Pho Cyclo Café – Seattle

IMG_8467 IMG_8468 IMG_8472 IMG_8475 IMG_8478 IMG_8480

In contrast to New Saigon, ‘Pho Cyclo’, was very much a Pho destination. Hip, western style, large open space with plenty of kids and a mixed and diverse crowd, ambiance is best described as “courtyard within a café, inside a building on a gentrifying strip” (quite the mouthful).

The menu is based around Pho, but also contains some other rice and noodle dishes. Pho is amusingly categorised between ‘Pho Novice’ and ‘Pho Master’ and the range is significant including vegetarian options. Pho master covers more traditional but less western ingredients e.g. tripe, tendons, fatty flank, while novice is variations of the more ‘comfortable cuts’, brisket, thinly sliced chicken, sausage etc.

On the side was the typical range of sauces; Chilli, Soy, Hoisin and Sambal along with a strange spicy fish sauce which was sweet and red and had plenty of lemongrass in it.

I consider myself a Pho master, but opted for the beef pho with sliced beef and fatty brisket a classic that lends itself to ‘global comparisons’.

The sides where really fresh basil and bean sprouts along with massive Jalapenos, and they were delivered with my Pepsi in a glass along with tea in a metal pot.

The bowl was massive and the meat was plentiful, with spring onion on the topic, rice noodles were thin and almost square. If there is one thing about American restaurants they are generous when it comes to providing quantity, I was please to see this was not at the expense of quality.

The broth was rich and strong in flavour and colour, it’s rare to encounter a such great stock that it doesn’t actually require any additional condiments and sauces to enhance the flavours.

This didn’t unfortunately extend to the vegetarian option, which was fairly weak in flavour but did include mushrooms, oyster mushroom stems, carrot, broccoli and tofu.

Overall an excellent Pho experience, if I was a local I’d be back for sure.

Stock: 5 – Rich stock and no sauces required
Inside: 5 – Generous quantities of meat and decent cut
On the side: 4 – Everything was fresh
Extras: 4 – great space, but poor vegetarian option, good tea
Score: 18/20
Pho Cyclo Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

New Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant 2 – Seattle

IMG_8337IMG_8344

IMG_8347IMG_8351

On a recent trip to the USA, we were keen to check out the local phở scene and see what America had to offer, that responsibility fell on the not so little West coast city of Seattle in the state of Washington.

We were really excited to understand both the differences and similarities of USA phở, there are a lot of commonalities that make phở, phở…but it’s the little local differences that make it interesting.

New Saigon was tucked away down a set of stairs in bustling ‘downtown’ (aka ‘the city’), the dining space was large and fairly ambient occupied by a ton of Seakhawks fans (NFL) as it was game day with Kenny G playing softly in the background.

The menu had a lot of traditional Vietnamese dishes on offer including ample vegetarian options. The list of phở was fairly standard, however the meat was cooked to taste e.g. rare, medium and well done which was a bit interesting.

I opted for the old favourite of beef brisket and my partner tried the vegetarian, service was fairly unmemorable but efficient and the food came quickly.

When it comes to side sauces there is not alot of difference from Australia: Chilli sauce, Soy and fish sauce are available, but Hoisin isn’t on offer.

The sides were fresh and plentiful; Basil and sprouts with lime, it also came with jalapeño peppers, which was a bit of fun, but were extremely weak (pre-cut too early).

So how was the phở?

A little boring really, the stock was light in colour and flavour, and there may have had some chicken in it. The flavour was weak and didn’t feel like it had been cooked the fairly common 12hours plus.

The meat was plentiful and appropriately cooked, rice noodles were small and thin and a bit mushy. Overall the dish was bland and boring, sauces and condiments were mandatory to give it some excitement.

By contrast the vegetarian phở was pretty interesting, containing: Tofu, Carrots , Bok Choy, Mushrooms, Broccoli and sliced onion. It succeeded where many (dare I say most) vegetarian phở fail, it had flavour, it didn’t really require condiments.

Overall disappointing, but try the vegetarian.

1. Stock: 2 – Weak and flavourless, condiments required
2. Inside: 4 – meet cooked to order, and comes in amble quantities
3. On the side: 3 – Everything was fresh, Jalapeno’s were fun but weak
4. Extras: 3 – Some ambiance, plenty of vegetarian options, tea was ok
Score: 12/20

New Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant II Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Phở Victoria – North Melbourne

A quality phở oasis

1_vic 3_vic 4_vic IMG_7694

Phở Victoria has established a unique proximity, located half-way between Footscray and Victoria St Richmond (two of the Vietnamese food havens of Melbourne) in what can otherwise be described as a ‘phở wasteland’.

Attracting a mix of locals, Queen Vic market visitors (100 metres away) and Prudence visitors (a popular bar two doors away) ensures this place is rarely quiet. A complete lack of competition with other Vietnamese restaurants can sometimes lead to reduced quality, but this is not the case for Phở Victoria.

The menu is extensive, with all the usual Vietnamese dishes, however looking around (especially during the day) the crowd is well and truly here for the phở . The offering is variations of beef, but it also says vegetarian stock is available which I’ll be sure to check-out in the future.

Range of sides was standard: chilli oil, chilli sauce, hoisin and soy. Fresh chilli is available on request and is clearly freshly cut (very important).

Ordering the standard brisket and beef balls it arrived promptly with finely chopped spring and purple onions on top.

Great stock, slightly heavier in flavour and very cloudy it didn’t really need much in the way of sauces to enhance it which is testament to the quality, beef slices were of medium thickness, still thin enough to cook properly through In the hot broth and contained some fat.

Noodles were a bit soft, I suspect they might have been added when then the stock was very hot, the upside is the beef balls were properly cooked through and fairly tender (for a processed, out of the packed beef ball).

The produce on the side was pretty fresh, sprouts were good, basil wasn’t bad and there was a surprising inclusion of a slice of orange instead of lemon, which was extremely unusual…but is not actually a bad thing.

Overall Pho Victoria is a surprise hit, standing well on it’s own despite the total lack of competition.

  1. Stock: 4 – complex and strong, no condiments required.
  2. Inside: 3 – meat was fine onion on top keeps it interesting.
  3. On the side: 4 – Everything was fresh, chilli on demand keeps it fresh.
  4. Extras: 4 – Good service, tea is ok, some ambiance and worth a revisit.

Score: 15/20

Pho Victoria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Quang Minh Temple – Braybrook

 Noodle Soup

Heaven for Vegetarians

It would be true to say that Quang Minh Temple in Braybrook, located in Melbourne’s western suburbs, offers nothing short of a religious and cultural experience. A Buddhist temple for a large community of Vietnamese Buddhists, every Sunday it opens its gates for those seeking enlightenment or perhaps a culinary mini-break. We come for the latter.

In a food hall, which feels like a school gymnasium set up with endless rows of trestle tables and small plastic stools, vats of phở so big you can almost bathe in them are bubbling away. The atmosphere is bustling and the operation is an efficient production line. All you need to decide is how hungry you are. When you’re ready, line up, chose your size (small $6; large $8), pay, get a ticket, move along and hand it to the service lady and bingo, there is your steaming, fresh bowl made up right in front you on a tray.

Small and large bowls of ingredients lay waiting, when you hand over your ticket, the stock is poured onto the contents and topped with a large hand full of chopped iceberg lettuce and bean sprouts. Forget sauces, tea or table service, it’s up to you to pick up your cutlery from a self-service area and you have the option of super-hot fresh chilli and/or lemon. Go easy on the chilli, it really is fiery.

Not knowing what type of phở will be served on the day is a major draw card for those who like surprises. The offering changes every week and being part of a Buddhist temple, the best part is it’s all 100% vegetarian and very occasionally not vegan – sometimes there are egg noodles. We’ve never been disappointed, it’s always mouth watering.

This week they served the Hu Tieu Nam Vangwhich translates as Phnom Penh in Vietnamese – a light brown, clear, flavour-packed broth with a characteristic sweetness served with fried tofu skins, cashews, oyster mushrooms and ‘sausage’ plus square, chewy tapioca noodles. Tapioca noodles are an interesting change from the standard flat rice and they don’t go soft and soggy. This soup is a symphony, the various vegetables that make up the stock dance in tune on your palate. There is no flavour sacrifice, it may be vegetarian, but this is that will satisfy the carnivores.

But in the event that it doesn’t, stroll through the small undercover market on your way out and pick up a steamed bun, some faux chicken nuggets or fried ‘calamari’. Feeling like something sweet? How about a pandan waffle or three-colour drink? If you’re lucky the man selling the sugar cane drinks will be there too. You can also do your fruit and veg shopping.

Quang Minh Temple is not exactly conveniently located, unless you live in Braybrook, but it offers everything we’re looking for in the perfect mini-break: a touch of the exotic, excellent, cheap food and friendly people. It is a must for any phở-devotee. And for the vegetarians, it’s doesn’t get any better than this.

Stock: 5 – the Hi Tieu stock is unique, a little bit sweet and has tons of flavour, which can be a challenge when you’re going vegetarian

Inside: 5 – this isn’t the standard vego boiled vegetables plus tofu offering, it’s like a Kinder Surprise with fried tofu skin, mushrooms and ‘sausage’

On the side: 4 – chilli is fresh and fiery hot, the lemon delivers an additional tang, lettuce and sprouts are added by the server, so technically not on the side, one point lost for limited ability to customise

Extras: 3 – tapioca noodles are fantastic, there are no tea or condiments, but we are devout followers will continue to be back

Score: 17/20

Address:

18 Burke St, Braybrook VIC 3019

(03) 9312 5729

Every Sunday 10am to 2pm

photo 4

Babanbè – Berlin

Noodle Soup

The vegetarian soup from Babanbè Berlin

The Beef Phở fromBabanbè Berlin

The Beef Phở from Babanbè Berlin

Cool branding with on-trend typography, coupled with a modern interior drew us to Babanbè like moths to a hip, over-designed flame. Lots of natural light, space and birch-coloured wooden communal tables designed with Scandinavian simplicity equals a stylin’ place to catch up over over phở or banh mi.

The menu at Babanbè is concise with 3 types of phở (beef, chicken or veggie) and 7 bien mah options with 2 vego. Being an omnivore and vego, we ordered the classic beef (7.45 Euro) and the vegetable (6.45 Euro) respectively. All the staff were cool Berlin hipsters and distinctly non-Vietnamese, but on a desperate search for our fave elixir we chose to withhold judgement until after trying it.

Served in designer asymmetrical bowls, the soup looked good, in a modern, slightly non-traditional kind of way. We’re open to reinterpretations. The herbs and bean sprouts were served already in the soup – which is a bit of a no-no as it messes with the crunch – coriander was ample, but there was no mint in sight.

The beef stock was dark and didn’t have the usual light colour and clarity that we’re used to, and sadly lacked magic i.e. salt trying to compensate for lack of flavour. We all know that it takes the better part of a day to cook the stock, but this felt like it was boiling water with a Vegeta stock cube. The beef was thinly cut as it should be, but I suspect pre-cooked prior to being added to the soup making it a little tough making the whole experience unexceptional.

The veggie version wasn’t any better. It probably had the same brand of stock cube. With only dried porcini mushrooms and no other vegetables besides the sprouts in a salty watery broth, it left me distinctly unsatisfied.

Condiments were a necessity for both the soups. The chopped chilli in a fish sauce in jars on the table and fresh chilli and cut lime on offer didn’t quite take it to the next level, although they were fresh and the chilli was hot.

All in all, we wanted to love Babanbè, because it just looked so damn hip and modern – plus we hadn’t eaten phở in weeks – but the phở fell short on flavour. Perhaps they excel at the banh mi. They are called Babanbè: the banh mi deli, afterall.

  1.  Stock: 2 – lack of flavour compensated with too much salt
  2. Inside: 3 – beef was pre-cooked, veggie option had had dried porcini mushrooms, served with bean sprouts and coriander inside the soup
  3. On the side: 4 – fresh chilli and lime
  4. Extras: 2 – noodles delivered, ambience was fantastic, lost out on the we’ll-be-back factor

TOTAL: 11/20

Address:Oranienplatz 2, 10999 Berlin, Germany