Bun bo Hue at Thien An

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!

Thien An on Urbanspoon

Vivid Star

11o Hopkins St, Footscray
Phone: 9689 1888

This one’s for the Nagoya Ramen Ninja. He complained that my posts of late have been too far flung, and I’m not doing my duty as a Footscravian food blogger. So it’s time I did a little more representing for the ‘hood. Hopefully in return, he’ll share his Nagoya Ramen tips with the interwebs again?

Vivid Star is one of the newer Vietnamese restaurants on the Hopkins St strip. It strikes a balance between the modern slicker stylings of Hung Vuong and Sapa Hills – that always tend to make me wary, seeming to pander for the Anglo market – and the beyond-help tacky-yet-charming style of classic Vietnamese eateries, with their pastel walls, ample use of mirrors, plastic condiment baskets and drapery-upholstered chairs.

The irony of the situation is that more often than not, the daggier the restaurant, the better the food. As evidenced recently when I tried two versions of cha ca locally.

In fact, I ended up at Vivid Star because Dong Que was closed on a Monday night, which was a sad discovery, because @tammois and I had a banh xeo craving. @jeroxie and her Mister came along as well, for what was a lively and fun-filled evening eating great food and talking about food. @tammois is writing her PhD about food and culture in Melbourne, you see.

I had also been meant to go to Vivid Star late last year with some neighbours for a x-mas get-together, but didn’t quite make it in the end. Having heard great things from Lauren, I was glad to finally have a chance to try it out. Even if it meant navigating their diagrammatic menu!

We started off with some fried silken tofu, and soft shelled crab.

The tofu was delicate and soft, with the crispy exterior providing just enough of a shell to enable us to pick it up, and the pork floss on top was, as @tammois declared, “genius!” The soft-shelled crab was also good – still juicy inside, though the coating was a touch on the salty side. Still, it’s soft-shelled crab, so I’m generally pretty forgiving.

We also ordered some rice paper rolls with pork and prawn.

These were fresh and springy, though there was too much rice vermicelli and not enough lettuce in them for my liking.Also, I like it when restaurants put in some perilla, basil, mint and/or chives in their rice paper rolls. Were it not for the peanut/hoi sin dipping sauce, these rolls would have been quite bland.

I had been tasked with ordering for the table, which tends to happen when friends come to Vietnamese restaurants with me. I find this a little strange, as I don’t think having knowledge about a particular type of cuisine necessarily equates to knowing what to order at a particular restaurant, and often this happens at places I haven’t eaten at before.

In this situation, I always try to order a combination of dishes to create a balance of flavours and ingredients. I think it’s a pretty common Asian thing – Thai and Vietnamese people often talk about balancing flavours of salty, sweet, spicy and sour in dishes, whereas I think it happens on more of a combination of dishes level in Chinese custom, rather than an individual dish level.

Anyway, I always try to get a range of different proteins, a good amount of vegetables, usually something sweet or sour, and at least one dish with a decent chilli kick. However, often this becomes difficult if there’s not so many people in the group. This night was one example of me composing a well-rounded selection of dishes, which lead to there being too much food. I’m a little ashamed to say that this happens a lot.

The first dish to arrive was the pork spare ribs with fish sauce. This dish was nothing like what I expected.

I had expected that it would be something like a thit kho, pork braised (often in a claypot) in fish sauce. I was expecting little chunks of spare ribs, sort of like what you might get at yum cha. What came out instead was a dish of fried de-boned spare ribs, glazed with a fish sauce reduction. It was certainly unexpected, but oi troi oi (that’s southern Vietnamese for OMG) was it good! The pork was juicy and tender, the batter crispy and barely there, and the fish sauce was rich and just a touch smoky.

Next up was the fried flounder, with salt and pepper. A standard on the Chinese-Vietnamese menu, this
is always one of my favourites to share. Simple flavours of salf, pepper, five spice, chilli and garlic, that work well with just about any seafood. The fish was a bit on the over-cooked side, sadly, but it was still pretty enjoyable.

Being in a Vietnamese restaurant, there was hardly any choice involved in ordering the rau muong (water spinach, or kang kung) which I will always consider Viet Nam’s national vegetable. In Viet Nam, it’s the equivalent to choy sum – ubiquitous, cheap, and versatile. It also happens to be one of my favourite vegetables.

Here, we just had it stir-fried with garlic. This was the ‘bland’ dish of the bunch. I don’t say that in a bad way. The thing is, when you’re ordering a selection of dishes, you should order at least one dish which is bland, or more subtle, I think. It’s kind of like giving you taste buds a break to catch their breath when trying to run a marathon. Sometimes you can ignore this principle, but I’ll guarantee you that you’ll eat a lot more rice. And then there are other times, when you opt for something other than steamed rice.

I went for the chicken and salted fish fried rice, because I’ve had a slight fascination with it lately. Vivid Star’s version is pretty great, too!

I really should have stopped there, but of course, it didn’t seem balanced, so I though I’d order a beef dish. I went for the bo luc lac, because to my surprise, @tammois hadn’t tried it before.
The bo luc lac at Vivid Star is pretty good – not as amazingly steak-y as one I’d had years ago at Thien An, or as my father makes, but pretty good nonetheless.

I think Vivid Star is likely to be one of my regular fall-back local options. The quality of the food and the service is great, but there didn’t seem to be anything amazingly special on the menu that sets them apart from other places along Hopkins St. Oh, except that you can bring your own seafood (perhaps from the live fishmonger store around the corner in Leeds St?) and they will cook if for you in any style you want, for a nominal fee of $15.

Vivid Star on Urbanspoon

Bun Rieu at Bo De Trai

94 Hopkins St, Footscray
Phone: 9689 9909

Back when I was living in Sai Gon, my housemate was a pescetarian/vegaquarian/whatchamacallit-fish-n-vegies-eater. Which isn’t all that hard to maintain in Viet Nam, but it does take a little vigilance, especially when it comes to soups. Never know when one of those sneaky pyjama ladies will slip a chicken carcass in that pot.

But I jest. In fact, it’s actually quite common to find vegetarian food in Sai Gon, if not all the time, then at least twice a month, on the first and fifteenth of each lunar month, when some Buddhists observe meat-free days. I quite liked these days – there was a bun mang vit (duck and bamboo shoot soup noodles) joint near my work which would serve awesome bun cha gio chay (rice vermicelli with vegetarian spring rolls) twice a month. For other times of the month, there was always the place near my gym that was run by a little old Buddhist nun, who spoke a surprisingly good amount of English. The braised pressed tofu balls there were amazing.

Anyway, I’d been meaning to try Bo de Trai since I moved to Footscray. It’s a vegetarian restaurant of the Buddhist variety. That means there’s lots of mock meat going on there. It’s run by a few little middle-aged Vietnamese ladies, who are warm and friendly. They remind me of my aunts.

I went on my own for lunch, and had the bun rieu, which is a crab and tomato based soup noodle. I wasn’t sure what to expect, because the crab and fermented shrimp paste are quite strong components of the flavour of bun rieu. When it arrived at  the table, I was impressed. It looked pretty great!

Sure, instead of the cha lua there were slices of tofu, but that’s to be expected. What would usually be loosely clumped balls of processed fish and crab meat was replaced by some sort of crumbly steamed egg. Texturally, it totally worked. And while it didn’t really taste like a proper bun rieu, it was still quite tasty.
My main complaint about the dish was that the noodles were overcooked, and must have been broken before they were cooked, because they were quite short. I like to slurp my soup noodles, and with noodles that short, there wasn’t really much slurping going on.

My other complaint about the place, and this applies pretty generally across most vegetarian restaurants, was the clientele. I wish I had brought my headphones with me, so I could block out the one girl at the table next to mine pontificating about her motivations for being vegetarian, and trying to generally show off how much she knows about various meat substitutes like seitan and Quorn. If only you could enjoy good vegetarian food without having to listen to the rants of militant vegetarians!

So not to be too hypocritical, I’ll end my rant there. As you can see, I really liked this bowl of noodles. Bo de Trai is definitely worth visiting.

Bo de Trai on Urbanspoon

A tale of two of cha cas – Dong Que vs. Sapa Hills

This was something of an unexpected battle. Mostly because I wasn’t aware that any place in Melbourne served cha ca thang long other than Sapa Hills, but also, because I didn’t expect to have it twice on consecutive nights!

Cha ca thang long is a Northern Vietnamese grilled fish dish, which is often hard to find outside of Viet Nam. Most of the Vietnamese food we get here in Australia is of the Southern Vietnamese style. I think this has a lot to do historically with migration patterns, and the fact that a large proportion of Vietnamese refugees who settled here after the Viet Nam war were from Southern Viet Nam.

In any case, Sapa Hills became quite popular after opening just over a year ago, with glowing reviews in the mainstream media, and being that ‘little bit different’ by serving a menu which is heavily influenced with Northern and central style Vietnamese dishes, like bun cha and of course, cha ca. What I, and I assume most other people, didn’t know was that there are other Vietnamese places around, with just as interesting and diverse menus on offer. Such as Dong Que, a few doors down from Sapa Hills.

Dong Que – 102 Hopkins St, Footscray
Phone: 9689 4392

I had been to Dong Que once before, and was rather uninspired by the food. But when @eatnik and @meatnik declared that they were in the mood for banh xeo, I had to admit I was at a loss as to where we should go in Footscray. I guess I’ve been blinkered somewhat by my lust for soup noodles – namely pho and bun bo Hue – since I moved to Footscray, and I haven’t really been testing out the other staples of Vietnamese cuisine in the ‘hood. So as we walked along Hopkins St, Dong Que god the nod by default, because it was the first place with pictures of banh xeo in the window.

When it arrived, the banh xeo didn’t disappoint. Not too oily, and wonderfully crisp around the edges, the ‘crepe’ was laden with bean shoots, mung beans, belly pork and shrimp. A great version of what a banh xeo should be, in my opinion. The only thing I would say is that they could have used a touch more turmeric and coconut milk in the crepe batter itself. But I’m nitpicking here. Oh, and don’t let the picture fool you – that’s a big plate, and the banh xeo was even bigger!

On @msbaklover‘s recommendation, we also ordered the banh dap thit nuong – steamed rice paper with grilled pork, sandwiched between rice crackers. It’s like a crunchy Vietnamese quesadilla!
Although this was an interesting and fun dish to eat, I wouldn’t want to have one on my own; definitely a dish to share. The grilled pork was tasty, if a touch dry, but the sticky rice paper added a moistness to it, which was necessary, given the other ingredients were the rice crackers, some crushed peanuts, and spring onion. The overall cracker-sandwich nature of the dish made it feel more like a snack than a meal. Though again, not in size, because the portions at Dong Que are nothing if not generous.

But on to the main event – the cha ca! Arriving on a sizzling plate, the fish was beautifully grilled, with just a touch of crunchy char to the edges, and you can see the hefty use of turmeric and dill, the two signature flavours of cha ca.

Served with a good amount of rice vermicelli and fresh herbs and lettuce, I’d happily devour a dish of this on my own. The mam (fermented anchovy) dipping sauce was a good balance of salt, acid and pungent fishiness with a hint of sweetness. This sauce isn’t for everyone – due, obviously, to the pungent fishiness – so ask for the regular fish sauce (nuoc cham) if you like to play it safe.

Dong Que on Urbanspoon

Sapa Hills – 112 Hopkins St, Footscray
Phone: 9687 5729

The next night, I caught up with Mr I and Ms D. Both of them had read another recent review of Sapa Hills, and wanted to try it out. Never having been myself, I heartily agreed.

Living in Footscray, and eating a lot of Vietnamese food, leads me to often look through the menu for something which isn’t often found at other restaurants. At Sapa Hills, this meant there were quite a few attractive options. First up, we ordered the bun cha.

While this is similar to the Southern bun thit nuong in that they’re both dishes composed of rice vermicelli, grilled pork, with lettuce and herbs, bun cha is a notably different dish. The grilled pork comes in two forms; little mince patties, and thin slices of pork belly. Both are on the salty side, but that’s because you’re supposed to pair it with the sweetness of the nuoc cham and the fresh lettuce and herbs.
Sapa Hills’ version was pretty good, though you should eat it quickly, because the meat is quite fatty, and gets a bit greasy as it gets cold. Mr I particularly liked the little minced pork patties.

I was looking forward to the cha ca, despite having had it the previous night, because I’d heard a lot about Sapa Hills’ rendition.

To be completely honest, I was disappointed. The fish was a bit on the bland side, and lacked any sort of delicious charred-ness. The overall result was that texturally, the dish was soggy and limp. Not attractive. There was a good amount of dill, but the turmeric seemed to have been tempered somewhat, which was disappointing.

We also ordered the chicken and salted fish fried rice, which was quite good! Tasty, not too oily, and I love it when people cook lettuce, so points for that. I would have liked a little less chicken and a little more salted fish, though.

When ordering the two dishes and a fried rice, we thought we could probably squeeze in an entree, so we ordered the soft-shelled crab to share between the three of us. It arrived after all of the other dishes. Oops!
It was, however, quite good. Not the best soft-shelled crab I’ve had – the batter was a little heavy, and the seasoning was overly salty – but a decent effort, and it certainly would have whet our appetites, had it not arrived after all of the other dishes.

Sapa Hills on Urbanspoon

So when it comes down to it, both restaurants have their strong points, and there are many reasons on both menus that call for return visits. But when it comes to the crunch, Dong Que’s cha ca was streets ahead of Sapa Hills’, in my opinion.

Huu Thanh

Food Court, Footscray Market, Irving St, Footscray

A little while ago, Kenny alerted me to the fact that taking photos in Footscray Market is not allowed, which of course makes me want to do it all the more. So after my naive documentation of T&T Takeaway, I’m wilfully flouting the rules and working my way around the food court. Next stop, Huu Thanh.

What I like about both T&T and Huu Thanh is that they’re completely unpretentious. But that might have something to do with the fact  they face onto a food court, and the strains of market vendors spruiking their wares (what IS that “baile-baile-baile” phrase they yell!? is it “buy lah, buy lah, buy lah”?). I love the way that you can sit in the front of the stall, and watch the people go about their shopping. It reminds me a little of the food stands at Tan Dinh market where I used to have lunch in Sai Gon.

Anyway, my cousin had told me that my uncle’s favourite pho joint was in the food court at Footscray Market. I think it’s T&T Takeaway. After all, that was the place that his wife suggested to my mother that we eat at, and well, Huu Thanh doesn’t have pho on the menu. Anyway, T&T Takeaway was full that morning, and I was in need of some soup noodle healing, after a(nother) big night out on the booze. So I went next door to Huu Thanh, and ordered the next best thing for a hangover, the bun bo Hue.

It was a little disappointing. There was a complete lack of pork knuckle, and the beef was a bit on the bland side. The whole bowl seemed to be dominated by a massive slice of cha lua, which is probably my least favourite thing in the dish. The broth, while flavoursome in a non-specific way – there’s definitely more to it than MSG, but what that is, is hard to say – lacked the lemongrass hit for which I love the Dong Ba version.

I will say this: it’s a steal of a lunch meal at $7.50. That’s one thing you’ll find about both Huu Thanh and T&T. The prices are just marginally cheaper than already cheap Vietnamese restaurants in the area.

Huu Thanh has quite an extensive menu (well, about 12 items) of Vietnamese soup noodles. I’ll be back, but next time I’m going to try something else. Hopefully their other noodle soups are better. I’m thinking mi Quang might be the new bun bo Hue this year…

Pho at Pho Tam

1/7-9 Leeds St, Footscray
Phone: 9687 2680

Now I know I’ve reviewed this place before, but after some buzz from various other bloggers, I thought I should give it another shot, and more specifically, try their pho. After all, the place is called Pho Tam. So you’d hope that pho would be their signature dish.

The previous time I’d been in, it was a lazy Sunday afternoon, and the place was in that slack caretaker mode which drops over a lot of restaurants after the lunch rush ends, like the food coma which hits you after a satisfyingly carb-laden lunch. This time around, I was in on a late Saturday morning, just pipping the lunch crowd. I thought I’d eat before doing my grocery shopping at the nearby Little Saigon market, though clearly most people do it the other way around, judging by the laden carts and shopping bags people hauled in with them.

I had a bit of a hangover that morning – which is becoming an unsettling trend – so what that usually means for me is I want more offal in my pho. Liver and tongue, in particular. Unfortunately, in my years of living back in Australia, my Vietnamese has dropped off considerably, and I don’t really remember how to ask for extras. I suppose I could just ask in English, but there’s some pride at stake!

Anyway, I deviated from my usual, and ordered the pho bo ga dac biet. Regular readers will know that I usually eschew the ga (chicken) when it comes to pho, unless I’m sick. But being hung over is somewhat like being ill, so run with me here.

The bowl is heavily laden with all sorts of wonderful offal, from beef tripe, tongue and tendon, to chicken hearts and liver. Of course, there’s also some beef and chicken in there, but who cares about the flesh, when there are organs to be had, really? Surprisingly, there was no cube of congealed pig’s blood; a regular guest star in a pho ga dac biet. Perhaps it would be too much iron in a bowl already heaving with both chicken and cow bits.
The broth was pretty amazing. Not overly noticeable MSG, and not too sweet, though there was a definite umami kick. The spices were also definitely there, but they weren’t too in your face. I’m not a broth drinker, unlike some pho connoisseurs, but I almost polished off all of this bowl. We’re talking a seriously good broth this morning. I have heard, however, that they can be a bit inconsistent with their broth, so perhaps I was just very lucky. Or my hangover may also have clouded my judgement, but still, it was delectable.
To finish it off, and to put a kick into my day, I had a ca phe sua da. Nothing says bliss like equal parts coffee and condensed milk.
So in summary, if you’re going to Pho Tam, I recommend you try the pho. Who woulda thunk it, right?
Pho Tam on Urbanspoon

Pho Hien Vuong 1

37 Leeds St, Footscray
Phone: 9687 1470

Pho Hien Vuong is oldskool. Neon lights in the window: check. Mirrored walls: check. Bad 80s chairs: check.In short, there’s very little not to like about the place. The deal was sealed, however, when I stopped in on a Saturday morning and they were playing old pop ballads from the 60s. We used to have a tape (yes, kids, we’re talking cassettes here) of old 60s songs that my father loved, playing on loop in our restaurant when I was growing up. I always imagined to him listening to the songs in Viet Nam out of an old transistor radio when he was a teenager.

Anyway, there’s a feeling of authenticity when you walk into Pho Hien Vuong 1. It’s probably due for a nuskool makeover, but I hope not anytime soon, because there’s a certain charm about its complete lack of regard for modern decor. Something charmingly Vietnamese. If it ain’t broke, right?

As per usual, I had the pho bo dac biet. There was a good amount of beef, and I remember running out of pho noodles before I got through all of the meat and offal in the bowl.
I really wanted to love this place, because the outward appearance is just about everything I think a pho joint should be, but what let it down was the broth. It was just too sweet, even for me! I believe that you should never have to adjust good pho broth – just add the fresh lemon and chilli as accents, but if I have to touch the fish sauce bottle on the table, something’s amiss. I had to add some fish sauce at Hien Vuong 1.

The crowd on that day was an interesting mix of Vietnamese people and Caucasian punters who were clearly about to go, or had just come from Footscray Market, and stopped in because of Hien Vuong’s convenient location. Once again, which is an increasingly troubling trend, Hien Vuong 1’s pho is not bad, but it’s not great. It’s mediocre. And according to the rule of proximal pho, that’s just not good enough.

Hien Vuong 1 on Urbanspoon

Sekai Japanese Ramen

Shop 194, 81 Hopkins St (Footscray Market ), Footscray
Phone: 9687 1088

A while ago, I dislocated my big toe playing soccer. Yeah, I know, gross; not the way to start off a post about ramen. But you should know that on the day I went finally got down to Sekai Japanese Ramen, in the Footscray Market, I had swung down Hopkins Street on crutches, because despite sporting injuries, recipe testing for the Melbourne Foodblogger’s Dinner had to go on, and I needed more pork belly (and Penny needed more ox tongue).

So I figured since I had to endure the indignity of traipsing through the market on crutches, with one foot in a half-cast and a backpack full of meat, I at least deserved a decent lunch beforehand. I’d been meaning to visit Sekai ever since Lauren wrote about it not long after I moved to Footscray. Having good options for both pho and ramen within walking distance of my new home? Surely life couldn’t be that good…

… sadly life isn’t quite that good. While Sekai produces a passable effort, it’s far from what I would call good. On this occasion, I tried the Sekai Ramen, with the shoyu (soy) based broth. I’m not going to go into detail about the Chinese-owned Japanese restaurant issue, but Sekai is clearly Chinese run.

The first thing the bothered me about this bowl was the seafood extender. Yes, they might be of Japanese origin, but I don’t like them. The second thing was the rather obviously over-cooked egg. I don’t expect a gooey egg – it’s a bonus if it appears – but grey yolk edges are a clear sign this egg has been waaay over-cooked. The only saving grace was that it’s a tea egg.
The broth was a little bland, and there was little complexity in flavour beyond the soy itself. The chashu was similarly uninspiring. Lacking in fat content, and nowhere near tender enough.
I was hoping that the ramen noodles would be the saving grace, but even before I bit into them, I knew all hope was lost. They were too soft, and lacked any real toothsome quality.

All in all, if you’re hankering for a soup noodle in Footscray, you’d be wasting your time with Sekai Japanese Ramen. I’m hereby expanding the theory of proximal pho to the theory of proximal soup noodles. Mediocre just isn’t good enough in Footscray.

Sekai Japanese Ramen on Urbanspoon

Master Restaurant

Shop184/ 83 Hopkins St, Footscray
Phone: 9689 8796

When I was a kid, I’d come to Melbourne in the school holidays, and stay with my cousins. I’d hang out at comic stores, and go to the movies, and play games at Timezone. I remember one holiday, when I was about 10, my cousin and I spent all day at Timezone playing the skill tester machines. It seems our skills were pretty good, because we came home with a big bag full of stuffed toys. Which, to be honest, we didn’t really want, we just wanted to test our skill with the claw.

My nanna also lives with my cousin’s family, so when I’d come down to Melbourne, occasionally there was the odd situation where I wouldn’t be hanging out with my cousins, and I would go out with her instead. Usually we’d go to Victoria St, because it was a short tram ride away, and she’d buy groceries. And we’d stop in at a restaurant, and have duck noodle soup. I’m not sure, because to be honest, I’ve never really asked her, but I think it might be her favourite.

So whenever I have duck noodle soup, I feel an affinity with my nanna, and it’s definitely one of my favourite meals to have, especially when I’m on my own. Maybe because it always reminds me of her, and I don’t feel so alone while I’m eating? Oh gee, let’s not get into my neuroses.

Anyway, I was out at Footscray Market the other week, shopping for groceries, and on my way home, was lured in by the beautifully mahogany brown roast ducks hanging in the window. It was a Saturday afternoon, so most of the people were sitting down to yum cha, but yum cha for one isn’t much fun, and besides, I was after only one thing.

The duck I had that day was exceedingly plump, yet lean. The meat had a rich, almost musky gaminess to it. It was let down a little by a lack of fat, and the fact the skin was paper thin, yet not crispy. I think they’d rendered too much of the fat away. Or it was just a star athlete duck! Also not helping the cause was the fact that the duck was lukewarm, but a little patience, letting it sit in the piping hot broth, soon fixed that.

Not having tried any other roast ducks in the area (notably Golden Harvest, Hong Kong BBQ, and the stand in Little Saigon market) I’m not sure how Master stacks up. But I have a feeling there is better duck to be had.

Master Restaurant on Urbanspoon

1 + 1 Dumpling and Noodle

84 Hopkins Street, Footscray
Phone: 9687 8988

There are some Chinese restaurants which have dishes which are named rather poetically, like ‘Ants climbing a tree’, or ‘Duck with eight treasures’. Then there are places which write their menus much more pragmatically. 1 + 1 Dumpling and Noodle is one of the latter.

In fact, there is very little about the place which extends beyond the efficient and purposeful. The decor, as Mr S who accompanied me on the day put it, is like ‘a factory cafeteria’. With chairs and tables that look like they were bought from a shopping centre when the shopping centre decided to refurbish its food court, and rather unappealing pastel green walls, you’d be forgiven for being apprehensive upon walking through the front door. But, as with many Chinese restaurants, the decor doesn’t necessarily dictate the quality of the food.

But back to the menu. Browsing through, Mr S and I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the ‘Big Dish Chicken’ (available with either half a chicken or a whole) which we presumed came on a big dish. So we ordered that, with a serve of the thick hand-pulled noodles.

As you can see, we were right. The meal came out on what was more of a platter than a plate. And this was only the half-chicken! When I first tasted it, I thought it was a little bland. Not a lot of seasoning, and generally uninteresting. There was a lot of potato, for some reason, too. But maybe that’s a Northern Chinese thing. Anyway, the interesting thing about this dish is the sly use of Szechuan peppers. You don’t really see them, as they’ve been mostly ground up, but you get a hint of the tangy, eucalypt-y flavour. As you continue to eat, you get the characteristically tingly and almost-numb sensation that Szechuan pepper creates on your tongue. So a dish that seems at first bland, actually gets better and more interesting as you eat it. What a novel concept!

As you can see, the two of us failed to finish the Big Dish Chicken between us.

We also had a side of the spicy cucumber salad. This was a little too salty, and not spicy enough, for my liking.
All in all, I quite liked 1 + 1 – it’s unpretentious, and the food is interesting. The hand-pulled noodles were (as hand-pulled noodles usually are) a highlight, as you pretty much can’t get that texture from machine-made noodles. I’m yet to try the dumplings, but my hopes are high, as it would be great to be able to get a Shanghai-style dumpling fix without having to leave my ‘hood for the bright lights of the big city.
1+1 Dumpling Noodles on Urbanspoon