Friday, December 31, 2010

Hutong, Melbourne

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.


Brittany, USA said...

Australia seems like such a fantastic cultural melting pot! While I'm a California native, now that I live in the Southeast US I have found that there is very little variety in cuisine--and what little foreign cuisine available is extremely Americanized. I have never come across a durian that wasn't frozen solid. Your recipes keep me sane! :)

HK Epicurus said...

Have you been back to 勇記 for pho yet? :P That soup base is kind of sophisticated albeit a bit light, but already better than everything else in Hong Kong.

As for Paris Pho, I am glad someone agreed! Although I went to Pho 14 instead of the neighbour, purely by the crowd. And that was very good too! Would be a while before I cover it on my blog though! Can't keep up at all.

And Happy New Years ! :)

Chris said...

Pho in Paris is better, likely cos of the quality of the chefs, and as well the quality of the cows, I mean, beef! I know butter and other dairy products are sooo much tastier in Europe, compared to N America. In Europe, I can easily make a meal out of a baguette, some beurre, and a glass of vin rouge!
If budget allows, try Red Emperor in Melb. Great food, great views, great service...Raymond is the maitre d and has been there at least 15 years. The best roast duck is from Pacific on at the restaurant as it is so good piping hot from the oven.

TeaLady said...

All of it looks fantastic. sorry it wasn't often as good as it looks. Hope all has been well with you and the Family.

I have made Pho and really liked it. It is quick and tasty. Have never had the 'real stuff' yet from a restaurant. Maybe some day.

Happy New Year.

terri@adailyobsession said...

brit: oz IS very multi cultural and very asian in many many ways. hard not to love oz.

hk ep: oh dear, i can't read tt.

chris: yes, both my daughter n i notice the diff in the quality of food in europe compared to oz too. the prices in oz are crazy, more expensive than europe!o, will try red emperor next time. I think we were there for dim sum on a previous trip.

tealady: you made pho?! i've never tried bc it looked like lots of work. maybe one day i will...

Anonymous said...

nhu lan serves the best vietnamese roll in melbourne!

i think maybe you have ordered the wrong one.. that why it doesnt 'wow' u away.

next time, try the mixed ham roll.

its the best!

Tiny said...

I haven't been to Melbourne for long but I have tried a really nice Pho place on the corner of Victoria Street and Church St in Melbourne called "The Chu Pho" This shop sell only pho and some little spring roll and nothing else. Since coming to here its the only place we go to, having quite a few vietnamese friends have eaten authentic homemade ones. The ones in The Chu Pho is good.

GIve it a try :)

Tiny said...

SOrry i mean Richmond not Melbourne

terri@adailyobsession said...

anon: tnx, will do so!

tiny: tt'll have to be on my next trip:)

richarb said...

That looks delicious! Good luck in the contest. (Gosh, I want all of my favorite bloggers to win!!!)

Smoke Ovens for Sale Melbourne

Nikunj Patel said...

Nice blog i like it thanks for this all information about melbourne restaurant and it's deals

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