Vietnamese Seddon

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Miss An’am, 86a Charles Street, Seddon. Phone: 9048 4283

Consider The Sauce drives Charles and Victoria streets in Seddon so often that there is always the chance we’re taking them for granted.

The same holds true for CTS and other western suburbs roads and streets.

An informal business meeting is profound proof of us not seeing the forest for the trees.

Miss An’am had been blithely considered by us, if at all, as just another inner-west cafe.

But as soon as I walk through the door, I know I am way wrong.

Sure, Miss An’am IS an inner-west cafe – and the coffee is great.

But the perfumed air tells me immediately there is something else going on here.

I smell Vietnam – Vietnamese food and Vietnamese cooking.

Unmistakable.

 

 

Sure enough, the menu (see below) tells a tasty tale.

Along with some regular cafe fare, it lists banh mi, coleslaw and paper rolls.

 

 

But me and Bennie make a beeline for the two dishes on the specials list – though we suspect they are pretty much permanent fixtures.

For him, “authentic Vietnamese beef bourguignon” ($15).

This is, of course, the familiar bo kho.

And a good rendition it is, too, tender carrots chunks matched by plentiful beef cubes in a thinnish broth topped by coriander, the lot aided and abetted by baguette slices.

 

 

For me, pho ga ($16).

This is unusual in that the bean sprouts have already been added – and it looks a little light on.

Not so!

It’s a beaut version of another Vietnamese staple and more substantial than it appears.

The shredded chicken is delicious and plentiful.

The “with Miss An’am recipe” aspect?

Well, that just may be the significant black pepper inclusion and a broth that has a pronounced lemongrass tang, both of which add a welcome a refreshing twist.

Miss An’am is a cosy, cheerful place, with a lovely back dining garden and happy staff.

Vietnamese tucker AND great coffee – this here is a winner and no doubt a cherished “local” for regulars.

 

Footscray star’s makeover

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Hien Vuong Pasteur, 164 Hopkins Street, Footscray. Phone: 9687 9698

The many shoulder-to-shoulder eating houses of Footscray are forever in a state of flux.

Old ones close, new ones open, stayers are overhauled, new names and a lick of paint are applied to the tired – and some disappear forever.

It’s a fascinating cycle, one experienced – often subliminally – by anyone who spends time there.

And so it is that our fave pho joint has had a makeover.

We’ve always favoured Hien Vuong Pasteur – for the high-quality of its food, but also because it’s a smallish family operation that can relied upon to always have a seat or table to spare.

So in some ways we’re sad to see its old-school formica/utilitarian/white classic pho house appearance give way to something hipper.

But in truth the revamp here has been done with more class than most in this neighbourhood – its stylish and welcoming, a central high table with stools surrounded by orthodox tabling.

And it appears to be working!

On both our recent visits here, the place has been bustling.

 

 

And the food?

Well that hasn’t changed – still top-shelf pho house classics.

Including superb medium pho with sliced chicken and beef ($12).

 

 

Like most of its kind, Hien Vuong Pasteur has a smallish range of more exotic dishes, including bo kho (beef stew, $12).

This one – served with both egg and rice noodles at my request – is a bit different from others in the west, in that the beef pieces are smaller and there are no bones.

But the keys, as always with this dish, are the soup/broth (very good) and the carrot.

The carrot is invariably in big chunks – and hopefully holding together yet on the verge of disintegration.

As is the case here!

 

A is for Alfrieda Street. And awesome.

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

On a blazing hot Melbourne day, is there any better place to be than luxuriating in the AC-cooled confines of Phi Phi?

Nope.

It’s been a while since we’ve been here for a feed.

The place has had a bit of a makeover and there’s some new faces around.

But all else appears much the same – including the superb food.

We’re in the house to enjoy it with Brimbank councillors Duyen Anh Pham and Virginia Tachos.

We play it safe when ordering – nothing in the way of boundary testing for us during this lunch.

But what we do order is AMAZING.

Virginia originally wanted Vietnamese coleslaw, but is delighted nevertheless with the rare beef salad with lemon juice ($25, top photo).

More in a Thai style than Vietnamese, it’s just as tangy as expected and turbocharged with all sorts of greenery.

The meat is rare as promised and excellent.

 

 

Good thing we ordered the small version of the combination fried rice ($10), as it’s very generous.

It’s also momentously fluffy and studded with many plump and good-sized prawns.

This lives on another planet from fried rice of meh bain marie infamy.

 

 

Silky tofu done in salt and pepper style ($14) is Bennie’s choice – and it doesn’t disappoint.

The tofu chunks are profoundly plump and delicious.

 

 

A large serve of roast pork ($18) is incredible.

But that’s no surprise, as the barbecue meats here are deservedly a source of pride.

It’s all good and mostly tender, with just enough gnarly crunch to keep things interesting.

Phi Phi is a jewel of St Albans and the west.

 

Very vego Vietnamese

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Vinh Nguyen Bakehouse, 35 Perth Avenue, Albion. Phone: 0404 854 663

Perth Avenue is a lovely, cheerful local shopping strip that is these days quite the food destination …

Sadie Black – yet to be visited by CTS – has won many friends down one end; at the other is super Polish shopping establishment Mitko Deli.

Right in the middle is Vinh Nguyen Bakehouse, which specialises in vegetarian Vietnamese food.

You can get imbibe of your actual pho here – but most of the soup/noodle dishes seem to be of other, different styles.

 

 

Not being a fan of mock meat, I plump for this nevertheless very nice concoction of egg noodles, vegetable stock, mushrooms and two kinds of tofu.

It’s plain – in a good way! – that is lifted just right by a scattering of fresh chilli and lemon juice.

 

 

But a part of me rather wishes I’d gone in the direction of the bun bo hue advertised on the door!

 

 

My dining companions – Virginia, Dinh and Annie – go for more complex arrangements on the same sort of theme, with mock meat fully present.

 

 

And even what seems to be a vegetarian rendition of bo kho stew.

 

 

Vinh Nguyen Bakehouse specialises in pia cakes, which come in four flavours – taro, mung bean, coconut and red bean.

These are really good – not too sweet, quite delicate, would go real fine with Vietnamese iced coffee.

This joint is doing what I bet are excellent banh mi at the weekends.

Recent Facebook posts have revved me up for a return, with a revolving line-up of specials that have included stir fried noodles, vegetarian bun bi vermicelli salad, spicy lemongrass noodle soup and mock duck/tofu rice paper rolls.

 

Vietnamese brilliance

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Co Thu Quan, Shop 11-12, 10 Droop St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 1451

CTS HQ is, I suspect, like most westie households that like to get out, about and on the fang.

We go in cycles and ebbs and flows.

For instance, the quite recent times when we seemed hellbent on tracking down every curry house in the west actually seem a bit like fading memories.

Seems like we’ve had enough biryani for the time being!

But what of Vietnamese tucker?

Ah, pretty much the heart and soul of western suburbs food.

Yet so deeply interwoven is it into all our lives, it’s a bit easy to take it for granted.

Not that we don’t eat it regularly and even weekly.

We do.

But when it comes writing and posting about it, well not so much in recent times.

So it gives me giddy pleasure to wax enthusiastically, passionately about Co Thu Quan.

The original version of this eatery was tucked away in Little Saigon Market, becoming one of the victims of that institution’s sad, fiery demise.

Now – after opening branches in Richmond and the CBD – they’re back!

The new Footscray restaurant is on the Droop Street side of the Westville Central building, in the shopfront previous occupied by the sadly short-lived Issan Thai Street Food.

There have been changes.

The original Co Thu Quan was all about snack-style street food.

This new place, done out in nice dark wood and all abuzz with zippy, cheerful service, has a vastly expanded menu.

Instead of light snacks there’s a plethora of noodles, salads, vermicelli, rice, soups and much, much more.

And it’s all – or almost all – cheap, cheap, cheap. Think under $15.

And while you can order pho here, there are so many other glittering, intriguing choices, it would be folly to do so.

Here, by their many dozens, are dishes you’ll not find elsewhere in Footscray or the west.

Yet, by and large, there is very little on the massive menu that is bracing or confrontational for those less adventurous or not much inclined towards the intestinal.

Hoi an chicken rice ($12) is a simple, light, refreshing and superbly enjoyable take on the universal chook/rice combo.

There’s a lot more shredded chicken atop that rice than the above photo suggests.

Clear shrimp dumplings ($10) are wobbly parcels stuffed with shrimp and ground pork.

They’re fun to eat, but a tad shy of the flavor explosions I was anticipating.

Nat enjoys slurping on his water spinach crab noodles ($12).

Immersed in its chicken broth and freshwater crab paste are rice noodles, pork and crab meatball, pork sausage, fried tofu, tomato, water spinach, congealed pork blood, topped with fried shallot and green onion; tamarind sauce on the side.

Now that’s a meal.

Asked to describe it in three evocative words, he proffers pungent, salty and sour.

For me, Vietnamese crab noodle soup is an uncharacteristically rash choice.

It costs $27 – a ridiculous amount to pay for a single bowl of soup noodles.

But I utterly adore it and have no regrets about paying for it.

Fresh crab of this quality is usually only consumed in communal settings, so I revel in my singular enjoyment of the chunky shellfish bits.

But just as good is the hearty, delicious chook/crab soup in which the tapioca noodles, a single prawn and fresh mushrooms happily swim.

We plan on spending much time in the rest of the year exploring the Footscray Co Thu Quan menu.

A fine lunch in St Albans

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New Favorite, 306 Main Road east, St Albans. Phone: 8395 5315

Consider The Sauce has been at 306 Main Road East before.

But that was the best part of six years ago when it was travelling under the name Hong Kong Noodle Bar.

Way more recently, the location has been embraced by new management and launched under a new name, New Favorite.

 

 

For this mid-week lunch, I have the distinct pleasure of being joined by Brimbank councillors Duyen Anh Pham and Virginia Tachos and their equally community-spirited colleague, Dinh Trang.

 

 

Our fun time gets rolling with one of the all-time fave CTS things – complementary soup.

In this case, that means a deeply brown broth of the beef variety – much more mildly flavoured than its intense appearance would suggest.

 

 

New Favorite covers a broad range of mixed Chinese, Vietnamese and “other” dishes, making it an attractive proposition in terms of an alternative to the tight focus on Vietnamese food hereabouts.

The food is cheap and excellent.

And I suspect the same giant roasting ovens are still in play, making this the only – AFAIK – option in the neighbourhood for super Chinese roast meats while Phi Phi, around the corner on Alfrieda Street, is undergoing renovations.

My combo of soy chicken and roast duck on rice ($11.80) is fine, with even the chunkier chook breast meat beinge juicy.

As good, the duck is much less chewy and gnarly than is frequently the case.

 

 

My friends enjoy their selections, too.

They include char kwai teow ($10.80) …

 

 

… mapo tofu on rice ($10.80) and …

 

 

… combination fried noodles ($13.80).

Thanks for the company and conversation!

 

Sushi train? No! It’s hot pot train!

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Viet Hot Pot and BBQ, 6/68 Hopkins Street, Footscray. Phone: 8578 1763

This interesting new addition to the Footscray scene is at the parking lot right at the end of Hopkins Street, facing Franco Cozzo and Centrelink.

It’s an unlovely location; a couple of previous businesses here made little impression, with vast interior of the room seeming rather gloomy.

 

 

The new owners/proprietors are trying very hard to make it otherwise, with a substantial makeover finding the space much brighter and livelier.

As for food, well they’re keeping their bases covered there, too.

Yes, as the name implies, there’s hot pot and Viet-style BBQ.

But for lunch there’s a $15 line-up of pho and hi tieu soup noodles

And there’s even a short list of Viet-meets-West steak, chips and salad, mostly also priced at $15.

 

 

We leave the BBQ option – which appears to operate in the same fashion as the excellent Phi Phi 2 in St Albans – for another time, presumably a night visit when we’re prepared to spend a bit more freely than for a quickie mid-week lunch.

We – CTS Thing 1 and Thing 2 and our good pal Justin – go instead for the lunch deal on the hot pot buffet.

This costs $32 per head for dinner, $35 for Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights – and $25 for lunch.

We figure, or hope, this will be a tasty bargain.

So it proves to be – though we have a few quibbles.

The way this works here is a new one for me.

They use a conveyor belt – familiar from the sushi trains around Melbourne – to deliver the hot pot items.

Each diner has their own adjustable hot plate, on which is placed their soup of choice.

 

 

I go for the spicy. It has the same deep and mysterious seasoning I am familiar with from other hot pot joints, but is only mildly spicy.

 

 

Justin and Bennie go for the laksa and enjoy it.

 

 

We are also provided our own individual bowls of seafood – a couple of good-sized prawns, a won ton, a scallop and a big chunk of blue swimmer crab. The crab and prawns are pre-cooked, but still good.

 

 

From there, it’s on to the very many conveyor belt goodies.

There’s green veg of various kinds, as well the likes of corn.

Straight-ahead meat is down to sliced beef and pork.

 

 

There’s fungus of several varieties.

There’s surimi of various shapes and sizes.

There’s noodles.

 

 

There’s more seafood – I find the mussels, which look like they may be chewy monsters, are actually nicely tender; and the small pipis are good, too.

There are many things that appear to be starchy and carby.

And there is offal.

We think.

Because when it comes to many of the offerings – notably those of what we presume are of the starchy, carby and gutsy variety – we are very much left wondering.

We ask for help, but not even the staff member who appears to be the floor manager offers much by way of enlightenment.

This is a bit disheartening.

 

Justin is his usual affable self; Bennie is still practising his serial killer stare. Kudos, though, for his laksa-proof attire.

 

But we do eat well and very affordably.

Though the overall impression is of quality that’s not quite up there like a more ritzy, and pricey, hot pot night out on the town.

But that’s what you get for $25.

And I have more than enough confidence in the adaptability of Vietnamese cooking to be looking forward to trying one of this place’s steak ‘n’ chips meals.