Hao Phong

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136 Hopkins St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 8373

We’ve already been wet and cold and bedraggled at the morning rugby match, so venturing out for our Saturday lunch seems folly, especially as we are aimless in terms of our destination.

I have visions of someplace warm – of course! – and stews and soups of some sort.

Bennie brings focus to proceedings by announcing: “I’d like Vietnamese – not pho …”

Seated and perusing the Hao Phong menu, he narrows it down even more: “I’d like pork!”

Pork it is!

He gets the crispy fried egg noodles with roast pork.

As far as I can recall, this is the first time Bennie has had this style of noodles – crispy, browned from heat at the edges, going delectably soggy as they mix with the gravy/sauce.

He really likes his lunch. There’s a heap of big slices of nicely chewy pork. He inhales the bok choy, snow peas, baby corn and carrot. Turns his nose up, though at the zucchini and tiny Chinese mushies. Same as with eggplant – I’m working on it.

Hao Phong has been perpetually busy since it opened. Initially, I suspected that had something to do with the fact that its furnishings and vibe had just that little bit more of a swish feel than many of its neighbours.

These days, it’s starting to look like many other lived-in Vietnamese eateries hereabouts. It’s still busy, though, so we’re glad to have snagged a table so quickly on such a chiller of a day. Glad, too, that it’s warm and cosy inside.

I have a dish we’ve had here before, one that I’ve not seen elsewhere – Hainan chicken rice in a claypot.

There’s no soup/broth. And sadly, my lunch is lacking the crunchy brown and tasty bottom of rice that requires scraping from the claypot, which that has been a highlight of previous visits.

But gladly the stock-cooked rice is very good anyhow, especially with addition of the accompanying chilli and ginger sauces. And, thanks to the claypot, the whole dish stays hot-tending-towards-warm until finished – that’s pretty cool on a cold day and concerning a dish that is often warm or even cold to begin with.

The OK chicken is on the bone, but separates reasonably easily, though I am careful to munch with more delicacy than normal. In my experience, stray chicken bones = dental bills.

Instead of the snow peas of previous visits, my dish is completed with a handful of broccoli florets, which have nice element of bite about them.

This may sound and look like a modest meal. But for fans of Hainan chicken rice, it’s a very handy alternative – especially given it’s quite hard to find a killer version in our neck of the woods.

We stroll down to Cavallaro’s, grab some ricotta canoli and crostoni, and then head for home.

Passing the V-shaped Ha Long on the way to the car kicks off a discussion about places that were once regular haunts for us yet no longer are, so we stop at another – Touk’s on Charles St – for a coffee on the way home.

We’re in for the night – Playstation, a zillion games of various football codes on the telly, reading, blogging, lollies

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