32 Irving St, Footscray
Phone: 9687 0398
When I was a uni student – which is appallingly a decade ago – one of my close friends was dating a Vietnamese guy who lived in Altona. To be honest, I never really understood what she saw in him, but let’s not to be too uncharitable. He did introduce us to Thien An, or as we knew it back then, ‘Colourful Tables and Chairs’. Back then, it was on the other side of Irving Street, and a much smaller, unassuming place. With mismatched, surprise surprise, colourful tables and chairs. We used to go there for soup noodles, com tam and bo luc lac, and it was the first place I’d been introduced to avocado smoothies. They were good times.
But you can’t stop the winds of change, and it seems success saw Thien An move across the street, into bigger, ‘ritzier’ premises. Complete with a white leather chaise in the front window – from nearby Franco Cozzo? – and a chandelier, if memory serves. Don’t be intimidated by such finery (kitschery!) though, like a lot of the Vietnamese restaurants in Footscray, Thien An has just gone a bit overboard with the Vietnamese idea of modern and stylish when renovating.
I stopped in on a Sunday afternoon, hangover in tow, with a mind to try their pho bo dac biet. Only they don’t have pho on the menu! Denied! So I went for my second favourite hangover soup noodle, bun bo Hue.
The bowl arrived, and even I was a little daunted at its size. Make no mistake, the servings are generous. Though I’ll insert a caveat here: I’ve heard the food is a bit inconsistent. But upon first inspection, there was cause for excitement. Thinly sliced beef flank: check. Congealed blood cube: check. Processed cha lua sausage: check. Most importantly, PORK KNUCKLE: check! The pork knuckle is an oft-omitted, but in my humble opinion essential ingredient in a good bun bo Hue. Which is strange, because it’s a beef noodle soup, not a pork noodle soup. In any case, all the elements were there, and the broth was not bad, either. It lacked the fragrance of the broth at Dong Ba, but there was a hint of the lemongrass which is sometimes missing.
There have been many and varied reports of a slide in quality at Thien An over the past few years. And yet when my parents came over to Footscray for dinner a few weeks ago, Dad said my uncle had recommended Thien An to him only a few months ago. It having been a decade between visits for me, it’s hard to say if that’s true. All I know is I was quite happy with this bun bo Hue, and will be back to try some other things there. I’ll keep you posted!