I must say, I did judge the book by its cover with this one – I was enchanted by the décor at RPS, so we stopped in for a very late lunch-snack, grabbing a seat at the bar before the kitchen closed. The menu is an exciting exploration of South East Asia, and I couldn’t go past the temptation of soft shell crab mini banh mi ($13 for 2), plus a house made lemon iced tea ($4.50). Served in a fashionable jar, the iced tea had both lemon and lemongrass, but both were well balanced and not overpowering. The staff here are friendly and chatty, creating a welcoming atmosphere that we enjoyed. The food came out fairly quickly, and it definitely confirmed our order choice. Served on soft brioche buns, the banh mi were utterly delightful – the generous portion of crab was just the right blend of crisp and soft, bringing great flavour and texture to the dish. The house made pate added a creaminess to each mouthful, and I particularly liked the addition of pickled vegetables, which, with the fresh coriander, lifted this to a whole other level. I will definitely be back!
Rice Paper Scissors, 19 Liverpool Street, Melbourne VIC, http://www.ricepaperscissors.com.au/
Adelaide has a couple of exotic high tea offerings, and Madame Hanoi’s is to a Vietnamese food theme – how could I resist? We were shown to our table and I was quite gobsmacked by the decor – even the coffee machine has cherry blossoms painted on it! Very stylish. The high tea included a pot of Hendrick’s gin-spiked tea, which I loved but Mum didn’t really enjoy. The tea has a strong cucumber flavour, and paired with honey it was certainly an unusual brew, true to Hendrick’s brand claim. It took a while to persuade the staff to substitute coffee for the tea for Dad, something that you would expect to be standard at any high tea offering. On to the food. Savoury tier one started with the most delicious croque monsieur I’ve ever had – seriously, there was so much cheesy, hammy, buttery goodness in that wedge that I was in foodie heaven. Yum. In comparison, the cold roll was a bit plain – I felt it could have used some dipping sauce, but with advanced notice the staff happily substituted beef for duck due to an allergy in our party. Part Two to follow.
Madame Hanoi, Adelaide Casino, North Terrace, Adelaide SA, http://www.adelaidecasino.com.au/restaurants/madame-hanoi/
Gondola Gondola is my new happy place. I started with the Weaboo cocktail ($18) – rum, yuzu liqueur, nashi pear shrub, lime, mint and soda. This drink was basically refreshment in a glass, well-balanced and perfect for a hot day. Up first was the salt and pepper bean curd ($12), fried so lightly that it formed the thinnest, most perfect skin over the soft curd inside. It’s super salty (in a good way), and the salad it’s served on packs some heat and epic ginger action! There were a generous 6 pieces to enjoy. Next up was the banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake, $22) with pork mince, prawn and sprouts, served with lettuce, purple leaves, mint, coriander, carrot and pickled cabbage. Whilst it looked big, this was a fairly light dish – a bit like san choi bao in that you wrap the ingredients in the lettuce and add sauce. Messy, but a great mix of textures and flavours – the coriander in particular brings it all to life. Finally, we had the bun cha ($22), which was our pick of the night – the pork was utter perfection, with a super crispy skin and tender meat, plus the noodles were fabulous! Everything here is packed full of flavour and perfect – take me back!
Gondola Gondola, 1 Peel Street, Adelaide SA, http://www.gondolagondola.com.au
My friend and I had a craving for pho, so on a Monday night after work we headed up to Dickson to indulge our craving. Pho @ Dickson is unassumingly located on Woolley Street – if I hadn’t know it was there, I might have missed it. The restaurant was quiet on a Monday night and we received excellent service. I ordered the ‘bells and all’ beef pho ($14.50), which included rare beef, beef balls, beef tripe and cooked beef brisket (so, basically, all the beef). The bowl was huge, and this was my first time trying beef tripe – I didn’t mind the flavour actually, although the rare beef is always my favourite part of eating pho. The broth was suitably beefy and I could tell that this wasn’t going to be a need-to-down-a-litre-of-water type pho – it wasn’t outrageously salty and that left plenty of space to appreciate the broth’s flavour. The noodles varied in width, leading me to suspect that they make their own, and all of the usual accompaniments are offered (bean sprouts, Thai basil and lemon wedges, plus the sauces). At the end of our meal a sliced orange was brought out as a palate cleanser. I was impressed, definitely worth a visit.
Pho @ Dickson, 14 Woolley Street, Dickson ACT, no website
Ah Miss Van’s, how I adore you! On this visit I branched out from my usual banh mi and went for one of the noodle salad bowls, which a colleague had raved about on our last visit. Trust me, this is something you want to order. For a very good value $12, you can get a huge bowl full of Vietnamese chicken and noodle salad perfection. I picked the ginger soy chicken option (they also have lemongrass and chilli tofu for vegetarians) and it is probably the best salad I’ve ever eaten in my life. I loved the fresh tang of the vinegary sauce, the huge quantity of incredibly fresh vegetables (bean sprouts, carrot, radish, cucumber), herbs (mint and corriander) and toasted peanuts to add even more texture. The noodles tend to hide towards the bottom, so don’t be shy mixing it up before tucking in. The chicken was so tender and the ginger soy flavour was spectacularly good – especially paired with the fried shallots on top (one of my favourite things). I can’t recommend this enough – perfectly fresh and full of flavour, this will be my go-to favourite for some time to come!
Miss Van’s, Westside Acton, 3 Barrine Drive, Acton ACT http://www.missvans.com.au/
Mama’s Buoi sucked me in with its pretty menus – they’re repurposed old-fashioned photo albums with bright covers. Opening them just confirmed that this would be a good experience. I was dining alone for this meal, and the wait staff, while not super fast, were attentive and friendly. I started with a delicious lychee and gin cocktail, which was bright purple and served in a martini glass – I loved the slightly sweet, fruity flavour and sipped it slowly over the course of my meal. To eat, I ordered the Thit Kho – a caramelised pork belly hot pot. Mmm. The serving arrived in a lovely bowl and came with a large portion of steamed rice. The pork was fatty and tender, and it had absorbed the flavour of the stock, making it quite sweet. There was one flavour that I didn’t like amid the mix (might have been bamboo?) but I could mask it with the onion. I really enjoyed the stock, which I put onto my rice, but I couldn’t finish the bowl by a long shot, so this could be a good one to share. I’d love to come back and try their pho and grilled dishes.
Mama’s Buoi, G25 Melbourne GPO, access via Postal Lane, Melbourne VIC http://www.mamasbuoi.com.au/
I’ve only stopped in at Saigon Foodies once before, and was so impressed with their banh mi that I decided to head back and try out their pho. It’s a small store with no frills but a real sense of welcome. They clearly have their regulars, and I can see why! I ordered the beef pho ($12) to dine in, and took a seat by the window to watch the world go by. Before long, my pho additions were brought out (bean sprouts, lemon, basil and hoisin sauce) and then, voila, the steaming hot bowl of pho. Having never been to Vietnam, I can’t say how authentic it was, but compared to other pho I’ve had in Canberra, I found the broth really light and simple – I would have preferred a bit more flavour. The amount of beef was very generous and combined with the hoisin, that’s where the real taste was hiding. The noodles appeared handmade, although I didn’t get to ask them to confirm, as they were all different thicknesses, and were beautifully silky. The bowl was more than enough for lunch – I think their banh mi is still my favourite though.
Saigon Foodies, 42 Giles Street, Kingston ACT