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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CTS Feast No.13: The Wrap

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CTS Feast No.23: Xuan Banh Cuon, 232 Hampshire Road, Sunshine. Phone: 0422 810 075. Tuesday, December 8, from 7pm.

What a happy pleasure it was holding a CTS event at our favourite Vietnanese restaurant.

Several guests were repeat offenders.

 

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Others were Xuan Banh Cuon regulars who nevertheless were happy to make the effort to join other fans.

 

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Many thanks to Xuan, Carson, Ang and the crew for providing us with such wonderful food.

 

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The biggest hit of the night was the mixed entree platter we each received of pho cuon thit bo (sautee beef wrap in fresh pho noodle), banh goi (Vietnamese puff) and cha mrc hai phong (northern squid cake).

The pho cuon thit bo especially impressed – Carson describes it as a non-soup, summertime version of pho, complete with rare beef slices and all the usual pho goodies.

Wonderful!

 

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CTS has held far fewer events this year than was initially anticipated – this being the third.

But they’ve all been very good!

We hope to see you next year at CTS Feast No.14 and beyond …

 

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CTS Feast No.13: Xuan Banh Cuon

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Ang, Xuan and Carson.

 

To book for this event, click here.

Xuan Bang Cuon is a fabulous eatery.

Now look, I’m guessing a bit here – but I reckon it must rank among the top handful of Vietnamese restaurants in the southern hemisphere.

I have no way of knowing for sure, of course, as I don’t plan on trying them ALL!

But still … it’s high time Xuan Banh Cuon and CTS got together for a feast.

And so it shall be!

It’s not just about the food, as terrific and distinctive as it is, with a strong north Vietnamese bent.

(Yes, you can order pho here but …)

It’s also about Xuan and her family and the joy they derive from serving Vietnamese food their way come what may.

Here are the details:

CTS Feast No.23: Xuan Banh Cuon,
232 Hampshire Road, Sunshine. Phone: 0422 810 075
Tuesday, December 8, from 7pm

Cost: $25

Menu

Appestiser sampler plate for each guest consisting of:
Pho cuon thit bo – sautee beef wrap in fresh pho noodle
Banh goi – Vietnamese puff
Cha mrc hai phong – northern squid cake

A choice of ONE of the following for each guest:
Bun rieu cua ca – slightly tangy vermicelli soup with tofu, crab paste and fish cakes
Banh da do tom thi cha – prawn, pork and homemade fish cake soup noodles
Goi du du kho ba – papaya salad
Banh cuon nhan (co cha) – pork and prawn steamed rice paper roll

Dessert:
Rhach dua rau cau – homemade coconut jelly

To book for this event, click here.

Hot croc in St Albans

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Phi Phi has become a firm favourite of ours. Here’s a take on it by CTS contributor Erika Jonsson from the point of view of a family lunch and a belated Fathers Day celebration.

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

My husband is a proud carnivore.

He’s happy to try the most exotic meat on the menu, the things that I would never be brave enough to order myself but am happy to try if they’re his meals rather than mine.

So I knew what he was going to order the second I saw crocodile on the menu at Phi Phi in St Albans.

We were having a belated Fathers Day lunch with our two sons and I’d given him carte blanche to order what he wanted rather than what the boys would be most likely to share.

We’d already ordered some predictable favourites for them so our mains might actually be for us.

 

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Joe wanted chicken on a stick (satay skewers) and spring rolls, while Hugh was happy munching on prawn crackers and little else.

The chicken was fried in an egg white wash, which made an interesting and pleasant change to the more common grilled skewers.

The spring rolls were run of the mill but certainly tasty enough.

Hubby ordered the crocodile with coconut and curry, while I went with something safe as a contrast – salt and pepper squid.

I should’ve been bolder.

 

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The squid was cooked really nicely but lacked oomph.

The fried chilli, onion, garlic and noodle topping was tasty but I really would have loved a fresh chilli sauce to pour over the top.

Our waitress brought some sweet chilli sauce without prompting and that certainly helped but the zing of something fresh would have made a big difference.

My husband was a man far happier with his decision.

I’m told crocodile can be quite oily or fatty but this was far from it – lean, white meat that seemed perfectly cooked to all of us.

“More croc please, more croc please,” Joe chanted as we ate, helping himself to tasty morsels at will.

Eggplant, okra and vermicelli noodles all worked well with the coconut sauce and the dish was flavoursome withou being overly spicy – no doubt that helped the kids’ enjoyment.

The service was excellent and it was a really great atmosphere for family dining.

I love the fact that kids are not just accepted but welcomed and loved at Vietnamese restaurants.

A high chair made life easy and our meal cost around $55 for three and a half very satiated eaters.

We left almost our whole serve of rice as we just didn’t need it with the mains we had ordered so we’ll learn from that.

We enjoyed our meal but next time I’ll either be more adventurous or trust that my boys will enjoy whatever it is I really want rather than what I think they’ll share.

As it was, neither was interested in the squid and I would have been much happier with a plate of chicken with lemongrass and chilli or a bowl of hot and sour soup.

We’ll definitely return to try some more dishes on the extensive and reasonably priced menu.

See earlier story here.

Vietnamese delights

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Saigon Square, Highpoint.

Consider The Sauce has been curious, intrigued and finally delighted by the degree of style and quality of food we’ve found at the new-look food areas at two of the west’s major shopping centres – Highpoint and Pacific Wreribee.

See Highpoint stories here and here and the Pacific Werribee story here.

This trend may have been apparent earlier in other parts of the city and country but the very idea that these institutions are worthy of a food journey – and not merely eating in when circumstances dictate – is one we wholeheartedly embrace.

 

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As ever, I posted links to all three stories on my personal and Facebook pages, Twitter and a few other places.

But – always wanting our stories to be seen and hopefully read by as many as people as possible – I tried my luck with Highpoint and Pacific Werribee.

Would they be nice enough to post links on their Facebook pages?

From Highpoint I received cordial replies and a suggestion links would be forthcoming in a few weeks’ time.

It hasn’t happened yet and I’m not holding my breath.

From Pacific Werrribee, I received an equally cordial response but one that nevertheless equated to a blunt “no”.

Oh well …

I can’t say I blame them for keeping tight control of access to the eyeballs of their hard-won Facebook followers – almost 70,000 in the case of Highpoint, almost 14,000 in the case of Pacific Werribee.

If I was them, I’d do precisely the same.

Still, it’s always worth remembering that not all social media is equal.

And that for big and bigger business, we are all customers – or potential customers – no matter what sentiments are expressed on a day to day basis.

In the meantime, CTS will continue to post on our Facebook page links to the work of other bloggers, newspaper stories and whatever else we think our readers may find interesting and/or useful.

 

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In the meantime, too, we are not done with Highpoint yet – we’re happy to bowl up to try the last of the centre’s new food area outlets to open, Saigon Square.

In this case, the assessment criteria are somewhat different.

Because of the quality and quantity of Vietnamese food in nearby Sunshine, Footscray and St Albans.

And because while we tried to look on the bright side of our last tango with Vietnamese at Highpoint, it was in hindsight very average.

As it turns out, there has been no need to keep high hopes in check, as the food we are served at Saigon Square is good (in one case) and brilliant (in another).

The menu (see below) is tightly chosen list of Vietnamese staples including pho, vermicelli, broken rice and banh mi, with prices on a par with what we all pay at the west’s Vietnamese neighbourhoods.

 

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Bennie’s fried pork chop with veggies, fried egg and egg meat loaf ($12) – Vietnamese bacon and eggs is what we call it – is fine but seems to be lacking some of the embellishments we might find elsewhere.

Although a bowl of chicken broth is part of the deal.

I ask him: “So it’s not as good as you’d get in Footscray but better than you’d normally expect in a shopping centre – is that about right?”

His reply: “Yes!”

 

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My bun bo hue (large $13, regular $12) is on a whole ‘nuther level.

This is the best meal it’s ever been my pleasure to enjoy in a shopping centre setting.

It’s only mildly spiced, which is only to be expected.

But the quality of every component is fine and fresh.

The accompanying sprouts and herbs are joined by shredded cabbage.

The sliced beef is very good.

And the brisket is thickly sliced, tender and absolutely marvellous – and a significant cut above what I’m routinely provided elsewhere.

Wow.

The chop sticks are of the disposable, wooden variety but – as with the other outlets we’ve tried at the new Highpoint food area – all the other cutlery and crockery is the real deal. 

 

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