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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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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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.

Tip-top Vietnamese in Yarraville

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Hoa Sen, 8 Anderson Street, Yarraville. Phone: 9078 5448

Well, that was certainly quick …

Consider The Sauce has become used to new eateries taking an eternity to reach fruition – stop-and-start fit-outs, the legal need for more loos, booze licence problems, proprietors doing it all themselves; there are any number of reasons.

Hoa Sen has gone about things very differently.

One day Yarraville had a Nando’s shop, the next day it didn’t; then – just a few weeks later – this second Vietnamese restaurant for our suburb had opened.

 

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Hoa Sen is a whole different thing from Friend or Pho, its Viet cousin around the corner in Ballarat Street.

Where the latter is all about groovy cafe-style, Hoa Sen is straight-up Vietnamese eatery – sit inside and you could be sitting in Footscray, Sunshine or St Albans.

But they both have excellent food.

Hoa Sen’s front area is all about seating, including some larger tables and street-gazing seats at the window.

 

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Past the serving/staff area, the kitchen takes up much of what is left of the premise’s space, so the rest of the customer seating is effectively in a long corridor with many tables for four.

We’re told the menu (see below) will gradually expand but in the meantime there four starter and four main dishes available.

And that’s fine by us – taking a new Vietnamese place for a spin is always going to be about trying the fundamentals, both by choice and because it’s the food blogger thing to do.

 

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Bennie loves his com ga rang mui ($13.80, rice with salt and pepper chicken spare ribs).

The chooks bits are big, fat and delicious, with a whiff of garlic – they seem more like whole wings rather than the abbreviated version.

The trimmings are all good and the tomato rice better than that.

 

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Ahh, that first, all-important slurp of pho ($12.80) broth – yes, this is very good, a little sweet and with bucketloads of lusty flavour.

Instead of brisket I get beef ball chunks; and the sliced beef is cooked through when it arrives rather the advertised rare and still cooking in the broth.

But I care not – this is excellent; a 9/10 pho.

Be warned, though: This serve is huge – no way I can eat it all.

This could pass muster as a sharing meal for two, especially if combined with one of the entrees.

 

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Is there room for both these fine Vietnamese restaurants in Yarraville?

Yes, very much so.

It almost seems like the people behind both have intuitively chosen different yet complementary styles.

Yet the important things are common to both – terrific food and happy, smiling staff.

We’ve been quipping for years that we love living in Yarraville but dig eating everywhere else.

The arrival of these two Vietnamese joints changes that equation considerably.

They’re scratching a profound itch of which we’ve paradoxically been largely unaware.

 

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Vietnamese cool with many twists

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Hem 27, shop 27, 320-380 Epsom Road, Flemington. Phone: 9376 2961

Hem is Vietnamese for alley.

The new Vietnamese restaurant at the showground shopping centre is in shop 27.

Hence Hem 27.

But that simple explanation tells only part of the story.

There has been a lot of thought and time put into the renovation of this space to provide a zippy, cheap eatery with some of the ambience of a Saigon alleyway.

 

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It certainly looks very different from the business it replaces!

But that, too, tells only part of the story.

Like just about all the westies we know, we eat a lot of Vietnamese food.

So when a new place opens – Hem 27 has been doing business for about a month – the scanning of the menu for new, different and interesting dishes is of the reflex variety.

At Hem 27, we strike it deliciously rich.

Sure, the longish menu (see below) has such stalwart Viatnamese regulars as pho and rice paper roles.

But there so much more!

The chef’s special list has two different soup noodles with crab.

And there’s another crab soup-noodle elsewhere on the menu – in the section that has Hanoi trio combo soup.

Consider The Sauce has visited three times – twice solo and once with a couple of buddies – and we’ve loved the food and everything about the place.

Here’s what we’ve tried:

 

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Chicken spare ribs (suon ga chien, six for $6.80) are every bit as good as we expect.

Excellent, in fact – crisp, superbly fried with no residue oil and tasty.

And surely the chicken wings are every bit as good.

 

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We expect our trio of fish cakes (cha ca thac lac chien, $7.80) to be superior to the usual, rubbery versions served up in routine Thai places.

And they are.

But there’s not much in it.

Yes, they’re rubbery but also quite tasty, with the grey colouring stimulating comparisons with pork.

 

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Nui xo bao bit ten trung ($15.80) is a version of diced beef – but with pan-fried macaroni instead of tomato rice.

The pasta is a rolled-gold kick – perhaps cooked with the same tomatoey sauce as the rice in the more familar version, it comes with a hefty quotient of wok hei.

Oh, splendid yumminess – I could eat this pasta all by itself.

For breakfast.

The gooey fried egg fits right in and the beef is so good – full of tender and flavour.

 

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Bun ra gi ca ($11.80) is coconut curry chicken noodle soup.

It’s a bit more spicy and richer in colour and flavour than most Vietnamese chicken curries I’ve tried.

The chicken bits are OK but play second fiddle to the wonderful chunks of sweet potato, so well cooked they are on the verge of becoming part of the sauce.

A Vietnamese version of laksa?

Kind of.

 

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Chosen from a list of four salads, goi xa xiu chay ($14.80) is topped with fried, almost-crisp tofu strips and vegetarian “barbecued pork”.

I’ve never been one for mock meat but as one of my companions points out, this works with its barbecue-style sauce and when gobbled with the salad components.

And they are excellent, fresh and zingy – with lots of roasted peanuts.

 

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Ca kho to ($18) is Vietnamese caramelised braised fish in a clay pot – and it’s a killer.

When this dish arrives at our table, I find the rising aromas a little confronting.

But the eating and tasting dispels all doubt – this is a lusty, rich stunner.

The fish – basa (a sort-of Vietnamese catfish also know as swai) – is extremely well cooked and falling apart at the first touch of eating implements.

But it’s all good and the dish’s consumption elicits much ooh-ing and aah-ing.

 

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Our obvious choices for dessert – the flan and the creme caramel – are sold out for the day.

Darn!

But coconut ice-cream – ken dua ($5.80) – does us just fine.

It’s a white delight that comes with more of those peanuts.

 

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Sweet steamed rice cake – banh bo hap nuoc cot duot ($5.80)-  is rice cake dipped using toothpicks in coconut cream.

I find it to be intriguing but fail to be won over.

The rice cake patties have a similar, spongy texture to hoppers or injera and are plain in terms of taste.

Dipping them in the beaut cream and then swallowing feels a bit like downing an oyster!

As all of the above makes clear, not everything tried by CTS at Hem 27 was found to be totally persuasive.

But we dig the whole place and what it’s about without inhibition.

The service has been fine – thanks, Mindy!

And there’s a whole lot more on that menu to try.

Sticking my neck out: This place is destined to be a smash hit.

And maybe even to attain the same sort of cult-like status as, say 8bit?

 

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A Vietnamese star in Yarraville

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Friend or Pho, 3 Ballarat Street, Yarraville. Phone: 9042 4431

A Vietnamese eatery for Yarraville?

A dose cynicism is warranted, I reckon.

For starters, Yarraville is a very mixed bag when it comes to Asian food – some good, some lacklustre, some already forgotten.

And then there’s the syndrome of funky Asian food moving into pretty places in trendy suburbs.

Isn’t it often the case that doing so results in higher prices, smaller portions and a diminuation of the heart – spicy soul, edgy flavours, call it what you will – that makes such food so very attractive?

What chance a really fabulous bowl of pho in downtown Yarraville?

And away from Footscray, Sunshine or St Albans – where numbers and competition ensure a very high standard?

In the case of Friend or Pho, the punny name is even based on mispronunciation.

 

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A good sign is the gorgeous, larger-than-life, hand-written menu we have spied on the joint’s Facebook page – it’s all in Vietnamese.

But even then – banh mi is listed at $9.

Whoa!

That’s twice the going rate in Footscray.

Happily, things take a delightful turn towards dispelling our skepticism as soon as we enter and broach the price of that banh mi.

The answers we get run variously along the lines of …

“It’s just really good!”

“We make our own pickles and it’s got our own pork crackling!”

 

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Even better, we soon learn that the sisters behind Friend or Pho – Anna (out front) and Chelsea (in the kitchen) – are lifelong, born-and-bred Yarravillians.

Indeed, about 15 years ago their parents ran a bakery on Anderson Street (corner of Buninyong Street, where the fancy cake makers now live).

Friend or Pho IS done out in very cool cafe style.

There’s seating inside, in the hallway and outside on the verandah.

The menu (see below in both English AND Vietnamese) runs through a tight line-up of mostly familiar dishes.

So how do we go on our first visit?

Oh my – it’s difficult to contain my enthusiasm.

This is simply great Vietnamese food – as good as any going around in the western suburbs and way better than most.

The wait times are appropriate for such great food and prices – banh mi aside – are in the regular ball park.

 

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Beef pho ($12) is wonderful – and about medium size when compared to Footscray places that do the small-medium-large routine.

The broth is terrific and a bit salty (just as I like it).

And there’s a lot of beef in that bowl – sliced but cooked through and brisket.

 

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All the accessories are fresh and top rate.

 

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Bennie’s com tam ($13) is similarly excellent.

All the porky bits display in-house care and handiwork.

The meat loaf is peppery perfection and the pork chop is the most tender and beautifully cooked we have had with this dish.

He cleans his plate of the lot – including those gorgeous sweet pickle strands.

 

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So fine is our Saturday lunch that we have no hesitation about returning on the Sunday to continue the joyful process of working our way through the Friend or Pho menu.

Bennie’s go ran of six fried chicken ribs costs ostensibly $9 but can be padded out with rice for $4 to make a more complete meal.

As with everything else we try at Friend or Pho, the ribs are state of the art – crisp, hot and delicious.

For $13, a few slices of cucumber or segments of tomato would bring this dish more into line with its fellow menu items in terms of portion size and value.

 

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Just for the sake of variety and journalism, I choose the vegetarian pho ($12).

This is unlike any dish you’ll get at Footscray’s sole dedicated Vietnamese vegetarian eatery or at the Vietnamese temple in Brabrook – there’s little by way starch here and no mock meat.

Instead, the heft and texture is delivered by tofu and a super range of mushrooms – delightfully meaty in their own way.

The broth is so flavoursome that I feel obliged to make sure it’s not made with chicken bones or some such.

Nope.

It’s made with the usual vegetables and shitake mushrooms.

Again – simply wonderful!

I reckon this will become known as one of Melbourne’s great vegetarian dishes.

Another prediction – friend or Pho is destined to be hit.

If it’s not already.

Friend or Pho is open for dinner every night of the week except Wednesday and Thursday. It is open for lunch on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

And breakfasts are coming.

The very idea of being able to imbibe a bowl of steaming hot world-class pho on a Monday night without getting in the car fills me with glee.

Check out the Friend or Pho Facebook page here.

 

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