Cycling back from Williamstown Beach on the last weekend in summer, we decide to stop for a refreshing beer in Yarraville. Imagine our surprise to find, right opposite the pub, a Cambodian restaurant called Bopha Devi. After a bit of agonising about the prices (not cheap), we give it a try.
I must admit at the outset that I know nothing about Cambodian food. If the restaurant tells me that deep-fried Mars Bars are a popular Cambodian snack, I have to take that at face value. Nevertheless, a look at the menu reassures me. They even have a rice porridge, of which I’m generally a big fan. It’s too hot for porridge today, but I’ll keep it in mind for a future visit.
We end up sharing two mains: the amok fish curry, and the bai mouan chicken rice. Oddly enough, the fish curry comes out 20 minutes before the other course. But then, that could be because both dishes are cooked from scratch, and the rice takes a bit longer.
The fish curry is outstanding, and I suspect that it’s the restaurant’s signature dish. There’s an interplay of complex flavours that works out just right, and doesn’t overwhelm the delicate steamed fish. There’s a tiny bit of heat in the curry, which perfectly sets off all the other flavours. The sauce is best described as elegant and graceful. If you think that coconut curry has to be like the muck they serve in suburban Thai restaurants, then think again.
The chicken rice is noticeably different from the only other chicken rice I’ve eaten, the “Hainan” variety. The rice itself has a more complex taste, with a bit of sweetness. I do wonder, is the sweetness really meant to be there? I have no way of knowing. Also, the chicken meat looks like big slices of breast. For some reason, I would have expected either meat on the bone, or bits of shredded chicken.
Bopha Devi is fully licensed. We order a glass each of Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, which turn out to be exemplars of each grape. The Riesling in particular has that strong taste which is characteristic but hard to find, and which only develops after some years in the bottle. This Riesling has it all, including the yellow tinge that comes with age. Someone has put a lot of thought into this wine-list. Nothing on the list is cheap, but we really do get what we pay for.
After the meal, we go for a stroll around Yarraville. It’s changed a lot since the days when there was an SP bookie in every pub, and a worker in every worker’s cottage. I spot about 3 Hungarian Vizslas. Can there really be so many designer dogs in one small area? Or is some enterprising kid renting out the same dog to different people as they enter the cafe zone? In Brighton I’ve noticed that all the dogs are Labradors, but they’re all a different colour. Yarraville Vizslas all have the same colouring, so the exact number of unique dogs is difficult to establish.
Afterwards, I google the phrase “Bopha Devi”, who turns out to be a Cambodian princess born in 1943. Married at the age of 15, had her first child at 16, became prima ballerina of the Cambodian royal ballet at 18. There’s a phantom image of her on the reverse of the restaurant’s business card. She projects the elegance and grace that one would expect of a prima ballerina.
I want to go back to Bopha Devi on a cold day for the rice porridge. I recently had a Vietnamese rice porridge that was very different to the Chinese ones I usually enjoy, and I want to see what happens with the Cambodian version. From the descriptions I’ve read, it should be fairly close to the Vietnamese version. The food at Bopha Devi is very good, but the pricing is a bit of a sticking point, as is the lack of BYO. While we ate lunch, I noticed 4 or 5 people coming in for takeaways, but only one other couple in the restaurant. If I lived in Yarraville, I too would prefer the takeaway, mainly because it’s easier on the wallet.
Food - 9
Service - 8
Ambience - 7
Price - 6
27 Ballarat St
Yarraville VIC 3013
Tel: (03)9362 0941