We can't get good pho in KK (although that is about to change; more about that soon) and whenever I go overseas, I tuck in a bowl or two. I ate my first bowl of pho in Vancouver, then HK, then Oz but I've never been to Vietnam for the real thing.
On cold days, pho is comfort food. Cheap too, since a large bowl can feed a mother and daughter obsessed with loosing that one kg. There are a couple of good pho restaurants on Swanston St in Melbourne but Yi insisted that the pho in the Vietnamese area of Footscray is the best so one rainy noon, we went to Footscray to check out the market (which is amazing. You can sample all the fruits there, no need to buy) and the pho. Every restaurant in Footscray seems to specialize in pho and we decided on one just because we were tired and because there was a newspaper cutting of a good review of the restaurant. But before the pho, Yi said I should try her fav Vietnamese baguette sandwiches from one of the Vietnamese bakeries.
The baguette was excellent, even crispier and crustier than those I ate in Europe, probably because they were fresh out of the oven or re-heated. I didn't like the filling as much but maybe it was because I expected better.
Pho tastes like pho, whether it's in a downtown restaurant or one in Footscray. I wasn't impressed. If I hadn't eaten pho in Paris, I would'v been happy with this. Truly, the pho in Paris was the best I've ever eaten and the biggest difference was in the soup. I repeat: the most important thing is the soup. It's got to be thick, robust, full of beefy flavor.
Window shopping in the city and hungry? Head for the little lanes, so pleasant and filled with restaurants that reflect multi-cultural Melbourne. We had the spicy Moroccan soup (ok, but after the first sip I wished I ordered the potato leek bacon soup) and ate lunch on low wooden boxes in the fried udon place next door that gave the hawker feel. The udon, which reminded me of American chop suey, was very unauthentic but it wasn't so bad and the box fed the two of us pretty full.
Seasoned pork and beef tongue bulgogi.
Han Guk Guan is round the corner from my kids' apartment and this is where they eat occasionally, especially on Mondays when the bulgogi is half priced. Well, I think there's a catch in every deal because some of the items were not half priced (the kalbi for instance) and the portions were very small. I've never liked Korean grilled meat seasoned. They always cut the meat too fine and mix them with too much chili flakes, onions and leeks so that you hardly taste the flavor of the meat. I prefer the meat plain. I'm told the japchae and noodles here are good. Han Guk Guan is at 13A Victoria St, near the corner of Victoria St and Exhibition St.
Flower Drum is the most expensive and highest rated Chinese restaurant in Melbourne, maybe even Australia. The restaurant is closed from view with blacked out windows and looks nondescript and unimpressive outside. I heard that the service is superb with a waiter assigned to each table, full attention given the minute you walk through the door.
As we approached Flower Drum, we saw a stretch limo parked outside the restaurant, its driver inside waiting. Right across the road from Flower Drum is Hutong Dumpling Bar, a restaurant for people with less money. Yi swore that Hutong's Shanghainese and northern Chinese food were authentic and affordable so that's where we went instead. You'll have to read about Flower Drum on some other blog.
The chao shou ("crossed arms', Sichuan won tons) was disappointing. The dough wrappers were too thin and soft, the meat filling too little and mushy and the chili sauce, other than hot, was sugar-sweet. The sauce also lacked Sichuan peppercorns. IMHO (ahem), my chao shou are way better than Hutong's.
The hot and sour soup was okay, but not something I'll go back again for.
Thankfully, the ja jiang mien was good.
We walked out Hutong and saw the limo still parked, the driver smoking outside. We bet it was some rich guy doing his best to impress a date.
p.s. I had my fill of xiao long bao in Shanghai and did not crave them anymore. It was a mistake not to order Hutong's 'little dragon baos' because that's what everybody ate in the restaurant. Wise to make reservations because this place is very popular. We didn't and waited 40 minutes, walking around the city until they buzzed us.
Hutong Dumpling Bar, 14-16 Market Lane (one of the side lanes in Chinatown), Melbourne.