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

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

Pho dac biet at Little Saigon

258 Victoria St, Richmond
Phone: 9428 8288

Yup, yet another pho review. The soup was very tasty, but this was more a result of too much MSG than anything else. Good noodle to meat ratio, but there was a lack of peppery beef sausage, and the greens/shoots were a little on the stingy side. Not bad, but only go there if Pho Chu The is closed or full.

Little Saigon on Urbanspoon

Pho dac biet at Pho Dzung

234 Russell St, CBD

So I have this theory that regardless of what size you order, you get the same amount of pho, in a different sized bowl. This medium bowl is kinda overflowing with greatness.