297 Exhibition St Shop 2, Melbourne
Phone: 9077 1097
I don’t want to dwell on the Melbourne/Sydney thing too much. Because apparently only Melbourne people do that, due to a chip on our collective shoulder about being the second largest, and probably not even the second most recognisable, city in Australia. It’s often said that Sydney has better Thai food, and better Japanese food, while Melbourne arguably has better Vietnamese food. I’m not sure whether that’s true, especially since food is such a subjective thing anyway, but if patterns of migration and migrant community populations are anything to go by, these assertions might be justified.
Which is why it seems a little strange that a Vietnamese restaurant from Sydney would open up a Melbourne outlet. Miss Chu opened early last year to some excitement, but probably just as much skepticism. Vietnamese food purveyors from Sydney? That’s almost like Hanoians setting up shop in Sai Gon. Which, for the record, has been quite successful in a number of cases. But I was definitely one of the skeptics when I first heard about it.
My preconceptions of the place weren’t helped by the buzz around Miss Chu serving wagyu pho. Seriously? That’s almost as nonsensical as Spice Temple’s wagyu brisket. Braised brisket is about slow cooking, releasing flavours from tough cuts of meat, and breaking down the flesh until it melts apart. To me, it seems like both a waste and a ruination of wagyu. Similarly, the beef in pho tai (rare beef pho) should have a certain springiness to it, something which is utterly lacking in (ironically) good wagyu. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Miss Chu touts herself as the ‘Queen of rice paper rolls’. And in this, I’m quite happy to agree. Well, she’s a high Lady in that arena, in any case. I have had better, but I lived in Viet Nam for a year, so you would expect that to be the case. Nonetheless, the rice paper rolls at Miss Chu were pretty special. I ordered the tiger prawn and green mango ones, which while pricey, were well worth the extra cost. The sauce bottle was cute, but not really that functional; a little dipping plate would have been useful. The sauce was a little overly sweet, too.
Onto the main event: the wagyu pho. A few things distressed me about this whole situation. First of all, the fresh basil and bean shoots were already applied for you by the kitchen. Which is a minor travesty, because it takes something integral away about the ritual of eating pho; the tearing of the basil leaves from the stalks, the topping of your owl with a mound of beanshoots, and the dunking and stirring of all the fresh ingredients through the steaming hot soup. These are all a part of the experience which I love about having pho, and this was denied to me at Miss Chu. So things weren’t off to a good start.
Another part of my ritual is to try the broth before adding anything (lemon, chilli) to it. Again, Miss Chu’s pho fell flat. The broth was on the bland side, with neither the ‘beefiness’ nor the warm spices which typify good pho broth coming through. I was a little hasty in pre-judging the use of wagyu, as the soup was served at a cool enough temperature that the beef didn’t fully cook. Which might leave some people screaming salmonella, but is fine by me. Wagyu – and any good cut of meat, really – should be eaten rare, in my book. In this case, it helped the beef retain a bit of chewiness, which pho needs, texturally.Unfortunately, things don’t get any better when it comes to the actual pho noodles. I’m not sure about this, but it seems like Miss Chu is using re-hydrated dried ride noodles instead of fresh pho noodles. The noodles were thin, totally slippery, and worst of all, broken and short. I ended up having to eat most of them with my spoon, rather than slurping them off my chopsticks. That’s another point deduction, experientially. Oh, who are we kidding, points? This dish was a monster fail. Of course, me being me, I still ate it all. And proceeded to order dessert. A custard bun. Which was yet another let-down. The custard inside was on the dry and crumbly side, and the dough was a bit heavy. I know I’m pretty spoilt when it comes to Vietnamese food; I live in Footscray, after all. For the most part, Miss Chu just wasn’t up to scratch for me. But perhaps that was to do with my selection. There are many good Vietnamese restaurants that serve pho – mediocre or bad pho – but that excel in other dishes. I think Miss Chu might be one of these. The rice vermicelli salads looked pretty good, and the rice paper rolls were excellent, too. I could probably be convinced to go back – the atmosphere is fun and bustling, and the service is brisk, but friendly - I’d just avoid that woeful pho.