar dishes.

One main that catches my eye is bo ti me – rare beef with tamarind ($15). But it’s only served as a main, so will have to await another visit with a fang friend for company.

I will return soon, as well, for their “7 toppings broken rice”, which is gaining the most raves of the Bun Ta social media action I have seen.

The Bun Ta Facebook page is here.

Bun Ta on Urbanspoon

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Handy addition to Racecourse Rd

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

Flemington’s Racecourse Road is one of our favourite haunts.

One thing it did lack until very recently was a straight-up hardcore pho place.

Which probably accounts for Pho House being ultra-packed on the couple of times I’ve ambled past in the week or so since it opened.

No such problems early into a Saturday lunch session, with plenty of tables to spare.

Pho House is all regulation, though the dark-stained wooden chairs and the decor in general give the place a classy feel.

The orange-polo-shirted staff are plentiful, happy and on the ball.

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They do a few things differently  here, however.

For instance, rice paper rolls come in pairs for $5. As well, the “side dishes” portion of the menu has some dumpling entries, spicy salt calamari and even beef stew with bread rolls – all far from your standard pho joint repertoire.

They’re even doing laksas, though not on the day I visit.

One novel twist of which I heartily approve is the use of big metal spoons in the Asian style instead of the usual stainless-steel tablespoons.

Extra good for robust slurping!

Another point of difference – the pho varieties come in only two sizes, regular and large.

Being of substantial appetite, I order the large beef/chicken combination ($11.50), not caring much one way or the other if I will be getting my orthodox order of sliced beef/sliced chicken or something more elaborate.

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What I do get is a sort of compromise.

The chicken is all of the simple, sliced variety, but joining the really super rare slices of beef are some tendon, beef ball segments, sausage and even a couple of hard-boiled chicken eggs.

The broth is of strong flavour and blessedly unsweet.

It’s all really, really top-shelf stuff, making for a very fine pho experience.

I’ve been enjoying my lunch and the new Stephen King book so much that it’s only upon departing that it finally dawns on me that this handy addition to the Racecourse Road scene has come with a subtraction.

The premises that Pho House inhabits was formerly the home of that long-standing and much-liked veteran Vy Vy.

I wonder what’s happened to Tiffany and her family?

Pho House on Urbanspoon

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What a find in Deer Park!

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Western Pho, 2B Burnside St, Deer Park. Phone: 9363 0022

Think western suburbs and Vietnamese food and almost all of us will automatically think Footscray, followed by Sunshine and St Albans.

But Deer Park sports a Vietnamese gem.

Western Pho is a gorgeous little family run business situated just off the main Deer Park shopping strip.

It’s a first restaurant adventure for Phi and his wife, Ha, who does most of the cooking.

They’ve been up and running since taking over the premises from the previous operators about five months ago, and some time before that the place was a (mostly takeaway) Chinese establishment.

That heritage shows in the comfy old-school decor, which is these days adorned by a plethora of food photos.

The service is super friendly and caring.

And judging by the number of familiar locals coming and going, it seem Western Pho is playing something of community hub role as well.

Based on my most enjoyable lunch, I reckon just about everything on the menu would be worth trying.

It’s a long document, listing more than 100 items and boasting prices at the lower end of what you’d find in Footscray.

They’re all there – well most of “them”: Pho and other soup noodles, vermicelli, fried noodles, Chinese-derived dishes, one-person rice plates, rice paper and spring rolls, satay skewers and much more.

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I really dig it when Vietnamese restaurants provide small-serve portions of soup – it enables one to get a soup hit without dedicating a whole meal to it.

Western Pho has six of them, all but one of them priced at a very groovy $4.

The broth of my wonton soup is a little too sweet for my taste, but is still fine and hot.

The three tender-yet-pleasingly-chewy dumplings are joined by a couple of good pork slices and various bits of greenery.

Sometimes soggy, soup-laden lettuce leaves are just the ticket!

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Western Pho’s coleslaw, Phi tells me, is normally served “unspicy” but he’s happy to add some chilli slices to my order of the prawn and vegetable rendition ($11).

They’re the cream on what is a very good version of Vietnamese coleslaw.

The vegetables are so fresh and crunchy that I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover my salad had been made from scratch in the kitchen.

There’s a lot of medium-sized prawn tails that have been split in two length-wise. They, too, are very fresh and quite delicate. But their flavour is so very, very mild that I rather wish I’d opted for the chicken or pork versions.

Joining the red chilli slices are plenty of roasted peanuts and fried shallots, with the whole dish basking in a pleasant but not particularly tangy dressing.

Deer Park punters are lucky to have such a cracking Vietnamese eatery in their ‘hood.

They do home delivery, too!

Western Pho on Urbanspoon

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Backyard Vietnamese and a huge flying octopus

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Weasels Garden Cafe, 8 Murray Street, Abbotsford. Phone: 9410 0214

It’s been an ordinary sort of week.

No actually catastrophes, but the senior partner of Consider The Sauce has felt harried and frazzled, and a bit down on life to boot.

All of this was exacerbated by the sudden arrival on Friday morning of explosive lower back pain.

The last occasion of such a severe episode – a few years back – saw me attempting to soldier on and ending up in an ambulance.

So this time, Bennie and I know just what to do.

Nothing.

More particularly, the cessation of all normal activity.

So … no work, no getting paid for work (such is the life of the casual employee), no driving and – hence – no school for the boy. (Mind you, Bennie’s teacher is happy for him to miss a day of schooling for some quality home/dad time …)

Happily, all that horizontal rest and sleep pays profound dividends, so the next day finds me well on the way to wellness.

Not fighting fit mind you, so not up for anything too tumultuous or strenuous – so that counts out the Ethiopian festival in the mall.

But we ARE up for a leisurely drive to Richmond/Abbotsford, especially as we have a hunch our destination will provide not just fine food but also a tranquil, beautiful setting in which to enjoy it.

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Weasel’s Garden Cafe is, well, a garden cafe set in a Victorian home on a residential street about a block from the intense Vietnamese vibe of Victoria St.

After we’ve ordered, I get talking to the other person taking photographs of the lovely garden that features chillis and lemons and much else besides.

This is Jen, who is part of the family responsible for this newish business.

She tells me it is the brainchild of her sister, Linh, a keen gardener after whose cat the cafe is named, while their mum, Phuong, does the cooking.

The cafe has been open about five weeks, with most of the customers being just plain old Australian, with only the occasional visit from those of a more Vietnamese Australian persuasion.

Jen reckons that’s down to Richmond no longer being residentially affordable for the wider Vietnamese community, even while Victoria St remains one of Melbourne’s most storied Vietnamese precincts.

I reckon it could be down to Vietnamese folks being unused to chowing down in such a setting.

Could be we’re both right.

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Jen also tells me there was only one formal objection to the opening of the cafe on a residential street.

That makes sense – after all, this is not a night-time joint and, besides, who wouldn’t want a lovely garden cafe serving coffee and Vietnamese food on their street, or even right next door?

Weasels Garden Cafe is working on several fronts – breakfast, coffee, Vietnamese food (see menu below).

But we’re definitely here for the latter, of which there are half a dozen offerings.

We drove here vaguely assuming we’d be supping on pho, but as it turns out we end up splitting a couple of very different dishes.

Bennie opines that what we’re served is very much your standard Vietnamese tucker of the kind we’d be served much closer to home.

He has a point – though the point is only so sharp.

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Grilled chicken with fried egg and rice ($12.50), for instance, IS standard issue, but all is freshness and the chicken is intense with marinade flavours and free of skin, gristle or fat. The egg is runny and perfect.

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Marinated pork with lemongrass, ginger, salad, herbs and vermicelli ($12.50) is just as fine, with the presence of celery and red capsicum making it stand out.

We enjoy our lunch very much, especially in such a grand setting. If we have any wistful desires they would be along the lines of wanting a little more chilli oomph and sharper, more robust flavours in both dishes.

By this time we are loving the joint so much we have easily abandoned the idea of stopping somewhere in Carlton for gelati, and dig in right where we are for coffee and a sweet treat.

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My cafe latte and his hot chocolate are just right.

Our gluten free rock crackle ($3) seems to be weirdly misnamed – world’s best hedgehog would probably be more accurate.

It’s both light and incredibly rich, and studded with puffed rice and (I think) dried raspberries.

It’s more substantial than it looks, too, so much so that my normally ardent sweet tooth son does not finish his portion.

By the time we’re done with Weasel’s, our only regret is that it’s on the wrong side of town.

This place has us hoping that some westie entrepreneurs might take up the challenge.

After all, we have hundreds of cool ethnic eateries in our wider neighbourhood and a growing numbers of fine cafes – but, as far as we are aware, none that combine both with quite this level of harmony and style.

As we depart, little do we know our day’s adventures are not yet completed – for we have yet to meet Tony The Kite Man.

Tooling home and driving alongside Royal Park – something we’ve done thousands of times before without finding cause to stop – Bennie spies something mysterious and thrilling in the sky.

So this time we do stop.

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In the middle of a wild paddock behind the hospital and high in the sky, what we find is a kite.

And not just any kite – this is the biggest by far either of us have ever seen.

It’s at least 50 feet long and in the form of an octopus.

Even better, instead of the tentacles being flat, plain cloth, they’re inflated by the wind.

It’s a magnificent sight!

We get talking to the kite’s flyer and owner, Tony, as the darkening sky threatens an afternoon apocalypse.

At some point, the kite shakes free of its moorings, so we all run off in pursuit.

Well actually, the other two run … I walk gently.

The kite is on its way to a gentle landing, but luckily Bennie apprehends its line spool before it becomes embedded in a tree.

As our new friend and kite expert quips: “All trees love kites and getting a kite out of tree is mostly impossible.”

The impending rain nixes out combined efforts to get the kite flying again, but somehow I’ll think we’ll be back some Saturday afternoon soon to see Tony in action.

As Bennie points out as we move on homewards, there’s something both marvellously exciting and sublimely peaceful about kites.

They’re good for the soul.

And crook backs.

Weasels Garden Cafe. on Urbanspoon

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Linh, owner of Weasel the cat and Weasel’s the cafe.

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More room, pho sure

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Pho Hien Saigon, 3/284 Hampshire Rd, Sunshine. Phone: 9311 9532

Pho Hien Saigon has long been a great place.

A great place that delivers great food with service that is efficient and consistently prompt yet always friendly.

Unfortunately it’s because of the above factors that getting a seat or table here has often been tricky, especially during any of the joint’s many peak hours.

So it’s really neat to discover that these days there’s a whole lot more room – double, in fact, with the restaurant expanding to take in the adjoining property.

So now it’s double-fronted instead of single-fronted.

And all of it worthy of a quickie write-up.

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As previously noted, I usually visit this fine eatery to eat just a single dish.

For today’s impromptu, early, post-footy lunch, I mix it up by ordering a medium $9 bowl of pho.

It’s excellent in every way.

The broth is strong and flavoursome.

The sliced beef is far from raw and already pretty much cooked by the time my bowl is placed upon my table, yet it retains an overall pinkness I’ve never before seen in pho.

The  equal measure of brisket is fat-free – something also unusual in pho.

The herbiage, sprouts and fresh red chillis are all just right, too.

Pho Hien Saigon on Urbanspoon

Test drive for a hip new food truck

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lil nomnoms’ opening launch party, Rubix @ Tetris Studios, 36 Phoenix St, Brunswick

There’s some good and even very fine tucker to be had from Melbourne’s food trucks.

There’s some medicore and crap food to be had, too.

But food is just part of what is going on here.

As we found during last summer, grabbing some choice goodies from one of these mobile vendors and then adjourning to the parks adjacent to which they’ve parked is a sublime delight.

Yet even in mid-winter the many food trucks are hard at it.

The mostly youngish entrepreneurs behind all this activity know it’s about more than food, too.

It’s about creating a buzz, a vibe, a sense of occasion; it’s about branding and hipster-style marketing.

And it’s about creating a sense of anticipation.

It’s routine these days for a new food truck enterprise to start spreading the word weeks and even months before actually hitting the road.

I’ll happily admit to be as engaged with this process as anyone, even if I do wonder at times if yet another shiny new food van/truck blinds me to the fact that better and cheaper fare can often be had at real bricks-and-mortar eateries.

I didn’t, however, find out about Lil’ NomNoms through Facebook.

Rather, I received an email inviting me to their Saturday arvo launch party at a suitably grungy inner-urban venue down a Brunswick dead-end.

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The 100 or so guests who front up on a chilly and wet day seems to be a mix of friends of the business, punters only too happy to get in on the ground floor and enjoy a seven-course feed for $15, and a handful of bloggers invited on a complementary basis, of which Consider The Sauce is one.

Roping in Nat Stockley for “plus one” duty is a no-brainer – he loves this stuff just as much as he digs hamburgers!

Given the venue, I am half expecting the meal to be a sit-down affair.

But no, the food is dispensed from the nicely-liveried Mercedes van and distributed to guests canape-style.

It seems clear after a while that the Lil’ NomNoms’ crew has under-estimated the challenge posed by feeding this many people … at the same time.

They’re working very hard, but the various courses are slow in eventuating.

As well, due to a technical hitch, there will be no pho today.

No matter – it’s a happy occasion, and in the end I try four of the seven courses promised.

So how is the food?

Well, even taking in to consideration this a showcase event and trial run, and that portions sizes, pricing and quality may vary when the van goes public … this is very good food.

In fact, it’s as good as any food truck fare I’ve yet enjoyed in Melbourne – and far, far better than most.

The key is the terrific freshness of the produce used.

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Item: Goi cuong cha gio (rice paper roll with vegetarian spring roll, lettuce, Vietnamese mint, coriander and perilla). Fresh as can be and with spring roll crunch and texture that is as much about sound and sensation as flavour. Wonderfully tightly bound so they stay intact right up to the last mouthful.

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Item: Banh hoi thit nuon (roast pork belly on a bed of cos lettuce, rice noodles, cucumber, coriander and mint). Oh, wow – a vividly fresh and brilliantly textured flavour bomb. Cursing that I only get one of these!

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Item: Goi ga nuong (Vietnamese BBQ chicken salad). Lovely, tender and flavoursome chook over rustically chunky and beautifully dressed vegetables. Again, the freshness is noteworthy.

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Item: Banh mi ga nuong (banh mi slider filled with grilled lemongrass chicken, cucumber, spring onions, pickled carrot/daikon, coriander, truck-made mayo and chicken liver pate). These are good without reaching the heights of the previous three courses we’ve been offered. The filling seems very similar with the ingredients of the chicken salad. Here’s one case where comparisons with any of your local banh mi joints are unavoidable.

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Early on in the piece, Nat and I choose between rubbing shoulders with the gathered masses in the slightly warmer interior or hanging out at the venue entrance, getting cold but having first dibs on the food as it exits the van.

We choose the latter, and meet some fine folks in the process.

They include Henry and Mai, from Roxborough Park, paying guests and foodies to their cores.

These are my kind of food hounds. Why buy a kebab from a kebab shop when insisting on a sit-down plate of meats, salads, dips and more is so much more satisfying? Why get takeaway F&C when eating in helps ensure a repast of far greater excellence?

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And we meet a couple of high-spirited types in the form of Stacy, who I take it is part of the extended Lil’ NomNoms family, and Lil, Point Cook resident and soon-to-be food blogger.

Good luck!

The Lil’ NomNoms’ truck is scheduled to be hitting the streets in a couple of weeks, with engagements at Brunswick Bowls Club among the plans and Maribyrnong one of three municipalities on the radar.

Check out their Facebook page here.

And check out Nat’s handy guide to Melbourne’s food trucks at Urbanspoon here.

Our meal was provided free of charge by the owners. The Lil’ NomNoms crew neither sought nor was given any editorial control of this post.

Lil Nom Nom's on Urbanspoon

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A thorough ribbing in Sunshine

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Queen’s Rose The Sun, 229 Hampshire Rd, Sunshine. Phone: 9310 2887

In our pursuit of lunch in Sunshine, we’ve run into dead ends as a couple of likely prospects failed to eventuate.

We’re loitering on Hamsphire Rd in a “what to do, what to do …” mood when Bennie says: “What I really feel like is fried chicken!”

What he specifically means, I know, are those chicken rib thingies, and – more specifically yet – those to be had from a nearby Chinese eating establishment of which we are fond.

But as we are standing right outside Queen’s Rose The Sun, I say to my offsider: “I know a place that does terrific fried chicken ribs!”

So in we go …

It’s been at least a year since I have visited this lovely Vietnamese joint.

So I’m a little disappointed to see the wonderful old-fashioned decor has given way to a more contemporary version of old-school – standard Viet eatery, including a garish neon sign above the entrance to the kitchen that seems to have about a 1000 different way of unveiling the restaurant’s name.

Bennie and I try counting them, but fail …

The walls are wonderfully festooned with food photos that seem to include quite a few that do not feature on the longish menu and some that also seem quite exotic.

But we’re not in an adventurous mood today – comfort food is the go.

So I choose – by pointing at one of the be-walled photos – “chicken free range noodle soup” ($9.50).

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I am expecting a hu tieu dish.

So I am bemused to find that what I am provided is pure-bred pho – pungent broth, rice noodles, coriander and green onion garnish, chilli ‘n’ lemon and sprouts and basil on the side.

Not that I’m complaining – it’s all good.

As for the free range chook, well … the chicken meat really does seem to be more flavoursome and meaty than might ordinarily be the case with such a dish in such a restaurant.

But – purely by happenstance, I’m sure – my chicken pieces have all come from the most boney part of a bird, and eating them is a fiddly business.

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For the second time in a week, Bennie has aced his dad in the ordering stakes.

His “tomato rice with spare rib chicken five spice sauce” ($9.50) is wonderful, and the handful of crispy fried ribs among the biggest I have ever seen.

He happily makes use of the seasoned salt, although I step in before he gets too carried away and spoils his lunch.

He hoovers it all up – rice, soup he describes as good and unsweet, and the spicy, tangy jumble of onion and capsicum that accompanies the ribs.

It’s easy to overlook Queen’s Rose The Sun, situated as it is in the narrow end of Hampshire Rd and thus away from the wider part of the thoroughfare and its congregation of Vietnamese eateries.

But if we lived in the immediate neighbourhood, it’d be our go-to place for sure.

See Ms Baklover’s story at Footscray Food Blog here.

Queen's Rose The Sun on Urbanspoon

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Cairnlea pie shop does excellent Vietnamese

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Vic Pies Cafe, Shop 6, 100 Furlong Rd, Cairnlea. Phone: 9361 2188

Vic Pies, situated in Cairnlea Town Centre, sells pies – and, of course, other likeminded pie shop savouries and sweeties.

But there’s something else going on here … I see one outside table adorned with really good-looking rice paper rolls as a staff member whizzes by me bearing a plate of pork chop and broken rice crowned by a glistening fried egg.

Yes, no matter what Vic Pies Cafe’s original focus, it has gradually become also and as well a purveyor of Vietnamese and Asian goodies, as the photos arrayed on the walls attest.

I’m meeting CTS pal Jacqui, Cairnlea resident and perpetrator of the lovely blog Urban Ma, in which she covers food (including westie haunts), fashion and more with style.

Our plan to eat elsewhere is thwarted by the place in question being unopen, but it all turns out for the best, as our Vic’s repast is swell.

And how cool, how Melbourne is it to be able to order bo kho in a pie shop?

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The beef stew ($12) is simply wonderful.

It seems like a relatively new batch of stew – the carrots are intact yet still tender, while the onions are quite crunchy.

There appears to be two kinds of beef – big fat-free chunks and smaller pieces with some fat. Both are good.

The broth is nicely spicy and quite viscous.

The baguette that accompanies is wonderfully fresh, and bigger and crustier than I’m used to being provided in Footscray, Sunshine or St Albans.

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Jac’s beef claypot (also $12) is good, too, and seems like a pretty healthy option as well.

There’s lots of crunchy vegetables along with the beef, all flecked with chilli bits and sitting on top of a rice bed.

Both our meals are too spicy for Baby D.

So he gets what babies get.

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Sorry, bub – maybe next time.

Or, more likely, not for a good few years!

The Vietnamese alternative at Vic Pies Cafe strikes us as a real winner in a shopping centre and neighbourhood not overly burdened with ace eating options.

Vicpies Café on Urbanspoon

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Don’t judge a book by its noodle box cover …

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Footscray Noodles In A Box Cafe, 83 Nicholson St, Footscray. Phone: 9687 8882

What?

I reckon that would’ve been a common reaction when many citizens realised Footscray mall was to become home to a noodle box establishment.

In a neighbourhood teeming with outstanding noodle options, it did seem like a food faux pas indicating unimagination running wild.

So now that it’s been up and running for a while, what’s the story?

Is it more than the signage might suggest?

The answer is an unequivocal, “Yes!”

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Sure, there are noodle box stalwarts such as wonton noodle soup and “chew kawi teow”.

And doubtless, it’s possible to order them in a box.

(I hate them, by the way – food killers!)

But this Sunday lunch time, when the cafe is one of the very few mall businesses actually open, the place is busy with customers, several of them hungry types of the Asian persuasion tucking in to big bowls of soup ‘n’ noodles.

As well, there’s other stuff going on here – affogato, chips, breakfast. And I bet they do a killer coffee.

I’m partially hankering for laksa, but spying the hand-written specials list at the serving counter, I have no hesitation in ordering pho.

What better way to see if these folks can rise above the baggage that goes with noodle box associations of mediocrity?

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My one-size-fits-all, $10.50 beef pho is fabulous.

Joining the lean sliced beef are slices of a fattier cut, beef ball discs and even some brisket.

The broth is a deepish brown with heaps of flavour.

Black pepper from the beef balls combines with red chilli slices to really give this soup bowl a hefty spice kick. I subsequently discover the chillis used are a shorter, hotter variety than is normally the case.

Given the quantity of meat, it’s a serve far larger than I can complete – if they sold small, medium and large, I’d order small.

Still, it’s been a killer lunch, with smiling, friendly service a bonus.

Footscray Noodles In A Box on Urbanspoon

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Sang’s Takeaway Food Restaurant

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Sang’s Takeaway Food Restaurant, 136 Mitchell St, Maidstone. Phone: 9318 8188

Sang’s is situated on the Mitchell St strip that houses Los Latinos and in a premises that once accommodated an Asian eatery of an entirely different kind.

The space has undergone a cheerful transformation to become a pretty nifty Vietnamese joint with a cleverly constructed menu and chefs-in-white all a-bustle.

Open just a few weeks, Sang’s is celebrating its arrival by running a hefty 20 per cent discount until May 25.

That’s code for, “Get your skates on!”

Sang’s has six kinds of rice paper rolls at $4 for a pair; there’s seven kinds of beef pho, all for $10.

A similar number of rice and broken rice meals cost the same.

I love Vietnamese chicken curry – especially the one I score in St Albans, though we sometimes grab takeaway when the dish is available at Minh Hy.

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So scanning the Sang’s list of bun/vermicelli, my attention is grabbed by the chook curry variety – also $10. This is a twist on a dish usually served with rice or – even better – a crusty bread roll.

In this case, the usually runny curry gravy/soup is subsumed by the softish mound of vermicelli, which in no way diminishes my enjoyment.

Nor does the fact the chicken pieces are small and on the bony side.

The chilli heat is quite high for Vietnamese chicken curry and the tender spud and carrot bits are happily joined by a plentiful amount of basil and coriander. I love it when coriander becomes more than a mere garnish!

Anther non-standard dish that leaps out at me from the menu is Vietnamese pancake, while I’m betting the Singapore noodle and pad Thai will be worthy of exploration, too.

Sang’s seems ideally positioned to be successful – I reckon the locals in the immediate neighbourhood must be delighted.

If eating in, I suggest grabbing one of tables to the rear to avoid the nasty gusts that gallop through the wide gap between door and floor at the front.

Sang's Takeaway Food Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Rickshaw Run, take two

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Rickshaw Run, Feasting In Footscray/Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, Footscray Central

Sen, 74-76 Nicholson Street, Footscray. Phone: 9687 4450

Another day, another volunteer stint on the Rickshaw Run – is it really worth another story?

Well, yes, actually – as this proves to be quite a different experience, and in many ways a more enjoyable one.

I have Bennie with me for starters.

I’ve already warned him that he’s not big enough – yet – to manhandle a rickshaw with two adults aboard. But I figure he’ll be useful anyway.

Wrong.

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He’s quickly dragooned into oyster duty by Jessica and Aleshya, with whom he spends the rest of the night goofing off.

I figure his internal logic goes something like this: “Hmmm – hard choice. Follow my sweaty old man around or hang out with these two cool pop culture mavens?”

If he new what “maven” actually meant, of course …

Oh well – off I go, helping my fellow volunteers haul two groups of 10 guests around all the usual spots.

There seems to be more time this outing to get to know my colleagues.

Among them is Eve, who regularly posts on westie food haunts at Conversation with Jenny and with whom I swap notes for the rest of the evening.

And steering the rickshaws is notably easier as, early on a Sunday evening, the footpaths are much less crowded.

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The previous week, there had been only three of us sharing our complementary volunteer meal at Sen.

Tonight, there’s a whole table of us – including deputy mayor Grant Miles – and a jolly time is had by all.

When we first moved to the west, this place was called Ha Long and it was our habitual Vietnamese stop in Footscray, so it’s rather nice to be back in such familiar – if spruced up – surrounds.

Sitting next to me is Leo (short for Leonor), who is Filipino. So, of course, we discuss Filipino food and this blog’s ups and downs with it, before moving on to Korea and beyond.

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Several of those around me order diced beef with tomato rice.

It looks sensational, with oodles of fluffy red rice liberally flecked with egg, heaps of rough-cut pickles including cabbage and gorgeous, glistening beef that elicits many “oohs” and “aahs”.

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Bennie orders a really ballsy duck and vermicelli dish.

The soup that accompanies is REALLY unlike anything I have ever seen or tasted in a Vietnamese restaurant.

It’s dark, mysterious and – for me – cloyingly rich. Bennie ignores the mushrooms and slurps it up anyway.

And he raves about the rest of it all the way back to the car.

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I order banh mi bo kho (beef stew) with bread roll, but end up making do with the noodle version.

It’s good, but I suspect this is a rather new batch of stew in which the flavours and ingredients haven’t fully merged.

The no-bone, no-fat meat is wondrously tender, though, and I enjoy my bowl of goodies very much.

Will we be putting our hands up for Rickshaw Run duties next year?

You bet!

Sen on Urbanspoon

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Rickshaw duty

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Rickshaw Run, Feasting In Footscray/Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, Footscray Central

Being typically Consider The Sauce early for the 11.30am check-in time for my first experience of rickshaw pulling allows me the opportunity to get the inside scoop of these marvellous vehicles.

Deputy mayor Grant Miles, today in fluoro-vested blue-collar mode, tells me that after a long search, a single job lot of them were found in a small Chinese town, where they were dismantled and packed into a container for Melbourne.

Here they were re-assembled and fitted with bearings.

And now they’re a seemingly excellent and permanent fixture of the Footscray scene as the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival rolls around for another year.

This year’s Rickshaw Run sold out in a couple of days, but there’s still plenty of scope for volunteers, so I plan on making myself useful – and doing it all again in a week’s time with Bennie.

I’m told that in the previous year there were stacks of volunteers, so each rickshaw puller stayed with the same couple of guests for the whole run.

Today, there’s more to-ing and -fro-ing.

And even though the run travels no further than a block from the registration point near the corner of Leeds and Byron streets, a good deal of concentration is required.

A loaded rickshaw takes more grunt to get moving – and stop – than I’d figured.

And manoeuvering along crowded footpaths and avoiding clashes with people, especially children, and retail displays and signage is tricky.

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First stop for punters – even before they board their rickshaws – is D&K, where they feast on icy, freshly shucked oysters.

I never knew!

Apparently, this delicious trick can be done any old time – with prices ranging from about $9 to $13 a dozen depending on size.

I’m so there!

My first passengers are Cathy and Anita (top photo), who are followed by Wendy and Lucy, and then Mike and Dosh.

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I enjoy asking them all how their Rickshaw Run is going as the day progresses.

And I tell them: “If an oxygen mask should drop down in front of you, make sure you place one on your own face before doing the same for your children!”

First stop after oysters is Little Saigon Market, where guests get to sample such exotic treats as mangosteen, rambutan and dragon fruit.

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At Sen Restaurant, Rickshaw Run punters make their own rice paper rolls.

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At the corner of Hopkins and Leeds streets, they receive a massage while chomping on bo la lot – beef in vine leaves – and taking in some rowdy Vietnamese music.

I grab a skewer of bo la lot at $3.50 for myself. So good and chewy, with a heavy garlic hit and sublime chilli afterburn.

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From there, it’s on to Sapa Hills for bun cha Hanoi (grilled pork, noodles, salad and dipping sauce) at Sapa Hills and, finally, Dong Que for traditional spring rolls made with rice paper.

A big part of the day have been the wide smiles and guffaws of laughter coming from many amused locals as we’ve made our way around Footscray.

Maybe some of that’s due to the inherent post-colonial humour of having people with pale skin – in my case, very pale – hauling rickshaws around streets on which brown skin is very much the norm.

And for just a moment, on our last run along Hopkins Street, I see, hear and experience these so-familiar streets, sights and aromas through a visitor’s eyes.

So very, very cool!

Yet someone had said to me earlier in the day: “I’ve never eaten much around here – I’ve always been too scared!”

It’s been a fine experience.

Rickshaw Run volunteers still needed! Contact president@footscraytraders.com.au

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Pho Ta

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Pho Ta, 131 Nicholson St, Footscray. Phone: 9041 2607

Pho Ta is a bit of an odd man out on this stretch of Nicholson St.

There’s another Vietnamese place a few doors along, but otherwise the whole street – both sides of it – is a rainbow of African, Turkish and even Iraqi hues.

As well, the Pho Ta kitchen is open and right out there in the rear of the restaurant dining room.

When I comment to the boss, Tony, that as far as I’m aware it’s the only set-up of its kinds in Footscray, he quickly sets me right.

“Only one of in all of Melbourne!” he proudly proclaims.

On this, my second visit, I see someone at one of the outside tables served a huge plateful of wok-cooked rice noodles with various vegetables and (I think) meats.

Tony tells me that while it appears Chinese, it is an authentic Vietnamese dish. I promise to try it next time.

There’s signs on the walls advertising the availability of banh mi bo ko (Vietnamese beef stew).

And as I arrive, Tony is whipping up a couple of serves of quickly wok-fried diced beef and onions to go with tomato rice.

But mostly, this is a straight-up pho joint.

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On my previous visit I’d made the mistake of ordering a medium-size soup, and didn’t even get halfway through it.

This time, I get smart and order a small “sliced beef and sliced chicken” ($7.50).

It’s brilliant!

The broth is quite a deep brown and is equally deep of flavour.

MSG? Probably quite a lot, I suspect.

Care factor? Zero.

For a small serve, there’s a lot of meat.

The chicken is beautiful – no bones, gristle, fat or skin.

AND there’s two kinds of beef – already cooked, thickly sliced brisket and thinly sliced raw beef cooking in the broth.

The bean sprouts and herb components are of fine quality and – bonus! – there’s lime instead of lemon.

Could be we’ve found a new default setting when it comes to Footscray pho.

Check out Ms Baklover’s review here.

Pho Ta on Urbanspoon

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Rickshaw runners wanted …

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VOLUNTEERS WANTED FOR 2014 RICKSHAW RUN, TOO! SEE HERE.

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The Rickshaw Run has rapidly become a lauded tradition of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.

The run takes guests on a tasty journey around Footscray central that takes in Little Saigon Market, making rice paper rolls, live music, a hawker stall and a six-course feast.

Unfortunately, this year’s event is sold out – but there is another way you can participate.

Become a rickshaw runner!

While the Rickshaw Run takes about three hours all up, actually pulling of rickshaws involves about 20 minutes.

The event is held every evening from March 1 to March 11, with daytime sessions on weekends.

A free meal is offered after each session to volunteers.

There is also a need for need for marshalls to facilitate people in and out of restaurants.

Interested?

Contact Ben on 0434 100 567 or president@footscraytraders.com.au

Pho Hung Vuong Saigon

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Pho Hung Vuong Saigon, 128 Hopkins St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 6002

Pho Hung Vuong Saigon is unquestionably the largest of Footscray’s pho joints.

Based on long observation, I think it’s fair to claim it’s also the most popular.

I base that claim on the simple fact Bennie and I never eat there … every time when in the vicinity and in the pho mood, the place is invariably packed, with every table taken and often folks waiting for a vacant one.

As well, our recall is that when the place is operating at its usual frantic and high-turnover pace, the service – indeed, the experience in general – can become somewhat frazzled.

What’s the appeal?

Well, when it opened at these premises, quite a few years back now, it did have a sort cafe-style vibe not found in its many nearby competitors.

These days, though, and size apart, it has so many of the usual accoutrements in terms of artwork and has such a lived-in feel that it seems not much different from all the others.

So … a mid-week and early-ish lunch beckons, there’s actually unused tables – so in we go.

Our orders are taken promptly and with a minimum of fuss.

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Bennie’s “pork chop, fried egg, shredded pork” ($10.50) really hits the spot.

As far as I can recall it’s the first time he’s eaten this dish – in my company at least.

But he barely pauses for breath as he more or less eats the plate clean.

The cucumber slices look a little, um, “tired” to me, and the usual pate slice is missing, replaced it seems by another chunk of chop meat.

The egg looks really good.

He leaves the soup until last, but he loves that, too, telling me it’s just right – which means, usually, not too sweet.

As I pondered my pho order, a little devil sitting on one shoulder was whispering, “medium, medium, medium”. The little angel sitting on the other was whispering, with equal vehemence, “small, small, small”.

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For once, I sided with the angels and that turns out to be a good move, as my small “sliced beef/sliced chicken” ($8.50) is excellent and plenty big enough.

The basil and chillis are fresh, the broth is crisp and packed with flavour and there’s more than enough meat, all of good quality.

And for once, I finish a serve of pho … almost.

Our lunch has been very good but no better than what is available at several nearby alternative establishments.

But nevertheless, we note that no doubt due to its rampant popularity the hard-working staff here are so busy taking care of business that there seems little scope for the smiling welcome and service we ordinarily receive at our most regular pho haunt.

Pho Hung Vuong Saigon on Urbanspoon

Minh’s Vietnamese & Chinese

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Minh’s Vietnamese & Chinese, 41 Puckle St, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9326 2228

My chicken coleslaw is all wrong.

Or rather, it seems all wrong.

The key component is iceberg lettuce. Or maybe it’s very finely chopped and extremely unfibrous savoy cabbage. Truth to tell, I cannot tell.

The chicken – an entire thigh, I think – has been grabbed from the bain marie chook section that looks like it contains the regulation chicken shop variety.

But appearances are most certainly deceiving in this case.

True, my salad lacks the tangy, lemony zip I am familiar with when ordering this dish from the Vietnamese eateries of Footscray. There’s no fresh chilli slices either, with some level of spice heat contributed by the sticky jam on the side.

But the flavours, while on the mildish side, meld together really well.

And the textures are full of crunch, too, with plenty of chopped peanuts, fried shallots, cucumber, carrot and more doing a swell job.

The modest looking chook is outstanding – it’s of supreme tastiness in the Asian style and there’s a heaps of it.

My small serve for $12 – there’s large available for $12 – is a great light lunch.

Minh’s is a small but often busy humble lunch spot on Puckle St, right next door to Chiba Sushi Bar.

Its goodies – displayed on a big photo spread on one wall and behind the counter – range across a surprisingly wide Vietnamese territory, from pho and rice and spring rolls, through to more generic Asian fare such as Singapore fried noodles.

If any of those dishes match the simple panache of my coleslaw, it could be that Minh’s is an easy-to-miss treasure in an area where it often seems classy exotica and spiciness are hard to find and the lines between good, OK and mediocre are blurred.

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