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.

 

The perfect lunch – $4

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Hoang Lan 2, 10 Alfrieda Street, St Albans. Phone: 9366 7098

There are several places that specialise in banh mi on Alfrieda Street, but mostly they’re geared to take-away trade and have only the most rudimentary eat-here-right-now seating arrangements.

Which is why I choose Hoang Lan 2 and its cafe vibe and plush seats.

 

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There’s many kinds of Vietnamese snack things available here, as well as cakes and pastries and coffee.

But it’s banh mi that’s on my mind.

 

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I ask what are the most popular … and am told numbers 7, 8 and 12: BBQ chicken, BBQ pork and roast pork.

So I do the obvious – and choose meatballs instead.

 

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It’s perfect in every way.

The bread is crusty and fresh and my sanger is well stuffed with two halved meatballs, pickled carrot, chilli, mayo, coriander and more.

(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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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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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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