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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