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 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.

Pasteur on Urbanspoon

Hien Vuong

aka Pho Hien Vuong Pasteur
146 Hopkins St, Footscray
Phone: 9687 1470

I’m almost ashamed to say it, but father forgive me, it’s been over two months since my last bowl of pho. I know, it’s somewhat blasphemous. I used to eat it pretty much every other day when I was living in Viet Nam. Mostly for breakfast, sometimes lunch. For those of you who are planning a visit to Sai Gon, here’s my googlemap of gustatory goodness.

Anyway, I recently had time to stop in at Footscray for a late lunch on my way between work meetings. So there really wasn’t a decision to be made as to what I was going to eat, it was just a matter of where. As I was coming from the West, I thought it would be good to be methodical about these things, so I stopped at the first Pho specialist on Hopkins St. I’ll be systematically working my way down Hopkins St, before trying the other streets of Footscray in search of the ultimate pho.

So first up, on the Westernmost end of Hopkins St, is Hien Vuong. Or rather, Pho Hien Vuong Pasteur. The Pho part of the name is a bit superfluous, but as the noun precedes the adjectival phrase in Vietnamese, I suppose it’s like saying ‘Hien Vuong’s Pho’, the way you’d say Danny’s Burgers. The ‘Pasteur’ part is, I believe, the restaurant’s attempt to attach itself to the legendary Pho Hoa restaurant on Pasteur St, opposite the Pasteur Institute, in Sai Gon. There’s a Pho Pasteur in Sydney doing the same thing… oh, and I’ll be blogging on that soon!

Hien Vuong is an unassuming pho specialist joint, with the requisite TV screens – oddly playing children’s television and not some Vietnamese entertainment gala (there were no children in the restaurant at the time) – mirrored walls, laminated tables and accents of bad 90s decor. Everything a pho joint should have, on the surface.

For those of you who don’t know, or can’t remember, I almost invariably order the pho bo dac biet, more commonly referred to as the beef special. For some reason, I decided to go for the ‘small’ this day. As I’ve expounded before, I have a theory that at some restaurants, this just means you get the same amount of pho in a smaller bowl. I think it’s the case at Hien Vuong.
There are three things that make or break a pho for me. The broth, the beef (and offal), and of course the noodles.

First, and most importantly, the broth. This is what varies the most from restaurant to restaurant, each having their own recipe, no doubt. Pho broth should be clear, and relatively oil-free. It should smell punchy and fragrant, with cinnamon, cardamom, star-anise and cloves all present in the mix. There should be the tiniest bite from the ginger, and a sweetness from the onions. It should taste like beef, not MSG. Though the umami should be palpable. You should NEVER have to add fish sauce nor hoi sin sauce to a good broth. They’re at the table for you to dip your tripe and other offal into. It pains me to see people with murky dark brown pho broth, almost as much as it pains me to see people dumping soy sauce all over their fried rice. The only things you should be adding to flavour your pho broth are lemon juice, and fresh chillies.

The broth at Hien Vuong was pretty good, despite a definite, though not too heavy-handed, use of MSG.

There are various standard items involved in a pho bo dac biet. The core of these comprises of the beef brisket – which should have a certain amount of fat on it, I feel – and the rare beef, which is essentially raw fillet, over which the piping hot broth is ladled. It should arrive at your table still pink. A little jiggling around in the broth usually cooks it to the right degree.

Then you have your processed meats. There’s almost always some beef balls (no, not bull testicles, but more hyper-processed meat balls, with a springy texture) and usually, you get a slice of a peppery beef sausage.

Finally, there’s the offal. Tripe, and if you’re lucky, tendon. Most places serve up the thinner part of the tripe, which looks something like those strippy curtains you see at an automatic car wash, or some tatty vertical blinds. I’m always pleasantly surprised when I get a chunkier piece, though it still usually won’t be the honeycomb tripe you get at yum cha. The tendon pieces are usually chunky cylinders with a texture somewhere between chewy and gelatinous. They’re something of an acquired taste, I think. I used to be a bit put off by them as a child, but I love them now. Both of these, I like to dip in a mixture of hoi sin and chilli sauce.

The various beef goods at Hien Vuong were of good quality – especially the rare beef, and the peppery beef sausage. The brisket could have done with a little more fat, but I’m being picky now.

The noodles, in my experience in Melbourne, don’t tend to vary too much from restaurant to restaurant. However, what is important here is the noodle-to-beef ratio. You don’t want too much noodle and not enough beef, but at the same time, I hate running out of noodles and having all this beef left over floating around in the broth. So it’s a tender balancing act. Hien Vuong walks the line on this quite well.

While it’s got stiff competition I’m sure, Hien Vuong stands up quite well, and I’m sure I’ll be back, barring the discovery of Ultimate pho.

Hien Vuong (Pasteur) on Urbanspoon

Banh mi battle

Inspired by Kate at Eating Melbourne’s Hot Cross Bun blind tasting, I decided to organise a panel of banh mi enthusiasts to see if we could find Melbourne’s best Vietnamese baguette. So one Sunday afternoon, we gathered at @jeroxie‘s house, to see if we couldn’t settle this turf war.

Originally, we were hoping to have good representation from the three epicentres of Vietnamese food in Melbourne; Footscray, Richmond and Springvale. Unfortunately, our Springvale representative had to pull out at the last minute, so I fear we have somewhat unrepresentative results.

Another caveat: we were sorely aware that iconic Vietnamese bakeries N. Lee, Sunny’s (both from Collingwood), Kenny’s (around the CBD), and N. Tran (South Yarra) have been omitted, but there’s only so much bread a team can eat in one afternoon! Things are shaping up for a second heat, perhaps.

All in all, we had banh mi from nine different bakeries.

From Richmond (all along Victoria St):

  • Lee Lee
  • Huong Huong
  • Phuoc Thanh
  • Saigon Bakery

From Footscray:

  • To’s – 122 Hopkins St
  • Nhu Lan – 116 Hopkins St
  • Ba Le – 28A Leeds St

From Preston (both on High St):

  • Tina’s
  • Mai Lan

On the day, we tested banh mi thit nguoi, which is known ubiquitously as the Vietnamese pork roll. It has various cold meats in it, which we thought a fair (and classic) example on which to judge bakeries, as it’s a staple, and no bakery would be disadvantaged by us sampling a banh mi which should otherwise be consumed while hot (as is the case with a banh mi xiu mai – meat ball – or one with grilled pork or chicken).

In order to ensure that this was a true blind testing, I devised a scheme which involved a two-step masking process. So we split into two teams. Team A was responsible for removing the banh mi from the packaging, and attaching numbered tags to each plate of two banh mi, while Team B were in another room. At the changeover, Team A left the room, and Team B switched the banh mi around, noting the change in tag numbers.

Then the tasting commenced! The scoring system allowed us each to award up to five points for each of the criteria:

  • Bread
  • Salad
  • Meats
  • Overall Flavour

giving each banh mi up to a potential 20 points. But what do you look for in a good banh mi? Well, that’s totally subjective I realise, but my judging for each criterion essentially broke down like this:

Bread: I like the crust to be almost crispy rather than crunchy. I’ve had a few incidents in the past where I’ve injured the roof of my mouth on a too-crusty bread roll. The interior should be pillowy and soft, with a decent amount of baguette-y bread aroma coming through. I’m not a fan of seeds on my banh me baguette.

Salad: For me, this is largely to do with two elements – firstly, the amount of coriander. I like a lot, but this is rare. Secondly, the pickled carrot and daikon – it should be reasonably tart, but also carry some sweetness. It also should still have a hint of the carrot’s natural crunch, and not be a soft mess. I’m not all that fussy about the cucumber element.

Meats: I’d be lying if I said quantity didn’t matter – it’s nice to get a decent amount of meat in the banh mi. Indeed, that’s what I find distinguishes a banh mi you’d get in Melbourne (or Australia, I suppose) from one in Viet Nam. A banh mi in Viet Nam is a snack, or a light meal at best. It’s cheap, and it tides you over. An Australian banh mi is closer to a lunch-sized meal. There’s a substantial amount of filling there. Another factor in judging this criteria is the variety of meats. The standard three meats in a banh mi thit nguoi are cha lua (pork loaf), a Chinese style roast pork, and another preserved ham (gio heo) which is almost terrine-like in its complexity. Due to its being encased in a layer of gelatin, we fondly referred to it as the ‘jellymeat’. Some bakeries had more than these three types of meats, with variations on cha lua, or the jellymeat. Finally, of course, was the perceived freshness and quality of these meats.

Overall Flavour: for me, this came down to three things: the amount of chilli – I like it challenging, but not crazily hot; the ‘butter’ – which is really more just emulsified oil (or eggless mayonnaise); and the pate – which really should be home-made and choc-ful of MSG for my liking.

I’d like to go into what made each banh mi WIN or FAIL, but I was a little too excited, and didn’t take very many notes. So here are my scores:

Lee Lee Huong Huong Tina’s Nhu Lan To’s Phuoc Thanh Mai Lan Saigon Bakery Ba Le
Bread 3 2 2 4 1 2 2 3 3
Salad 2 3 2 3 3 3 4 2 1
Meats 3 3.5 2 4 3 2 2 3 4
Overall Flavour 3 4 2 3 2 2 3 4 3
Total 11 12.5 8 14 9 9 11 12 11

In the end, the Footscray branch Nhu Lan emerged a clear – though not quite unanimous – winner, with Huong Huong bakery in Richmond also making a good showing.

My fellow panellists:

Tris and Gem from Eat Drink Stagger
Penny and Mr from Jeroxie
Ms Baklover from Footscray Food Blog
Alex from MSG: the Melbourne Social Guide

Tia To

8 Whiteman St Crown Entertainment Complex, Southbank
Phone: 9292 6989

After a heady High Tea at the Langham, followed by an afternoon of grazing at the Good Food and Wine Festival, I had a couple of hours to kill before meeting a friend for a movie at Crown. I will admit to being somewhat… tipsy… after the GFWF (you can’t turn down a shed full of winery stands offering tastings now, can you?). So tipsy, in fact, I wandered into Rockpool, and asked for a seat at the bar, thinking “Hey! I’ll finally get to try that wagyu burger!” only to be politely told by the hostess that they’d be happy to fit me in – at 6, when they open. It was apparently only 5:15. Oops!

So I thought I’d have a look at one of the restaurants in the casino itself (I know! Why!?) seeing as I’d been there years ago as a student, taking advantage of the gambling-subsidised food on offer. I stopped at Tia To, curious to see what Crown’s version of pho would be like. I mean there’s a hefty amount of Vietnamese problem-gamblers, right? Surely their tastes must be catered for…

I was heartened by the impressive array of condiments on the table.

And by the noodle-slurping Chinese men who were also eating pho at the next table (even though they were Mandarin speakers, so not likely to be experts in pho authenticity?)

Unfortunately, at this point in time, my phone decided to die on me. Which was not only devastating in terms of my inability to document the noodles about to arrive at my table, but also it made things difficult in terms of meeting my friend to see the movie afterwards!

So you get no pictures of the actual pho – which in some way defeats the purpose of this post; I know, right? – but trust me when I say it was rather underwhelming. The amount of basil which came with the beanshoots and lemon was on the stingy side. The broth was one-dimensional in flavour – that dimension was MSG. The beef was similarly bland. It’s a bad sign when the best thing in a bowl of pho are the ‘beef balls’. Because they’re almost certainly from a packet that you can buy from any Asian grocer.

This place serves a soup noodle which is something of a travesty against pho. I was left wishing I had ordered the seafood platter special, and consoling myself in the fact I had a $4 bottle of Carlsberg. The only other upside I can think of about this experience was that the service was really quite good.

Tia To on Urbanspoon

Vietnamese Food Meme

I came across this list of 100 Vietnamese foods on Thuy’s blog, A Blog of Salt, and I couldn’t not play along!

The instructions:

Bold the foods you’ve eaten.
Leave alone the foods you haven’t eaten.
Strike through the foods you don’t ever intend to eat.

Vietnamese 100 Foods to Try

1. Banh Bao (Steamed Bun)
2. Banh Beo (Rice Flour Discs with Dried
3. Banh Bot Loc/Banh Quai Vac (Dum
plings with Pork and Shrimp or just Shrimp)
4. Banh Canh Cua (Udon-like Noodles with Crab)
5. Banh Chung/Banh Tet (Lunar New Year Sticky Rice Cakes)
6. Banh Cuon (Rice Noodle Rolls)

7. Banh Gio (Steamed Triangular Rice D
8. Banh Hoi (Rice Vermicelli Sheets)

9. Banh It Tran (Round Rice Dumplings with Pork, Shrimp, and Mung Beans)
10. Banh It La Gai (Nettle Leaf Dumplings)
11. Banh Khot/Banh Cang (Mini Savory Pancakes)
12. Banh La/Banh Nam (Steamed Flat Rice Dumplings with Pork and Shrimp)
13. Banh Mi Hot Ga Op La (French Bread with Sunnyside-Up Eggs)
14. Banh Mi (Sandwiches)

15. Banh Pa Te So (Pate Chaud)
16. Banh Tieu (Fry Bread)

17. Banh Tom (Shrimp and Yam Fritters)
18. Banh Trang (Rice Paper) Bonus points
for eating soaked, no-soak, and toasted varieties.
19. Banh Uot (“Wet” Rice Noodle Sheets)

20. Banh Xeo (Sizzling Crepes) Bonus
points if you’ve eaten both the palm-sized Central-style ones, and the wok-sized Southern-style ones with turmeric and coconut milk.
21. Bo Thui (Beef with Roasted Rice Powder and Fermented Bean Curd)
22. Bo Bia (Spring Rolls with Chinese Sausage, Dried Shrimp, and Jicama)

23. Bo Kho (Beef Stew)
24. Bo Luc Lac (Shaking Beef)

25. Bo Ne (“Stand Back” Steak and Eggs)
26. Bo Nhung Dam (Beef Dipped in Vinegar)
27. Bo Nuong La Lot (Grilled Beef with Wild Betel Leaves)

28. Bo Tai Chanh (Beef Carpaccio with Lemon)

29. Bo Xao voi Khoai Tay Chien (Beef Stir-fry with French Fries)

30. Bo Xao Xa (Beef Sauteed with Le
31. Bun Bo Hue (Hue-Style Beef Noodle Soup)
32. Bun Cha Hanoi (Hanoi-Style Rice Vermicelli with Grilled Pork Patties)
33. Bun Nuoc Leo Soc Trang (Soc Trang-Style Noodle Soup with Fish, Pork, and Shrimp) Bonus points for its more pungent cousin Bun Mam (Noodle S
oup with Fermented Fish Broth)
34. Bun Rieu (Vermicelli Rice Noodle Soup with Crab Paste)
35. Bun Thit Heo Nuong (Rice Vermicelli with Grilled Pork)

36. Ca Bong Lau Nuong voi Mo Hanh (Roasted Catfish with Scallion Oil)

37. Ca Kho To (Braised Catfish in a Claypot)
38. Ca Phe Sua Da Phin (Iced Drip C
offee with Milk)
39. Canh Bi/Bau Nhoi Thit (Pork-Stuffed Winter Melon Soup)
40. Canh Chua Ca (Sour Fish Soup)
41. Ca Ri Ga (Chicken Curry)

42. Cao Lau (Noodle Soup with Pork from Hoi An)
43. Cha Ca Thang Long (Hanoi-Style Fish with Dill and Turmeric)
44. Cha Gio/Nem Ran (Spring/Egg Rolls) You only get points if you’ve eaten the Vietnamese egg rolls wrapped in rice paper, not the version with Chinese wheat egg roll wrappers. Bonus points if you’ve also eaten Central-style Cha Ram (Shrimp Egg Rolls) and Cha Gio Bap/Ram Bap (Corn Egg Rolls).
45. Cha Lua (Steamed Pork Loaf)
46. Chanh Muoi (Salty Lemonade)

47. Chao Tom (Grilled Shrimp Paste Wrapped Around Sugarcane)
48. Che Bap (Corn and Tapioca Pudding with Coconut Milk) or any other coconut milk-based che such as Che Chuoi (Banana Tapi
oca Pudding) and Che Ba Mau (Three Color Pudding)
49. Che Sam Bo Luong (Dessert Soup with Dried Dates, Dried Longans, Lotus Seeds, and Seaweed)

50. Che Troi Nuoc (Dough Balls in Ginger Syrup)

51. Chuoi Chien (Fried Bananas)

52. Chuot Dong (Southern Field Rats)

53. Com Ga Hai Nam (Hainanese Chicken Rice) must be eaten with #82.
54. Com Hen (Clam Rice)
55. Com Lam (Sticky Rice Steamed in Bamboo)
56. Com Tam (Broken Rice)
57. Com Ruou (Fermented Rice Wine)
58. Cua Rang Muoi Tieu (Salt and Pepper Crab)

59. Dau Phong Luoc (Boiled Peanuts)
60. De (Goat)
61. Dia Rau Song (Raw Herb Platter)
62. Do Chua (Pickled vegetables ie. Carrots and Daikon)
63. Ga Nuong Xa (Grilled Chicken with Lemongrass)
64. Gio Thu (Head Cheese with Pig Ears and Tree Ear Fungus)
65. Goi Du Du Kho Bo (Papaya Sala
d with Beef Jerky)
66. Goi Cuon (Salad/Spring/Summer Rolls)
67. Goi Ga (Chicken Salad)
68. Goi Mit Ngo Sen (Young Jackfruit and Lotus Root Salad)
69. Hot Vit Lon (Fetal Duck Eggs)
70. Hu Tieu (Tapioca Noodles with Pork and S
hrimp) Bonus points for both Saigon, with barbecued pork and shrimp, and Nam Vang (Phnom Penh) style with liver and ground pork.
71. Kem Flan
72. Lau (Hot Pot)
73. Mam Nem (Fermented Anchovy Sauce)

74. Mam Ruoc (Fermented Shrimp Paste)

75. Mi Hoanh Thanh (Wonton Noodle Soup)
76. Mi Quang (Turmeric Noodles with Pork and Shrimp)

77. Mi Vit Tiem (Egg Noodles with Duck and Chinese Herbs)
78. Mi Xao Don (Crispy Chow Mein)

79. Muop Tom Xao (Loofah and Shrimp Stir-fry)
80. Nem Chua (Pickled Pork Sausage with Shredded Pork Skin)
81. Nem Nuong (Grilled Pork Patties)

82. Nuoc Mam Gung (Ginger Fish Sauce)

83. Nuoc Mia (Sugarcane Juice)

84. Oc Buou (Apple Snails) or any other sea snails
85. Pho Ap Chao Bo (Pan-Fried Rice Noodles Sauteed with Beef)

86. Pho Bo (Beef Noodle Soup) bonus points i
f you’ve eaten filet mignon pho and for Pho Ga (Chicken Noodle Soup)
87. Rau Ma (Pennywort Juice)
88. Rau Muong Xao (Water Spinach Stir-fried)
89. Soda Xi Muoi (Salty Preserved Plum Drink)

90. Sinh To Bo (Avocado Shake)
91. Sinh To Ca Chua (Tomato Shake)
92. Sinh To Dam (Aloe Vera Shake)
93. Sup Mang Tay Cua (Asparagus and Crab Soup)
94. Tiet Canh (Duck Blood Pudding)

95. Thit Heo Kho Voi Trung (Braised
Pork with Eggs)
96. Tom Tau Hu Ky (Shrimp Paste Wrapp
ed in Bean Curd Skin)
97. Tra Atiso (Artichoke Tea)

98. Tuong Ot (Chili Sauce) bonus points for Vietnamese American Huy Fong Sriracha Chili Sauce and extra bonus points if you use it to make Sriracha Buffalo Wings

99. Xiu Mai (Meatballs)
Xoi (Sticky Rice)

I scored 85 out of 100, plus four bonus points for variants, so a total of 89. Not too bad, I guess. Will work on knocking off the rest on this list soon!

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