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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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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CTS Feast No.13: Xuan Banh Cuon

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ctsf132

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.