Earlier this year when I was in Melbourne, my colleague turns to me and says “I’ve just received an invitation for an opening night of a new restaurant that’s opening up. You should totally come”. Curious about the restaurant, I found out that it’s actually the first Melbourne location for Pho 24, a well-known chain restaurant in Vietnam. K and I visited Pho 24 two years ago when we were in Vietnam, and loved it…but then again, we loved almost every meal we had in Vietnam!
Unfortunately, I wasn’t in Melbourne on the night of the actual restaurant opening, but I did manage to pop into the restaurant a week beforehand for a quick meal before heading to the airport for my flight home. The staff and service was very much in the teething stages at that point – newly opened, the staff were still training and learning how to use the terminals and service was a bit slower than you would like from a fast food-esque joint.
Located almost directly opposite Southern Cross station and the bus terminal, Pho 24 is extremely well situated for travellers in and out of Melbourne. It’s a very large space with both inside and outside dining available. The space was very empty on the night that I went though, with only two other tables occupied.
The counter inside is set up like a cafeteria. You order at the terminal, then take your tray and slide it down to the end of the counter to pick up your order. On the night that I was there, the staff hadn’t quite worked out the assembly line and instead asked me to take a seat as they would bring my order out to me. I assume these kinks have been worked out since then!
I order a regular beef pho, and was surprised to see all the toppings when the bowl was brought out to me. I’m used to dining in Vietnamese restaurants where you’re offered a plain bowl of noodles with sliced beef, and a separate plate of herbs, chillis, and other toppings to add per personal preference.
To have all the extras put on top as a matter of course was extremely jarring. What if I don’t like dried shrimp? Or basil? Or onions? I hope Pho 24 have since implemented a system where the staff first ask the customers what toppings they would like on their noodles.
I decided that I also needed a dessert to help soothe me for the late night flight back to Sydney, and ordered a hot sago black bean dessert. This was perfectly delicious, with creamy coconut sago and black beans that gave the dessert some much needed difference in textures. The presentation was difficult though, as larger dessert spoons didn’t really suit the narrow top of the glass. This dessert would be better served in a ramekin-like bowl.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try the banh mi that’s now listed on their menu as it wasn’t ready and available to the public on the day that I went.
Overall, I found my experience at Pho 24 a bit disappointing. While the food is much better option than anything else available around Southern Cross station, their assumptions around pho preferences was quite disappointing. I always think that pho toppings are an extremely personal choice, and to have that choice taken away counteracts the whole experience of having pho!
Having said that, I’ll probably be back to try Pho 24 again once the staff have settled into a routine and are over the opening jitters. Like I said, it’s the best healthy-ish food option around Southern Cross station!