The Hungarian

362 Bridge Road, Richmond
Phone: 0421 993 132

Let me say first off that I’m glad I wasn’t wearing my red gingham shirt to this place. Because there’s so much of it in the window and on the tables as to almost give me a kitsch aneurysm.

image

I like this place. It has a sense of humour. Take their menu, for instance. Everybody loves a good pun. Although, at what point does Calibri become the new Arial or Times New Roman, inspiring disdain for the lack of imagination and effort in font selection? It hasn’t quite reached the tipping point yet, but I predict that day is nigh.

image

It also serves a ‘Monsterschnitzel’.

image

Although I wasn’t up for a monsterschnitzel that night, so I opted for the goulash, which comes with noki, a knubbly spaetzle/gnocchi type of noodle. I’d asked for it hot, which basically led to the waitress bringing out a jar of ‘pista‘ (a Hungarian type of paprika/chilli sauce) which is just as well, because the goulash itself had very little chilli heat to it. It was a pretty big serve, though, and came with a little side dish of red cabbage slaw.

image

Mr D had mushroom and potato crepes, with a little garden salad. He was quite happy with them, and I took a bit of one; the crepe was nice and light, and the mushroom filling was pretty tasty.

image

The service was charming, if a little harried; most of the tables were full, and it appeared there was one person in the kitchen, and one lady working the front of house. She did apologise for the delay profusely, even though given the circumstances, there wasn’t really that much of a delay.

image

image

I’d go back again, because it was fun, and interesting to try something slightly unusual as far as restaurants in Melbourne go. Oh, and they have this special on some night – I think it’s Tuesdays? – where you get a percentage discount based on your age. I’m taking my parents.

image

The Hungarian on Urbanspoon

A Thousand Blessings

251 Highett St, Richmond
Phone: apparently they don’t have one?

I don’t remember much about this place, apart from the fact there was absolutely no chilli in my omelette, despite it being a listed ingredient in the menu. Hence this is basically a post where the photos do the talking. I remember the place was busy – it was a Sunday afternoon – and the fitout is a little kitschy-cute. Firemen from the nearby station frequent the place, if that sways you at all. I’m looking at you, Bryan.

A Thousand Blessings on Urbanspoon

Pho Chu The

270 Victoria St, Richmond
Phone: 9427 7749

For those of you readers who follow mt on twitter, it might stagger you beyond belief that I have not actually reviewed Pho Chu The before. Indeed it was a surprise to myself when I recently met up with friends for some pho that I had actually neglected to blog about Chu The up until that point.

Perhaps it was not wanting to make the perennially popular pho joint even more famous; because it’s hard enough to get a seat in there on weekend lunchtimes, or some evenings. Anyway, when Mr E came down from Canberra, I met up with him, Ms T and Ms G to show him what pho in Melbourne is about. He’d recently returned from a holiday Viet Nam, armed with my map of Saigon hotspots, so I guess the lack of good pho (or so I’m told) in Canberra was felt all the more keenly.

As always, I ordered the pho bo dac biet. As always, the broth was wonderfully spiced; the anise and cardamom singing out against a solid background of beefiness. Yes, there was detectable MSG action, but that’s a part of good pho broth, in my estimation. It wasn’t over-the-top, which is what matters.

I’m not going to go into too much detail, as you’ve all heard me wax lyrical about pho before. Suffice it to say that Chu The serves up a reliably good version of the life-force sustaining soup noodle, and there’s a reason it’s on the top of my list of places to recommend for pho in Richmond.

Pho Chu The on Urbanspoon

Olmecs Bakery Bar Cafe

410 Bridge Road, Richmond
Phone: 9428 5995

I used to watch this cartoon when I was growing up, called the Mysterious Cities of Gold. It was about these three kids who were searching for El Dorado, and involved Spanish conquistadors, and flying around in a golden condor. I’m sure you can see why I used to love it.

Anyway, one of the civilisations the kids ran into a couple of times in the series were the Olmecs. They were depicted as strange guys with funny heads and point ears and were generally mean-spirited. They were the bad guys. Now I know this was a cartoon depiction, but I’ve always thought of them as the bad guys when it comes to Central American civilisations because of this. So I was surprised someone would name a cafe after them.

I stopped in with Mr D for a quick dinner one Friday evening. It wasn’t too busy, which should have tipped us off, because the rest of the Bridge Rd strip was buzzing with the post-work/dinner/football crowd. But Mr D had been there recently for lunch, and said it was OK. I was in one of my trademark indecisive moods, so we settled on Olmecs. If we hadn’t, I’m fairly sure I would have made us wander Bridge Rd for another half hour, and finally have settled on something along the same lines anyway. I get like that.

Having been on a flesh-fest diet for the previous two days, I felt it was necessary to omit meat from this meal, so I had the vegie burger. Yeah, I know, not such a healthy option, really, with those chips. Oh, and FYI, it says french fries on the menu, but they’re definitely chips, not french fries. The burger itself was not bad; it was tasty, though it had a tendency (like a lot of vegie burgers) to fall apart too easily. And I get that Turkish bread is great, but it bothers me when I order a burger and the bread comes out rectangular. Just saying.

Mr D had the vegetarian pizza, which was a decent size, but rather underwhelming. Stuck in the no-man’s land between thin and thick crust, it was neither crispy nor doughy in that good way. The toppings weren’t anything to write about either, so I won’t write any more about them.
Apparently the bakery part of Olmecs is really good – there were a couple of people who came in for take away cake while we were eating – and I’m assuming it’s the sort of place that churns out a decent breakfast. It’s pretty family friendly as well (read there was a screaming child up the back, and three little tykes running around the front). I’m not sure I’d go back – they’re not evil and they don’t have pointy ears, but there are better options on Bridge Rd.

Olmecs Bakery Bar Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thanh Nga 9

160 Victoria St, Richmond
Phone: 9427 7068

One of the greatest things about having a new home to set up is that it gives me an excuse to go to IKEA. I know, I know, IKEA is kind of evil, and I’m not going to completely surround myself with soul-less flat-packery. But it’s very useful when you need a wardrobe, or some stupidly large beer glasses. One of the greatest things (apart from the satisfaction of entering through the checkouts and being in and out in under half an hour – like a ninja!) is it’s a good excuse to hit the Vietnamese restaurants on Victoria St. Not that you really need an excuse, but…

Anyway, I had heard good things about Thanh Nga Nine on the twitters, and finally stopped in last week. Thanh Nga Nine is (to the best of my knowledge) not the ninth in a chain of restaurants. The menu is slightly different from most places in the strip; yes, it has all your favourites, but there’s also a definite nod to the owner’s Mekong delta origins, with specialties from the area clearly marked on the menu. Well, clearly if you know the names of delta towns.

My pathetIKEA friend Mr D (his words, not mine) came along, because he was in need of some flat-packery. For some reason, even though we’d arranged to meet for dinner, he’d already eaten beforehand, so he had the Soc Trang style fried rice cakes.

These are a southern take on the more the more ubiquitous banh beo, which are a traditional dish from central Viet Nam. Basically, the ‘cake’ is made from glutinous rice flour, which is steamed, then topped with mung bean paste, and ground minced prawns. In this version, the rice cake is deep fried before the toppings are added, giving it a nice crispy rim. The cake is also much thinner, with more mung bean, which I though was a good move, as the rice cake is somewhat dull, and the mung bean paste is much more satisfying. The cakes came with two dipping sauces – a nuoc cham which was a bit heavy on the sweet chilli to my liking, and a salted coconut milk. Which sounds weird, but is awesome.

Needing a more hearty feed, I chose the bun rieu cua mien tay (South Western style crab and tomato noodles). The broth was wonderfully rich and full of crab flavour, though there was definitely a big dose of MSG in there too. Not in a terribly bad way.

The ‘toppings’ included prawns, fish, tofu puffs, and to my delight, congealed blood (the brown cube on the right). The actual bun used was a thick rice vermicelli. A good selection of herbs and shredded vegetables which come with the dish added that freshness and lightness which is one of the things I love about Vietnamese food.
If these dishes are representative of the rest of the menu, I’m definitely going back. Even if the proprietress was a little overwhelmingly friendly. But that’s just more authenticity for you!

Thanh Nga Nine on Urbanspoon

Spudbar Richmond

226 Swan St, Richmond
Phone: 9421 6033

When I used to study at Swinburne University in Hawthorn, I’d sometimes stop in at Spudbar for lunch. When I lived in Westgarth, I’d go to the baked potato place for dinner. I used to like shopping on Bridge Road more for the fact there was a baked potato place than for the outlet shops. Basically what I’m trying to say, is I like a good baked potato meal.

Spudbar is one of what I would refer to as a ‘Boost’-style eatery chains. They take a simple concept, execute it efficiently, if not spectacularly, and make it clean, accessible and ‘funky’. Sometimes it works, sometimes it can’t shake the mechanised cookie-cutter feel of a food court outlet. Spudbar is somewhere in between. The decor is interesting – the fitout is nice, if a little contrived in its quirkiness.

On this occasion, I had the chicken and chorizo spud.

It was a good topping, though it was definitely more chicken than chorizo. The corn and beetroot added a nice sweetness to the whole affair, though my main gripe with this was that the dish was all topping and not enough spud! Which is odd, considering that potatoes are probably the cheapest ingredient. Also, the use of the big Japanese ramen bowls (which are deeper than they are wide) made the mixing of ingredients a bit tricky.

Mr D had the classic spud (cheese, corn, cabbage, sour cream with a side of avocado.

It sounded a little bland, if you ask me. He seemed happy enough with it, but I think we both decided the place on Bridge Road (which isn’t that far away) is better.

Spudbar on Urbanspoon

Thanh Tam

172 Victoria St, Richmond
Phone: 9429 8130

There’s apparently some sort of superstition amongst the Vietnamese that to have a restaurant with the same name for too long is bad luck. Or so the story goes. That hasn’t stopped local favourites like Pho Dzung, Pho Chu The or Thy Thy from trading under the same name for decades. There’s another theory that by changing the trading name, a restaurant does something of a ‘clean slate’ thing with the tax office, etc. I’m thinking the change from Thanh Ha to Thanh Tam is probably something closer to the latter. Of course, this does nothing to alleviate the confusion caused by the fact that Thanh Ha 2 is still very much in business down the street! And nothing else about Thanh Tam has changed from when it was Thanh Ha, either.

Thanh Ha was always one of my favourite restaurants along Victoria St, and I think Thanh Tam will remain one too. This is in part because they make a mean banh xeo, my favourite Vietnamese dish. For the variety available on the menu alone, this place is a WIN. And by variety, I don’t mean four different options of meat multiplied by twenty different sauces. They’re one of only a few restaurants along the strip that serve banh hoi – a superfine rice vermicelli that comes in little ‘cakes’ – and banh cuon – steamed rice noodle.

Most recently, I stopped in for a classic. Com tam bi suon cha trung. Broken rice with the lot (shredded pork skin, grilled pork chop, steamed pork and egg pate, and a fried egg).

It was a solid effort, but I’ll be honest and say I’ve had better. The pork chop was a little on the dry and tough side, which funnily reminds me of Viet Nam, and the egg was similarly far too overcooked. One of my favourite things about com tam is the runny yolk mixing with the fish sauce and coating the broken rice. Simple pleasure. The shredded pork skin was well flavoured, and the pork and egg pate was OK, if not great. Little lardons as a garnish were a nice touch.

On a separate occasion, I had the bun dac biet Thanh Ha (Thanh Ha special rice vermicelli).

Topped with grilled pork, prawn and pork spring rolls, and a couple of sauteed prawns, you douse this whole dish with the fish sauce provided, toss through the lettuce and cucumber strips, and away you go. The standard versions of this are bun thit nuong and bun cha gio, with either grilled pork or spring rolls. So this version is good if you can’t decide what you want!

Mr D had the Vietnamese coleslaw with chicken.

He agreed to me removing a couple of the prawn crackers from this side of the dish so I could show you all the mound of coleslaw hidden underneath. And before you scoff at prawn crackers, this is how it’s served in Viet Nam. You take a bit of the coleslaw, place it on the cracker, and it’s like chip’n’dip, only SO. MUCH. BETTER. This is also a great dish to share as an entree amongst a few people. My only criticism of it was that the fish sauce vinaigrette was a bit on the sweet side, and could have used a bit more lemon.

When people ask me to recommend places along Victoria St, I inevitably ask them what they’re after: pho, rice, banh xeo? Thanh Tam is a good option that I give them if they say they don’t know. Reliably good, and ridiculously cheap.

Thanh Tam on Urbanspoon

Pho at Co Do

196 Victoria St, Richmond
Phone: 9421 2418

I think it might be because I’m Asian. Or it might be that I lived in Sai Gon for a year. I’m not sure which is more to blame, really, but I always seem to get asked for recommendations for Vietnamese restaurants. Especially for restaurants along Victoria St, which makes sense, because it’s my closest Vina-hub (for now – I’m moving to the awesomeness that is Footscray in a few months).

Anyway, one of the places which always makes it onto my list of places you should go for Vietnamese food on Victoria St is Co Do. Or Co Ðo, if I could be bothered inserting the right character every time. Which I can’t, and I’m sure you googlers out there can’t either. Co Do (see? lazy) had been introduced to me by family as the place to go for Hue-style dishes such as banh beo and the eponymous bun bo Hue which I still find something of a contradiction, because the star of the dish, for me, is always the giant pig’s knuckle floating amongst the chilli beef broth.

But I digress. This post is about the pho at Co Do. I wasn’t actually aware that Co Do made pho, to be honest, until a friend told me recently. I suppose it’s not really surprising, as most restaurants along the strip are jack-of-all-trades types, if not pho specialists. I was a little sceptical, because jack-of-all-trades usually equals master-of-none, when it comes to restaurants. I was pleasantly surprised.


The broth was wonderfully fragrant – the hints of star anise and black cardamom were present, but not overpowering. The MSG in the broth wasn’t too noticeable. I’m fairly sure it’s Phil Lees that I have borrowed the phrase from – the use of MSG was judicious. Altogether, a successfully balanced broth. The pho was plentiful, and the accompaniments were pretty standard. The standout in all of this, however, was the tripe.

Now I understand that not all of you are fans of offal. And while I struggle to wrap my head around denying yourself the textural pleasures, I get the cultural squeamishness of eating an animal’s insides. Nonetheless, if you order “the special beef” as a lot of pho joints refer to pho bo dac biet, then you’ll know that the beef flank is usually the same, the rare beef is likewise, the beef sausage has a spectrum flavours, but often veers towards having too much pepper – that might be to do with the whole black peppercorns!? – and the distinguishing factor for beef balls is the springiness of the processed meat. My main issue with the tripe at a lot of places is that you get the thin part of the cow’s stomach, which is texturally interesting, a lot like jellyfish, but inferior to the thicker (though not the honeycomb-patterned) section of the stomach. It’s more than a lot of you will care to know, so suffice it to say Co Do serve just the right portion of the cow’s stomach in their pho bo dac biet.

For a restaurant that isn’t a pho specialist, Co Do does a more than admirable job. I’d heartily recommend the place, especially if Pho Chu The is full – as it often is on weekends.

Co Do on Urbanspoon

Thanh Thanh

246A Victoria St, Richmond
Phone: 9428 5633

In an effort to be competently able to recommend restaurants along Victoria St, Recently Mr N and I went to Thanh Thanh – sneaking in a quick dinner before a movie at Victoria Gardens – one of hte things I love about Vietnamese restaurants in this strip is that you generally don’t have to wait long for your food. Thanh Thanh is no exception.

Mr N had the com chien bo luc lac (fried rice with cubed steak) and I had the perennial benchmark dish com tam suon dac biet (broken rice special – with a pork chop, egg/pork pate, shredded pork skin, and a fried egg).

The steak was in an unnecessarily salty sauce (given that it’s accompanied by a dish of salt and pepper and a lemon wedge, for dipping) and the fried rice was OK, but not spectacular. The broken rice was similarly pedestrian – the banh trung was overly salty, and had too meaty a texture for my liking. And the fried egg had a solid yolk! Part of a good com tam suon in my opinion is the runny yolk mixing with the dusty pork skin, creating a textural powerhouse of a sauce which coats the tiny grains of broken rice. Not this time, I guess.

Reading back over my various reviews of Vietnamese restaurants, I’m starting to think my expectations might be too high! But there are the odd few places that do completely satisfy me, so maybe I’m not *too* unreasonable. Thanh Thanh was not bad – good service and reasonable food, but I wouldn’t recommend it above other Victoria St stars like Vi’em, Co Do or Thanh Ha 2. They’re all similarly good value.

Thanh Thanh on Urbanspoon

Ha Long Bay

82 Victoria St, Richmond
Phone: 9429 3268
Open Daily 10am-3pm, 5:30pm-10:30pm

Ha Long Bay is one of the slew of Vietnamese restaurants along Victoria St which I don’t normally frequent. The name implies a Northern Vietnamese cuisine, which is quite evidently lacking once you peruse the menu. This is probably due to the fact that the vast majority of Vietnamese migrants who settled in Australia after the ‘American War’ were from the defeated South, so the cuisine that has developed here reflects that.

Nonetheless, Ha Long Bay is my cousin’s favourite restaurant along the strip, so I was sure it had to have something going for it. After all, she’s been to Viet Nam many times, and her mother makes possibly some of the best Vietnamese food I’ve eaten in Australia.


I ordered the bun mam (pronounced ‘buun-maam’) which is rice vermicelli with various bits of seafood (and sometimes, as in Ha Long Bay’s case, pork) and tofu in a broth flavoured redominantly with fermented, salty fish. Sadly, Ha Long Bay’s bun mam lacked the pungent saltiness which is really what you’re after when you order it.

My cousins ordered a couple of dishes to share – in the foreground is the seafood combination (I tend to shy away from things in Chinese/Vietnamese restaurants which have ‘combination’ in the title) which was woefully bland and uninspiring. The restaurant redeemed itself, however, with the salt-and-pepper calamari, which was crispy and tender, and tasty without going too overboard on the MSG. It’s a simple dish, but works so well when executed properly.

Ha Long Bay probably does warrant a return visit, but care needs to be taken when choosing from the extensive menu. There may be a few gems there, but there’s also a lot of pedestrian fare.

Ha Long Bay on Urbanspoon