Solid Vietnamese

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Pho Ngon, Shop 11/330 Ballarat Road, Braybrook. Phone: 0426 210 714

Our abode closeness to Yarraville village dictates, to quite a large degree, where and how we do our household shopping.

But we are not loyal in that regard – so are quite happy to shop around, depending on where we’re at or, more frequently, where we’re coming from.

So with some life bureaucracy chores dispensed with in Sunshine, we are curious enough to step inside the Ballarat shopping centre that replaced an unsuccessful hardware/homeware establishment quite a while ago.

A search for “Braybrook shopping centre” turns up the long-time retail/service hub on the corner of Ballarat Road and Ashley Street – so I’m not sure if this new  one further up Ballarat has a name.

But nope, nothing there’s for us in terms of grocery shopping.

Or any other kind of shopping.

Food?

Some fast-food options that don’t exactly leap out at us in terms of enticement.

But wait – there is right here a good Vietnamese restaurant, one with a far more comprehensive menu (see below) than most people may expect.

So we settle in for lunch.

 

 

Bennie enjoys his “bun thit nuong + cha gio” (rice vermicelli with grilled pork and spring rolls, $13)  – it’s a good, solid rendition.

 

 

But my com ga Nha Trang (Nha Trang farm chicken rice, $16) is significantly better – and it’s a surprise to find such a dish at a rather generic suburban shopping centre.

The soup is just warm, quite sweet and flavoursome; the rice is nice.

The chicken is, as I’d hoped for given the “farm” part of the menu listing, more chewy and higher in flavour than typical Vietnamese restaurant chook.

The salady jumble in which my chicken is entwined and the similar salad alongside have plenty crunch and sweet ‘n’ sour flavour contrasts.

There’s places in Footscray and Sunshine I’d expect a zingier version of this rice dish, but this is fine.

If this centre was our local shop stop, we’d be eating at this joint at least once a week.

 

Footscray star’s makeover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it appears to be working!

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

 

 

And the food?

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

As is the case here!

 

A is for Alfrieda Street. And awesome.

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

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

Nope.

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

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

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

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

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

But what we do order is AMAZING.

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

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

The meat is rare as promised and excellent.

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

The tofu chunks are profoundly plump and delicious.

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

Very vego Vietnamese

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

Vietnamese brilliance

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

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

We go in cycles and ebbs and flows.

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

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

But what of Vietnamese tucker?

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

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

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

We do.

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

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

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

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

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

There have been changes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now that’s a meal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A fine lunch in St Albans

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

The food is cheap and excellent.

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

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

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

 

 

My friends enjoy their selections, too.

They include char kwai teow ($10.80) …

 

 

… mapo tofu on rice ($10.80) and …

 

 

… combination fried noodles ($13.80).

Thanks for the company and conversation!

 

Sushi train? No! It’s hot pot train!

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

Justin and Bennie go for the laksa and enjoy it.

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

There’s fungus of several varieties.

There’s surimi of various shapes and sizes.

There’s noodles.

 

 

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

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

And there is offal.

We think.

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

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

This is a bit disheartening.

 

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

 

But we do eat well and very affordably.

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

But that’s what you get for $25.

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

 

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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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.

Vietnamese star

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I can still vividly remember discovering Alfrieda Street in St Albans. Bored with the footy game in which Bennie was participating at a nearby oval, I went for a wander, turned a corner and – bam! – there it was: A whole street and neighbourhood of food and fine folks of which I had been utterly unaware. Since those pre-CTS days, St Albans  has become a regular haunt. Now, thanks to sponsorship from the St Albans Business Group (see full disclosure below), I am looking forward to getting to know Alfrieda Street and environs even more intimately. This is the first of a series …

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Trang Tien, 11 Alfrieda Street, St Albans. Phone: 9078 1677

Trang Tien can be easy to miss.

It doesn’t front directly on to Alfrieda Street, being angled away as part of a sort-of courtyard it shares with Cafe U And I.

As well, Trang Tien has a somewhat modest shopfront, though it does sport typical photographs of some of the food offer.

Inside, though, is a menu and eatery that offer a wonderful and bewilderingly long range of dishes from all over Vietnam – some of them rarely seen in Melbourne.

 

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Pho?

Sure, you can get that here – and numerous other Vietnamese staples.

But why would you when there’s a grand opportunity to chance your arm a bit?

Banh canh do bien (S $12 and L $13), for instance (top photograph).

This is fat, slippery udon noodles in a viscous broth (think corn and chicken soup) made with, I’m told, seafood but which the internet tells me can also be pork-based.

The broth is of terrific depth in terms of flavour and nicely peppery.

The seafood component hidden in there comprises nice fish chunks, calamari, a couple of prawns, seafood balls, seafood extender and seafood loaf, with onion slices and other trimmings adding textures of a more strident nature.

This a terrific alternative riff on the more familiar soup noodles we all know so well, be they Vietnamese, Chinese or other.

 

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More prosaic, though also not often seen around Melbourne, is bo bit tet ($15).

More of a breakfast dish, this is your Vietnamese steak and egg – beef steak, fried egg, bread roll, salad.

The roll is crusty and hot and right fine for mopping up the juices and fried onions.

Simple and good, this is.

 

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Beef satay ($8.50) looks, let’s be frank, something of a scraggly mess.

But it works!

The mix of fried, nicely chewy meat, onions slivers, roasted peanuts and sticky sauce is just right and deeply satisfying.

Trang Tien is a gem.

(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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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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Westie eats goss 7/4/16

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wgoss0704161

 

The premises that housed the now-closed Nando’s outlet on Anderson Street in Yarraville is to be a Vietnamese eatery.

The windows remain papered over but the signage is up!

 

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Around the corner on Ballarat Street, the wonderful Friend or Pho has extended its opening hours.

It’s now open for lunch and dinner on Thursdays, with Wednesday the only non-opening day.

 

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Over in Brooklyn, Dosa Palace is open at 28A Millers Road.

I dropped in on opening day for a very nice masala dosa – the potato stuffing was particularly memorable.

Unlike its WeFo sister restaurant, Hyderabad Inn, it’s a low-key cafe-style place but will, I’m sure, do the locals just fine.

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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ctsf132

 

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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