Pho Pasteur

709 George St, Haymarket
Phone: (02) 9212 5622

I first tried Pho Pasteur last year in May. I was in Sydney for a conference, and, well, the conference food was abominably bad. Thankfully, the hotel we were staying in was not far from Central Station so only a short walk to Chinatown. And on the South end of Chinatown,are a smattering of Vietnamese restaurants. We all know my weakness for pho by now, right?

I stopped in at Pho Pasteur, purely because it was the closest pho joint to the hotel, but it also helped that it was referencing Pho Hoa in Sai Gon (on Pasteur St) which is an institution in pho. And I wasn’t disappointed, that time. The pho was good! The broth was flavoursome without being overtly MSG-laden, and the beef-to-noodle ratio was satisfying.

I returned with Mr I and Ms D more recently, after we were disappointed by Gumshara’s early closing time of 8:30pm on a Saturday night.

We shared some prawn spring rolls to begin with – these were prawn reasonably good, though the amount of nuoc cham (fish sauce for dipping) was pretty paltry.
Mr I stuck to his regular, the pho bo tai – pho with rare beef – which he was pretty happy with. Pho Pasteur seems to be of that school which prepares its rare beef by finely dicing it (like a tartare) as opposed to finely slicing it. While this means you can get away with serving a cheaper cut of beef, this isn’t always a bad thing, as these cuts often have better flavour, and I’ve seen this practice quite often in Viet Nam.
Ms D had my personal favourite, the pho bo dac biet – special beef pho, with fatty beef flank, beef balls, tendon and tripe.
Having tried the pho before, I thought I’d be adventurous, and try their bun bo Hue.
BIG mistake. This was probably the singular worst version of bun bo Hue I’ve ever eaten. There was virtually no chilli, and the broth tasted more like a bak kut teh than a bun bo Hue. There was a serious absence of pork knuckle, too. Words cannot convey how disappointed I was by this dish.

So moral of the story? When you go to a pho joint, get the pho. MAYBE try spring rolls or the com tam (broken rice). Do NOT deviate. Or you will be sorry.

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Ca de Vin

Melbourne GPO, Postal Lane (off Bourke St Mall)
Phone: 9654 3639

Meeting up with Alex from the MSG for dinner on Friday night, both of us were (surprisingly) at a bit of a loss for where we should eat. That shouldn’t happen to foodbloggers, right? I blame a long and busy week at work. When Alex suggested we go to Grill’d, I knew we were in trouble.So I countered with Ca de Vin. I’ve walked past, and indeed through, Ca de Vin numerous times – on my way to Ramen Ya, you see – and always thought it looked quite appealing. Though the incongruous French name and Italian menu is a little strange.

Set inside a covered laneway, the warm lighting and candles give it a charming, romantic atmosphere. Not that I’m suggesting anything was going on between Alex and I! I like the fact that there’s pretty much an open kitchen, with an informal bar area where you can perch and watch the chefs cook if you’re just having a drink.

It was a busy Friday night – they were turning people without reservations away not long after we were seated – and I’m hoping this was the reason the service was so brusque. It wasn’t offensive, just coolly efficient. I would have expected a little more character and personality, given the decor.

I ordered the marinated lamb backstrap, which came served on a spinach and wild mushroom risotto with crispy sweet potato chips and a red wine jus.

The waitress took the trouble to ask me how I would like my lamb. I, of course, replied, “Rare.” It came out exceedingly well done. Alex suggested I should send it back, but I was hungry and didn’t want to wait, so ate it anyway. The flavour wasn’t bad, but nothing amazing. The risotto was cooked well, but lacked any real mushroom flavour, which was a disappointment.

Being a sucker for a risotto, Alex ordered the oxtail risotto with slow roasted tomatoes and crispy cauliflower florets finished with spring onions and fresh parmesan.

I had a taste, and while it was alright, it was far from spectacular. He said it tasted like tomatoes. For the price (it was $26) the serving was rather small, but its saving grace was that there was a good amount of oxtail.

When talking to friends later, I was told that the pizza is the way to go if you dine at Ca de Vin. Oh well, I guess I know now, for next time.

Ca de Vin on Urbanspoon

Coconut House

449 Elizabeth St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9329 6401

This place has been generating a lot of buzz for quite a while now, especially from my Malaysian and Singaporean friends. But its proximity to the Vic Markets means I’ll usually opt for a borek or bratwurst if I’m feeling like eating at the time. But I finally got past the convenience of hand-held food, and sat down for a lunch at Coconut House recently.

I was a little torn between the classic Hainanese Chicken Rice, and the BBQ pork, which I spied on a few people’s plates while waiting in line to order. Thankfully, Coconut House lets you hedge your bets, and have both! Along with a plentiful serving of chicken rice, and a bowl of broth (which, let’s be honest, is little more than MSG, but that’s what you should expect and actually be after, should you order an Hainanese Chicken Rice in this town).
The rice was a little on the dry side, but I guess that’s what the broth is for! The chicken itself was beautifully moist, and at that point where there’s still just the lightest hint of vibrant red blood in the drumstick bone. It’s pretty much the epitome of how far you should take a boiled/steamed chicken. The BBQ pork, however, was a bit of a let down. The texture suggested there had been some processing done to this pork; probably the addition of bi-carb in the marinade, a practice not uncommon in Chinese restaurants. While the flavour of the marinade was not bad – perhaps a tad too sweet – it lacked any real porcine flavour, which was a shame.

The star for me of this dish, however, was the smallest component. The sambal in the little dish was a beautifully balanced mix of bold acid and garlic elements, with a nice chilli kick, yet not at all challenging. Great for this dish, and I honestly could eat this sauce on its own with just rice!

I had a warm soya bean drink to wash the meal down. Which was nice, but nothing special.

If you can’t get a seat at Coconut House, which is always busy at lunch times, from what I’ve seen, you might try its sister shop, Little Coconut House, which interestingly is served by the same kitchen. Your meal comes in through the front door!

Coconut House on Urbanspoon