It can be really hard to work out exactly where to go. Footscray isn’t one of our normal happy hunting grounds, and at a glance it’s hard to ascertain where the best options are. Looking around it’s a Vietnamese café to the left of me, another Vietnamese café to the right, and with every second shop with pho in the name it’s hard to get by without local knowledge. Either that or a bit of pre-visit research, which in this case led us to try Hao Phong, one of the string of tempting looking places along Hopkins Street.
While cheap and cheerful Vietnamese restaurants around town are always about the food and price, never about the décor, I must say that I found Hao Phong the nicest cheap end place I’ve tried in Footscray. The interior is understated with lots of warm browns rather than the hospital cafeteria white walls and glaring bright lights you typically get. The service followed a similar theme, with neither the warmth nor the indifference that you normally get at as the two options at a family run place, but quiet and fairly efficient. On a cold and rainy Sunday morning a good start to what turned out to be a great meal.
When the menu arrived we turned over the cover and flipped through several pages of Chinese/Vietnamese favourites to locate the comparatively short range of pho available. Fortunately it listed a couple of our favourite options, a rare beef and beef balls for Snooze, a rare beef, tendons and tripe for moi. Feeling a little peckish I also ordered a serve of the crispy quail, something I like but rarely order.
First to arrive was the crispy quail, served with a small bowl of spiced salt and a slice of lemon on the side. To me anyway quail doesn’t taste like most poultry, closer to red meat, and comes with a high bone to meat ratio making it a little bit of work to eat. I do like the flavours though and when served deep fried like this it meant that most of the bones are edible.
What we were really here for was the pho, which admittedly did take longer than I’d expected to arrive given the limited numbers of customers. All was forgiven when they hit the table, two big steaming bowls of dark clear liquid topped with hand cut slices of beef still a juicy pink through the middle.
Sneaking some of Snooze's beef balls to try, I must admit that they aren’t really my thing. I find the texture a little spongy and not quite to my taste, but I think they're Snooze’s second favourite ingredient behind a peppery beef sausage. I'm much more the fan of some tender gelatinous beef tendon, complemented by some other accompanying cuts that most people would have trouble identifying.
Add to this with delicious rich broth and al dente rice noodles and you have a meal worth the occasional trip from the other side of town. And while we didn’t try anything else from the menu everything which came out from the kitchen looked good.
So far number one on the preferred pho chart!
Food – 8.5
Ambience – 7.5
Service – 7
Price – 8
136 Hopkins Street
Tel: (03) 9689 8373