Review: Street Pho, Noble Park

Noble Park is a suburb that lies in-between two major food destinations, paling in comparison. How can you compare with the Vietnamese food in Springvale, or the Afghan or Ethiopian food in Dandenong? You can’t. Not really. Still, there are a handful of local restaurants doing well enough to attract locals in for dinner during the week, saving them from driving down the road to a more renowned culinary destination.

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Street Pho is one of the few restaurants in the heart of Noble Park plying their trade in the evening. They don’t pretend to be a specialist pho restaurant in the style of Springvale’s Pho Hung Vuong, serving up some of the best pho in Melbourne. They’re a simple family-run restaurant offering a large selection of Vietnamese dishes, a jack-of-all-trades to suit the tastes of all the locals who dine there.

We stopped by one evening on our way to a date night at the Dandenong Festival of Lights…which coincidentally, was very underwhelming for someone like myself who’s been in China during the lantern festival. While I personally wouldn’t rush back to it, but I can see the appeal for those who have never visited and may never visit China.

Three colour drink (Che Ba Mau)
Three colour drink (Che Ba Mau)

We started by sharing my favourite drink at Vietnamese restaurants – a Che Ba Mau, or three colour drink. While the grass jelly, red bean and mung bean is generally much of a muchness at most restaurants, I did like the slight twist that Street Pho gave to the drink with the addition of some freshly roasted peanuts on top for a slight crunch. The only downside is that they put so much shaved ice in the drink that it becomes quite impossible to mix the ingredients together.

Rare beef noodle soup (pho bo tai), $10 AUD
Rare beef noodle soup (pho bo tai), $10 AUD

K’s a pho traditionalist and opted for the Pho Bo, or rare beef noodle soup. The broth was a bit oilier and not as clear than I would personally prefer, but there was a good depth of flavour. It’s clear that Street Pho make their own pho stock from scratch. Highlight? The slippery noodles with a good amount of bite made just for slurping.

Rare beef spicy noodle soup (Bun bo hue tai), $10 AUD
Rare beef spicy noodle soup (Bun bo hue tai), $10 AUD

I chose the Bun Bo Hue, or rare beef spicy noodle soup as it was a cold night and I wanted the spice to warm me up before we went on our outdoorsy date. Unfortunately, there wasn’t quite as much spice as I would like, and I found myself adding more chilli to the soup. On a high note, the beef was beautifully tender.

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Street Pho is a pretty good local restaurant for those who live around Noble Park. However if you want truly fantastic Vietnamese food, some of the best in Melbourne, you should be driving five minutes down the road to Springvale instead.

Having said all that, I would be absolutely rapt to find a Vietnamese restaurant of the same quality as Street Pho in the local neighbourhood next year when we move out of my family home to a suburb closer into the city. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be quite that lucky!

Street Pho is located at 24A Douglas Street in Noble Park, Melbourne.

Review: VIP Kitchens, Springvale

When K and I left on our European honeymoon, I assured my worried father than it would be fine to quit our jobs because “It’ll be so easy to find a job when we get back!”. Even when we met people overseas who expressed amazement that we would leave steady jobs to travel, we casually said “Oh it’ll be fine, we’ll easily find a job when we get back!”.

One month after we returned to Australia, I was beginning to regret my flippant words. K had started work a week after our return after having tee’d up a position at his former agency while we were still overseas. I however, was spending each increasingly despondent day in front of my computer applying for jobs. My self-esteem and self-worth was plummeting with each day as I felt increasingly dependent on others.

Imagine my joy then, when I received the best phone call an unemployed person could receive late on a recent Friday afternoon. A job offer! Not just that – but a fantastic job offer in an industry I’m passionate about, in a role I enjoy with increased responsibilities, remuneration and benefits. Definitely something worth celebrating.

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Given that K already had plans to go out that Friday night with his colleagues, my dad took me out for dinner instead at a local Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant that had opened up while I was living in Sydney. VIP Kitchens is similar to other restaurants in Springvale, offering a range of Cantonese/Chinese-style and Vietnamese dishes on an extensive menu. They advertise their freshly roasted meats in the window, and numerous A4 sheets plastered around the restaurant advertised the price of lobster and crab dinners.

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Given that it was just me and Dad, we decided against the elaborate crab dinner and just ordered a meal each with one more to share. But first – a bowl of complimentary soup from the restaurant for each diner. The Soup of the Day was a rich and savoury pork bone soup, with plenty of chunks of pork meat to make it quite hearty.

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Dad opted for the Roast Pork on Rice, having been tempted by the glistening hunk of roast pork hanging in the window as we walked in. It was a very generous serving for the price. Dad loved it, but my main gripe was that the pork was almost a bit too fatty. I did love the super crunchy and salty crackling though!

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I chose one of my go-to dishes in a non-pho-specialist Vietnamese restaurant: Vietnamese Broken Rice with Pork Chop. The pork chop was amazingly spiced and herbed – a really delicious treat. What I didn’t enjoy was the egginess of the cha trung (meatloaf). As you can see from the photo above, it was made up of predominantly egg, whereas I tend to prefer the Vietnamese meatloaf that has more pork or vermicelli noodles. It’s partially personal preference, but it’s also the fact that a meatloaf with more pork tastes better with this type of dish!

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Dad ordered a dish for us to share – Pippies in XO Sauce. The XO sauce wasn’t quite as hot as I like it to be, but I was impressed with the number of pippies served in the fish.

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Needless to say, you need something to soak up the excess XO sauce of the previous dish…so why not Chinese Doughnut? Crispy, crunchy and freshly-fried, this Chinese doughnut was fantastic with the XO sauce but would have been equally as good with a hot bowl of congee.

VIP Kitchens is a pretty decent Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant serving up some quality dishes at a reasonable price. The problem is, they’re a dime a dozen in Springvale; VIP Kitchens is just one of many such restaurants. After having tried some items from their menu, I have to say that I would still return to my preferred restaurant instead – Hoa Tran.

VIP Kitchens is located at Shop 2, 310 Springvale Rd, Springvale Melbourne.

Review: Viet Cafe, Afimall, Moscow Russia

I’m not going to lie, I had been having the most intense cravings for Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese food throughout our entire trip through Europe. Having Spanish tapas and duck cassoulet is all well and good, but sometimes you just crave what you always eat at home.

We’re lucky enough in Australia that we have access to top-range food from all different parts of Asia. With the exception of one decent meal at Udon Kobo Ishin in Berlin, we’d found it difficult to locate genuine Asian food like we would eat at home.

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By the time we got to Moscow, my cravings had become too intense and I needed a hit of ramen, dumplings or pho! Luckily we were staying at the Novotel Moscow City located right next to a large shopping mall with a number of restaurants…Viet Cafe was one of them. We inspected the menu before entering and decided that it looked genuine enough – the restaurant owners hadn’t mixed in food from other regions (sushi, donburi, dumplings, bibimbap…) into the all-Vietnamese menu, which was a good sign!

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Dau Phu Sot (Tofu with tomato sauce and coriander, served with steamed rice), 320 Rubles

I eat a lot of tofu at home – fried, silken, puffs, bean curd, any which way, and hadn’t been able to find it in supermarkets across Europe throughout our stay. No doubt there are specialist supermarkets that carry it, but I hadn’t been lucky enough to come across one. I had to order the Dau Phu Sot to get my fill of tofu, though I was a little bit doubtful of the “cooked in tomato sauce” addendum…that’s not how I normally cook tofu! Still it was surprisingly tasty, especially with the addition of fresh coriander which I’d also been missing. It’s not a herb that you can readily find across Europe!

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Banh Bao (pork, prawns, black mushrooms, glass noodles), 90 Rubles

Also craving soft steamed buns, we ordered the Banh Bao with a pork and prawn filling. While I thought the filling lacked a certain something (Texture using more wood ear mushrooms? Flavour with more spiced pork?), the soft squishy steamed bun was everything that I’d been hoping for and more.

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Mirinda and Vietnamese lemonade (part of 650 Rubles Vietnamese Dinner)

The drinks we ordered didn’t get delivered to the table until halfway through the meal which I found interesting – surely getting a bottle of Mirinda and making a Vietnamese lemonade shouldn’t take that long? I think it highlights the slightly erratic service that we experienced all night, with the waitresses taking just a little bit too long to acknowledge you as you walked in, to seat you, to bring you a menu, to take your order…everything was just slightly off. It certainly doesn’t match the brisk efficiency you’ll find in Vietnamese restaurants in Australia, but I wonder whether it’s just the Russian way.

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Beef Pho (part of 650 Rubles Vietnamese Dinner)

We ordered their special ‘Vietnamese Dinner’ set which was comprised of a bowl of Pho Bo and some Nem Ga (next photo). I was expecting the Aussie-standard bowl of pho, and was very surprised when this tiny child-sized bowl was delivered to our table. I’d have to eat two of these bowls to consider it a full meal! Still, I liked the healthy serving of fresh herbs on the bowl, and the noodles were cooked well. Unfortunately the beef wasn’t sliced as thinly as it really should be, and the broth was tasty but lacked a depth of flavour. It’s not an award-winning bowl of pho, but I expect that it’s about as good as it gets in Russia!

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Nem Ga (part of 650 Rubles Vietnamese Dinner)

Our last dish was the Nem Ga which came with the Vietnamese Dinner. These were surprisingly the highlight of the whole meal, with a crisp crunchy skin, and extremely flavourful spiced chicken and vegetable filling. Served with a typical Nuoc Cham dipping sauce (heavenly, I put some on the rice because I’d missed it so much!), these ‘spring rolls’ were as good as any I’d had in Australia – and even as good as those I’d had in Vietnam two years ago!

The Vietnamese fare at Viet Cafe is about as good as it gets in Russia – if you’ve been on the road for a few months as we had, it’s a great place to stop in for a feed to satiate your cravings. The prices are reasonable by Australian standards, if a bit high by Russian standards especially considering the smaller serving size of all dishes. Worth a visit if you’re craving Vietnamese food!

Viet Cafe is located in Afimall at 2 Presnenskaya emb. in Moscow.