Very tasty in Footscray

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Viet Kitchen, 110 Hopkins Street, Footscray. Phone: 8528 1112

Viet Kitchen is right in the very heart of Vietnamese Footscray, sharing a block of Hopkins Street with such popular places as Sapa Hills and Bun Ta.

In our search for the Good Stuff all over the west, we do sometimes overlook what is right in the midst of the inner west.

So it’s taken us a while to get around to Viet Kitchen, despite receiving a few reader recommendations in the past year or so.

We end up awfully glad we’ve made the effort as we enjoy a really excellent meal.

Though things get off to humourously shaky start when our server assumes Bennie is my grandson.

Hah!

That was a common occurrence when my son was quite a lot younger and I was already old.

But now, when I’m not much older and he’s taller than me and still has plenty of growing to do?

No matter – my outrage is all of the mock variety.

Like its neighbours, Viet Kitchen makes a bit more of an effort than formica tables – it’s a sweet space.

Many of the customers seem to be regulars and we find the service and wait times to be fine.

 

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We like your regular spring rolls as served across the west as much as anyone, but my understanding is that in terms of the wrapping/pastry used they are an adaptation devised by the Vietnamese diaspora.

So when we spy the more authentic cha gio Viet Nam, we pounce with glee.

These chopped-up six rolls ($10.80) are fine, with a stuffing of seafood, pork and mushroom.

As good as those served at Xuan Banh Cuon in Sunshine with slightly different accessories?

Maybe … a matter of individual preference, I think.

 

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The spicy beef noodle soup is a sinus-blasting hoot.

And, yes, it IS spicy – though no more than any experienced Footscray food trawler will be able to handle.

The “beef” tag is somewhat misleading, as it refers only to the broth on which the dish is based – also in the bowl, along with brisket, are slices of pork and pork “ham” (sausage).

With the attending greenery – its variety a nice change from the standard herb/sprouts mix that comes with pho – this a straight-up, all-out winner.

 

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Most Vietnamese restaurants in the west, it seems and based on our wide-ranging adventures, only serve their various coleslaw offerings in large, family sizes – as with the “farm chicken” ($23) version served here.

So once again we pounce when we see a smaller portion of the rare beef rendition ($10) on offer.

It’s a zingy, tangy, crunchy wonder, with the plentiful and very good marinated beef still pink.

Our only wish?

Even more peanuts to really send the textural contrasts into overdrive.

 

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The Vietnamese pancake (with seafood, $16) is another successful order for us.

Despite the wetness of the rather bland filling (small prawns, calamari, fish, sprouts), only some of the large pancake becomes soggy – and it all gets devoured with yet another variation in the greenery/herbs department.

 

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Which kind of goat curry?

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B&D Kitchen, 57 Alfrieda Street, St Albans. Phone: 9364 5880

B&D is that other end of Alfrieda Street than that at which we usually start our St Albans adventures – but it’s worth the enjoyable walk.

It’s a typical Vietnamese restaurant – friendly, good service, long menu, popular.

As ever our eyes are drawn to the photos and hand-written signs that adorn the walls and wall mirrors.

 

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Wow – goat curry and goat curry!

When I ask which is recommended, I’m told to go for the regular ca ri de ($15).

 

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What we receive is a rich, mild curry dish that almost seems in the Malaysian tradition.

The meat is OK but is on-the-bone fiddly.

And there is a lot skin. Normally I’d be fine with that, but in this case it’s of a rubberiness that is unappealing so we put it aside.

Balancing that is quite a lot of bread-like substance I at first take to be dumplings of some sort but am eventually informed is taro.

It meshes with the curry gravy just right.

Observing the many different kinds of dishes being consumed around us and reading the menu, we feel a tad overwhelmed and lazy – so we order exactly what we desire.

 

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Will I ever tire of eating pho?

No.

As if.

Will I ever tire of writing about pho?

Such appears extremely unlikely.

In this case, our brisket/sliced beef version is a doozy.

The brisket is fatty but wonderful; the sliced beef, thicker than in most places, is succulent.

There is a hefty amount of both, putting the $10 price tag in the true bargain category.

The broth is slightly sweet but fine.

And the accompanying greenery and sprouts are of good, fresh quality.

(This post has been sponsored by the St Albans Business Group. However, Consider The Sauce chose and paid for the food involved and the STBG neither sought nor was granted any access or say in the writing of this post.)

Meal of the week No.30: Bao & Pot Cafe

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Eating out – which CTS does often – we partake most of Indian and Vietnamese food.

And that’s only natural, given the western suburbs’ cultural demography.

It’s a toss-up which gets the greater of our attention and bucks!

This year, though, our Vietnamese eating has taken an unexpected turn.

Some of it may be down to the novelty of the new, but no longer are Foostcray/Sunshine/St Albans the centre of our Vietnamese food universe.

For starters, there’s a couple of places opened up within walking distance of our home (see here and here).

For many delightful and delicious points of difference, there’s Hem 27 at the showgrounds (see here and here).

Slightly further afield is Bao & Pot Cafe in Avondale Heights.

Since our initial story, we’ve returned a couple of times.

The bun bo hue (spicy beef noodle soup) is magnificent – and these days there’s a master-stock congee on the menu.

Today I go at Bao & Pot Cafe at a slightly different angle by ordering the Vietnamese pork meatballs ($14).

What I get:

Three big meatballs, crunchy with water chestnut and other secret ingredients no amount of cajoling will get the boss to reveal.

Atop them, a fried egg and a sticky, terrific tomato sauce.

On the side, marvellously fresh and crunchy baguette and a pot of garlic mayo cradling a big dab of chicken liver pate.

My, it’s so good.

When I ask, upon paying for a breakfast offering that has done service as lunch, if this is something that would be served in Vietnam, the answer I receive is the one I should’ve figured out for myself had I considered even for a second the sort of imagination and cleverness that goes on here.

Tomato sauce aside, this great dish is a de-constructed banh mi.

Clever?

Brilliant!

Phi Phi 2 … cool for lunch

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Phi Phi 2, 31a Alfrieda Street, St Albans. Phone 9077 2466

Following a superb dinner enjoyed by Bennie and myself at the flash, new Phi Phi 2 in St Albans, it’s a pleasure to return for lunch with the Urban Ma.

What a hoot!

It’s almost like experiencing a different restaurant – a matter, well, of day and night.

Mind you, the number of patrons is fewer – word that Phi Phi 2 is offering a welcome point of difference from the rest of the St Albans precinct may be taking a while to get around.

But the staff are many and on the ball.

The menu (see below) is succinct and like nothing I’ve ever before seen.

Asian-fusion?

Maybe – but if so, quite different from that being excellently purveyed by West of Kin in Braybrook.

Some dishes are outright Asian in concept and execution; others have European/Western breeding imbued through with Asian flavours.

We start with a couple of serves of bao ($8 per serve).

 

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They’re both very good, with pungent (wasabi?) dressing.

Though the pork belly duo (above) are a bit tricky to eat on account of the piggy bits being difficult to bite through; cut them up in the kitchen, I reckon.

 

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The duck duo – labelled “Quack Attack” on the menu – is bettter, the duck being moist and perfect.

 

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Jacqui’s “Mother Ducker” ($14) – sliced roast duck risotto with bacon, mushroom and pumpkin cooked in duck broth – is fabulous.

And a prime example of the aforesaid combination of Western themes imbued with Asian flavours.

 

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My fish burger ($12, not on the menu but joining the “Dark Night” beef burger) is fine – though I should’ve asked for the cheese to be omitted.

The fish – hoki, I am informed – is lovely and joined by onion rings and dressing in a black bun.

It is, as you’d expect eyeballing the above photo, a very messy thing to eat.

But is very good.

 

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My understanding is that Phi Phi 2 is serving lunch Mondays through Fridays but that may change because of the day fare’s popularity.

 

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The Urban Ma is enjoying her lunch; her daughter seems a whole lot less impressed with proceedings – particularly with the photographer.

Seriously sexy Asian BBQ

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phiphi26

 

Phi Phi 2, 31a Alfrieda Street, St Albans. Phone 9077 2466

First I heard there was a new Korean place on Alfrieda Street.

Then I heard it was Asian-fusion.

Then I heard it was a new branch of one of our fave St Albans eateries, Phi Phi.

Then I saw the photos on the new place’s Facebook page and … I remained somewhat confused.

But it doesn’t take long after ascending the stairs of Phi Phi 2 for all to become clear to me and Bennie.

Phi Phi 2 serves a limited range of curries and salads. It has a lighter, tighter lunch menu.

But the night-time action is overwhelmingly about cooked-at-table BBQ and hot pots.

And given the hot pot variation is freely available at a couple of nearby joints and more broadly across the west, almost all customers go the BBQ route.

We do, too – with abandon and, ultimately, great joy.

 

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Phi Phi 2 replaces a long-standing Vietnamese eatery.

It’s been done out in dark wood, with most of the seating being in the form of booths that line the long room. There a trio of tall, small tables at the front windows overlooking Alfrieda Street and a couple of bigger tables at back for larger groups.

There’s an army of staff doing great stuff on the night we visit and we find the service to be grand.

Phi Phi 2 has been open about three weeks and is already proving popular – and with good cause.

How popular?

Our allocated “cooker”, Jensty, tells us some staff members regularly come in here on their rostered days off – just to eat!

The BBQ cooking/food here has its roots very deeply in South Korea but much of the seasoning/sauces/marinades and approach come more directly from Vietnam where, Jentsy tells us, this kind of cooking is very popular.

We seriously consider ordering from the “chef’s special” list (see menu below) the cooked-in-the-kitchen “charcoal chicken feet” but decide that eight foots would skew our meal-for-two too radically in one direction.

Instead, we start with two dishes from the entree list.

 

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Crispy tiger prawns ($12.90) are cocooned in crunchy noodles that shatter upon being chomped. The prawns are very good dipped in the accompanying (cocktail?) sauce.

 

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BBQ lamb ribs ($10.90) look like they’re a very big serve – but they are just four, as they are resting of a fluffy bed of greens.

Still, they’re fine – fatty, as expected, but with great flavour.

We happily munch like carnivorous rabbits on the marinade-seasoned leaves as we await the main BBQ action to unfold.

 

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First we are provided some sides ‘n’ stuff – a green salad and bowls of kimchi and pickled bean sprouts and the like.

It may not be saying a whole helluva lot – but this is the best kimchi Bennie and I have ever had.

Maybe not purebred Korean-style but just marvellous – not very spicy, the cabbage more finely chopped, a strong tang of ginger in every mouthful.

We are provided several more complementary bowls of both the kimchi and the sprouts as our meal progresses.

As well, we are each provided three dipping sauces for the BBQ goodies – soy/miso, a mild chilli with a strong lemongrass component and a tamarind.

 

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Here’s what we order for our sooper-dooper BBQ feast: Pork belly (salt-chilli marinade, $12.90, above photo), ox tongue ($9.90) and chicken thigh (Thai marinade, $11.90).

 

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And we also get a splendid vegetable and mushroom combo ($14).

 

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The glowing coals are brought to our table and then it’s on!

 

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Jensty tells us that staff members are allocated a couple of tables each to handle the cooking.

We appreciate that. We’d rise to the challenge of doing it ourselves, no doubt, but we’d be a bit nervous about it.

It’s all about timing – and she does it with skill that is almost nonchalant.

 

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The vegetables take a good deal longer than the meats, but it’s all fantastic.

The meats are charred nicely and without exception every mouthful is succulent.

Bottom line – this is some kind of nirvana for meat eaters.

Bennie rates the pork belly the highest; I love the ox tongue the most.

The vegetables are all terrific, too – three different kinds of mushroom, okra, pumpkin, eggplant, corn.

The one lapse – and the only quibble of our entire evening – are the chat spud halves. They’ve been partially boiled before hitting the grill, but still present as a little under-cooked and even (perhaps) out of place.

 

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We conclude with a couple of scoops of green tea ice-cream ($6) that has been brought in, is perfectly nice yet is probably excess to requirements.

 

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Take the ice-cream and a couple of lovely mocktails off our bill and the damage for food alone is $72.50.

That strikes me as a bargain for a feast of this quality and quantity.

Certainly, we have paid significantly more for way less impressive meals in regulation Korean eateries.

It’s a lovely thing to see some flash on Alfrieda Street!

(This post has been sponsored by the St Albans Business Group. However, Consider The Sauce chose and paid for the food involved and the STBG neither sought nor was granted any access or say in the writing of this post.)

 

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Burger brilliance

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pot11

 

Bao & Pot Cafe, 2/1 Military Road, Avondale Heights. Phone: 8528 2275

How many times have we whizzed by Bao & Pot Cafe?

Very many.

Part of the problem has been that when we pass by, we’re always headed elsewhere.

And part of it, too, is that the cafe is located right where Canning Street becomes Military Road – it’s on an uphill bend often hectic with traffic and not at all conducive to dithering.

Then, about a month ago, I was stopped at that strip of shops for caffeine purposes when I wandered down and stuck my nose in.

Immediate thoughts: “Wow – this is something! Something we need to check out!”

A few weeks after that, I returned.

 

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Bao & Pot Cafe serves a very handy line-up (see menu below) of Vietnamese and Vietnamese-influenced dishes that range through breakfast to more substantial lunches and sweets.

Yes, there’s pho, vermicelli, rice and banh mi – but there’s also just as many dishes that embrace Vietnamese flavours and ingredients in imaginative ways, and all at prices that stay cosily within the realms of cheap eats.

No fussy “fusion” price tags here!

For my lunch I had the turmeric brioche lemongrass beef burger with a potato twist.

It was my first experience with these twist thingies – and I was not impressed.

It just seemed like greasy rubbish over-seasoned with some horrid, sweet take on chicken salt.

Ugh.

The burger was something else – wonderful lemongrass flavour, though it did seem a little over-priced at $14.50 in terms of the substance delivered.

Still, I’d seen enough to treat my visit as mere reconnaissance and so happily return with Bennie for a more seriously enjoyable appraisal of this fine neighbourhood cafe.

And Bennie, of course, goes the burger.

 

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And this time, it’s a brilliant offering in every way – even if, apart from a couple of mouthfuls, I am experiencing it through his eyes and mind.

The difference this time is that the burger has two patties instead of one, meaning it’s a real-deal, two-handed meal.

The meat is housed in a gorgeous turmeric brioche bun – they’re made here daily.

In there, too, is a very good slaw and “spiced-apple tomato relish”.

The meat is wonderful – very burger, very chewy and delicious, yet with super lemongrass flavour.

 

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Huzzah!

This, we reckon, is right up there with the very best burgers Melbourne has to offer – and we reckon all burger fans should try it at the first available opportunity.

Oh yeah, the same potato twist thing skewers Bennie’s burger and he loves it.

Each to his-her own, I guess; personally, I’d prefer some fries or even some salad or pickled vegetables.

But that burger … wow.

 

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My own crispy skinned chicken with tomato rice ($12) is no slouch of a dish, either, though more along the lines of your regular Vietnamese tucker.

It’s all excellent – moist and steaming rice, fried egg, pickled carrot strands and beautifully cooked and easily boned chicken.

The only disappointment is being served sticky, commercial sweet chilli sauce in a place where care and pride about details and ingredients is so much otherwise in evidence.

I learn from proprietor Anna that this is simply because it is what most of her Western customers want, and that a more appropriate (for me anyway!) fish sauce-based dipping concoction is available.

 

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I discover, too, from Anna what is behind Bao & Pot Cafe’s unique approach and the meals that eventuate from it – she is of Vietnamese heritage but was raised in Hong Kong.

That explains, for instance, the presence of bao on the menu – and in the joint’s name.

 

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And that explains, too, our dessert of “house-made Hong Kong waffle” with fine brought-in chocolate ice-cream and cubes of Asian-style jelly ($10.90).

There’s nothing sophisticated about this – just simple, good ingredients combined in just the right proportions.

It is wonderful.

 

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Meal of the week No.30: Hem 27

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The nice folks at Hem 27 in Flemington (shop 27, 320-380 Epsom Road) have let me know they are sporting a revamped menu.

So I’m here to check it out.

Actually, I’m here mostly for lunch, new menu or not, and certainly have no ideas about doing a story.

Until this fabulous dish happens to me.

Com ga Kam Ty ($12.80), is, I’m told, named after a mid-Vietnam city of the same name.

It has shredded chicken, onion and ginger fish sauce.

Sounds like a Viet version of Hainan chicken rice, hey?

Nope – not even close, apart from the main ingredients.

Looks like a rice-accompanied Viet version of a Thai salad?

Yep – that’s a good deal closer.

The sauce, for draping over both poultry and rice, is a gingery chilli delight of which I use every last drop.

The rice is half regular and half sticky, so is sticky – and it, too, is ginger infused.

The chook?

Ah, the chook.

This is NOT chicken – this is your old, big, gnarly stewing hen.

It’s boiled and then the meat is shredded and marinated overnight with Vietnamese coriander, pepper, lemon juice and onion slices, the latter of which take on a translucent, al-dente texture, all the bitterness gone.

As for the shredded hen pieces, there’s no namby-pamby white breast or thigh meat here.

Some of the hen pieces are light or dark grey. There’s gristle and skin.

Some if it as tough as an old boot.

But that’s precisely how this particularly zesty and awesome take on chicken ‘n’ rice is meant to be.

Because every shred and morsel is fabulously chewy, life-enhancing and packed with flavour.

This is chook for which the word rustic was invented.

Call me an easily pleased fool, but this dish makes me ridiculously happy.