We was actually heading for Viet Hao where I had a most satisfying meal on my last trip to Perth. However, it was full and the lines were long and I noticed Phong Vinh further up the street had a table or two left. The welcome was not the warmest, the order was taken efficiently if without much charm and the first dish we had - fresh spring rolls - were good without being excellent.
Unlike laksa or won ton noodles, Pho is a far more difficult dish to make. The former requires fresh spices and patience. The latter requires very crisp noodles and very fresh prawns. But Pho with its fussy french-chinese parentage requires five things - a stunning broth, fabulous beef (I am a snob, chicken was never in the original and is inferior), amazing noodles, very fresh bean sprouts and complex mint.
After our starter I were not prepared for how good my mixed beef Pho was going to be. The broth was not too thin and not too thick and had lots of marrow richness countered by a tang of fish sauce and slight sweetness of hoisin. The very generous sliced beef was very melt in the mouth good, but then we are in Australia. The surprised was the contrast of crisp pieces of tripe and soft chewy stomach. The hofan noodles must have been freshly made (but not by them) as no months old reconstituted rice noodles has that silken full mouth flavor that effortlessly slips down one's throat. The vegetables were restricted to bean sprouts which you have to add in yourself. They were large (though untailed) and extremely fresh and succulent. They offered a rawness and crunch and provide contrast against melting beef and slip down your throat noodles. The only part that was a little disappointing was the slice of lemon and the mint. I did not bother with the lemon but then I usually do not bother with the lime. But I suspect for purists, lemon is not going to cut it. Whilst fresh, there was only one type of mint. The mint provides, for me, complexity. From one I get an apple/fruit like favour that enhances the hoisin. From the other I get bitterness that provides depth (ie deepens the broth) which then like black velvet shows up more strongly the beef, noodles and bean sprouts. From both is also the freshness that only mints provide. Even in Hanoi (which has far better Pho than HCMC) I cannot think many places that would rival the Pho we had.
The Pho was so good that my wife stopped eating her dish (I cannot even remember what it is now) and ordered a second Pho. But and whilst waiting for my wife to finish enjoying her Pho, I ordered a chendol. Lets say I will not be doing that again.
Whilst this is our first time to Phong Vinh and we tried only very few dishes, I would suggest this is likely to be a one dish restaurant - but what a dish. For people who are want a really good bowl of Pho and can put up with it being in a cheap and well not that cheerful a place.
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