Sunday, 22 November 2009

Noodle Soup Cravings - Pho Chu The, Footscray

Loathed to raise this again, it's horribly cliché but Melbourne's frivolous weather continues to totally baffle me. A mere day ago we were sweltering through the city's hottest November day ever as the mercury hovered around 38°C for most of it, and yet this morning we woke to the wettest day in several years with temperatures cool enough to have to dig our sweaters out of the back of the closet again. If we'd a similar constitution to pet fish in an aquarium, this rapidity of change would've guaranteed to find us all floating belly up on the surface.

Bowl of phở bo mixed with herbage, lemon juice and plenty of bird's eye chilli just the way I like it!

The morning's rain and greyness had us lingering in bed till late but once up and thinking about food, the only brunch craving that insistently crept into mind for a need to be satisfied was a piping hot bowl of soupy noodles. Luckily for us, Footscray is only the next suburb away so it didn't take any deliberating to find ourselves walking into Chu The for large warming bowls of phở. As usual for the two of us, a medium bowl ($8.50) each of phở bo (beef) and phở ga (chicken) were promptly ordered, and I also fulfilled my first caffeine need for the day with a strong hot Vietnamese coffee syrupy with sweetened condensed milk. There's nothing much to share about the venue itself, it's a rack-standard phở joint albeit quite a small one and wholly dedicated to the Vietnamese breakfast staple. Springrolls to whet the appetite are about all you can stray away from the bowls of noodles. Choices are pretty much limited to one's preferred size of bowl, beef or chicken, and to what extend one would like to add associated offal and viscera to accompany the sliced meat (blood cubes, tendon or brisket for beef, and liver or giblets for the chicken). Order the Special for the complete experience. Lingering uncertainly over these selections when the waiter asks for your order will more than likely produce an impatient look to get with the programme.

We have visited the place quite a number of times and it's always full of local suburbanites on their grocery shopping break so there must be something going for it. Chu The produces satisfying enough bowls of phở, not the best and not the worst in Melbourne though I'm now somewhat surprised that I hadn't really been dedicated enough to have kept a phở track record. But here's my breakdown on Phở Chu The.
- Generous amounts of soup and meat, more so than any bowl one is likely to find in Vietnam.
- Beef slices always added to cook through in your bowl and thus served perfectly pink.
- Slices of chicken breast meat also tender and not overcooked nor grainy.
- Okay depth of flavour in the broth though lacks the heady spiciness and pepperiness of some establishments.
- Great rice noodles left with requisite bite.
- Limited variety of herbage with only basil and sprouts and wedge of lemon supplied.
- Chicken can include some pieces with gristle attached (and even non-chicken bits such as tripe!) if one does not expect or care for that; and beef can be untidily sliced and prone to clumping.
- Chicken broth always lacks the punch of the beef, though this is the case everywhere.

Walking outside warmly satiated and full of soup, we looked up and saw a patch of blue sky. Did they or did they not say it was going to keep raining!

Food: 14/20 - Phở or phở.
Service: 14/20 - Efficient, impersonal, inoffensive.
Value: 16/20 - Standard.
R-Factor: 16/20 - Sure, unless I can remember better elsewhere but close by.
Spot Score: 15/20 - See Pluses and Minuses.

Pho Chu The
92 Hopkins Street, Footscray VIC.
[There's another outlet somewhere in Little Saigon, Richmond]

For Footscray local and Food & Travel writer, Phil Lees' take on Chu The, visit his food blog "The Last Appetite".

Friday, 6 November 2009

Seachange Requested - Time and Tide Gallery Cafe

We spent a recent long weekend dodging rain squalls along the southern Australian coastline halfway to Adelaide and back. Once again indisputable evidence that the surest way to break a prolonged drought in any region, would be to get us to plan a getaway there. Not that I’m complaining really. It made for dramatic scenery and it was a terrific time! Grateful to be breathing in lungfuls of bitingly crisp but fabulously clean Australian air after past months of jaunter in, out, and around the soupy atmosphere of SE Asia. Mostly for work, a little of it play and boundless opportunities for exotic degustation!

Enjoying flat whites with a view

Anyway more on those later, for now KB and I were breaking fast at the Time and Tide Gallery Cafe just outside the little seaside township of Port Fairy. This quaint fishing village on Victoria's southwestern coast may be small but its scenic natural attributes have attracted a congregation of trendy cafes and notable restaurants for fortunate locals and passing tourists like ourselves. Because of the plentiful choices on offer right on Port Fairy's main street, getting to Time and Tide Cafe requires a bit of mission mindedness. Head southwest out of town on the Princes Hwy for 5-10 minutes looking out for the signs that indicate the location of the turn-off. After that it's a couple of km of dirt road leading up to the beachhouse in which the cafe is located. In the bad weather it was potholed and rough enough to put a 'look at me' gleam in the eyes of those steering their line of Toorak Tractors along the track, not missing the opportunity to spray bragworthy mud over their virgin wheel arches. Sure, our little city hatch had a good time too!

The designer weatherboard entrance had more of an art gallery feel than cafe but the inside was pretty much divided equally between the two sections. We browsed through the displays of beach themed trinkets before settling into a table next to the large windows that allowed unhindered views out to a small crystal clear covelet and the Southern Ocean beyond. The place was right on a very pretty beach with views enough to incite jealous dreams for ones own seachange, and almost enough to make one not notice that a standard cup of coffee was at the upper end at $4.

Baked egg, mushroom, vege, ham and cheese pie with tomato relish

Time and Tide offers lightish meals for breakfast and lunch, including a variety of gourmet sandwiches and griddled panini as well as ready baked pies, frittata, quiches, pastries and cakes. Most of the menu is scribbled on a blackboard and freshly on display within the glass counter. A mill of visitors checking out the board and food display indicated that orders were taken and paid for immediately at the counter. Drinks and food were cheerfully delivered to tables though. We had a roast vegie and ham/bacon pie and a potato and corn frittata (both around $15) which were served remarkably well reheated from what appeared to be a small galley kitchen, and well accompanied by a dressed spinach salad and piquant tomato relish. Overall pretty tasty with good sized serves. Jars of the relish plus other gourmet preserves are also sold by the cafe's small condiments section.

Time and Tide was certainly a bright and delightful place to spend an hour or so in for some rejuvenating nourishment, either after, or prior to exploring the beach and rockpools that run right up to it. In better weather, one might be enticed to linger even longer at outside tables on the wooden deck. As it was during our visit, as intermittent gusts of rain beating against the windows reminded us how cosy it was inside, I almost thought $4 was a small price to pay for a second cup of coffee, almost.

Food: 15/20 - light meals, nothing elaborate.
Service: 16/20 - Order at counter but otherwise cheery.
Value: 15/20 - Top half of average cafe prices.
R-Factor: 16/20 - It's a great spot!
Spot Score: 16/20 - Worth a visit if staying at Port Fairy or passing through for lunch.

Time and Tide Gallery Cafe and Gallery
21, Thistle Place, Port Fairy VIC.