93 Hopkins St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 8719
The week’s work is done and it’s time for the serious stuff – Friday lunch is on the agenda.
Not only lunch, though – I also have plans of spending the afternoon making big pots of 1. chicken stock and 2. lentil soup supercharged with a tablespoon of freshly pan-roasted and ground cumin seeds.
So chicken bones, celery, onions and carrots are ALSO on the agenda.
So I head for the Footscray Market.
Look, I may regularly and merrily refer to it as The Market That Doesn’t Allow Cameras, but I’m not so much a goose that I’m going to go elsewhere when it suits me. Especially when the parking is $1.30 for the first hour – or $6 all day if you’re into that. Bargain!
Before the shopping I head straight for Phu Vinh, one of several Vietnamese eateries the adjoin the market on Hopkins St.
I’ve been a regular for many years, but this is my first visit since it’s been done over, freshened up and revamped with a new look and a new, and very much longer, menu.
I’ve always thought Pho Vinh something of just a face in the crowd of busy Hopkins St, and certainly I’ve never seen many folks of the paleface persuasion in there.
Like me, several are a little apprehensive about what Phu Vinh’s new look will have wrought.
In my case, this has become a “single dish restaurant”, so I am only interested in ascertaining that their banh mi bo kho (stewed beef) is still on the menu – and that it’s as fine as ever.
A young staff member reassures me that, yes, it’s still a feature – as is every dish to be had at Phu Vinh Mark 1.
Banh mi bo kho is a little confusing for the name of my fave Phu Vinh dish. Banh mi is also the name given the name of those delicious, crusty rolls filled with various meats, salads and condiments. Googling tells me that bo kho also means beef stew. As far as I have been able to gather, Vietnamese beef stew is served mostly with those bread rolls – especially, it seems, in the US – hence the name used at Phu Vinh. Although, of course, my research is far from definitive.
The bread/stew combo is less familiar to me and my Melbourne haunts – in fact, Phu Vinh is the only place I’ve come across that has it as a feature.
What I find in ordering Vietnamese stewed beef is that it offers a paradoxically endless variety. It seems to depend on how long stewed each particular batch is. Get it relatively new and the carrot pieces, as vital to success as the beef, have still their sharps edges and a bit of bite. Get your stew a little further along in the process, and the carrots get a little blurry and become more of a texture thing.
I’m an equal opportunity stew man – I like it both ways, and all those in between.
Phu Vinh offers its stew four ways – with a bread roll, with egg noodles, with rice noodles, or with both kinds of noodles.
After ordering my lunch ($9), I sit back and have a good look around. I like it – Phu Vinh Mark 2 is a bright, cheerful space in which to spend some time and it’s doing pretty good business on this Friday.
My lunch arrives and all is well with the world!
The carrots are midway between crisp and mush, the beef is meltingly tender and simply falls from the bone, it’s spicy but just so for my tastes. And this banh mi bo kho is notably less fatty than those in other places that boast it, both in Footscray and Sunshine.
The bean sprouts join the raw onion slices topping the stew in providing crunch and the basil leaves provide colour and flavour. This time out, I’ve ordered my stew with rices noodles, and they mix it up in divine fashion with all the other ingredients.
The chilli salt and chilli slices go usused, while the lemon segment gives the dish a lift as I near its completion.
Phu Vinh’s banh mi bo kho just as good as it ever was? The verdict is in: Yes!
Phu Minh Mark 1 offered only a small range of dishes – my beloved stew, spring and rice paper rolls, a few rice dishes and a few more clear soup noodle efforts.
As the staff member cheerfully informed me, all those remain available, but have been joined by a great deal more. They include soup noodle, rice and stir fry options.
That’s not always a great thing, of course.
But I come away with the very strong sense that, in this particular case, a restaurant makeover and menu enlargement have been embarked on with a firm focus on not sacrificing those dishes and qualities that made the place so appealing in the first place.
So I’ll keep on returning to Phu Vinh, and will doubtless attempt to elevate it beyond “single dish restaurant” status.
Hey, I know the little photos that appear on menus at many of my favourite eateries can be misleading.
But the braised duck with egg noodles ($12) looks luscious and worth a try.
Guess I’ll soon find out eh?
The view from the Footscray Market car park (aka Kenny discovers a new trick of which he didn’t know his camera was capable).