Saturday, April 21, 2012

Pho 102 Saigon, Melbourne CBD by Big Fil

Here I sit on a Friday afternoon, feeling more than a little full after trying to give a newish Vietnamese café in Royal Arcade a proper try.

It’s pretty hard to find good Pho in town. I mean, there are a few places that are ok if you have a hankering but nowhere that would make me lick my lips in anticipation. I was hoping that Pho 102 Saigon would break the ice for good pho in the CBD. However, while I thought it was as good as anywhere in town, it was still a level below the better places in Richmond or Footscray.

Pho 102 Saigon is somewhere you probably wouldn’t come across unless you knew it was there. I'm almost always taking random walks around the city but I think it had opened at least 3 or 4 months before I found it. It’s small and tucked away in the small side arcade of Royal Arcade down the stairs leading towards Little Collins Street.

Getting there early is a good idea. We arrived just after 12 and had the place almost to ourselves. A few others wandered in slowly until around 12.30 and then suddenly the line was out the front door. Consequently it became a little uncomfortable trying to eat with the line snaking just past our elbows but given the shop is so small it’s one of those things that can’t really be helped.

Snooze and I both have our favourite versions for pho. Snooze likes the versions with beef balls or the peppery beef sausage, whereas I tend to go for either the rare beef or the ‘special’ beef versions. Fortunately we were both covered in what was a shorter range of options compared to most speciality pho cafes.

The pho came out pretty quickly and with what I thought was a strong whiff of herbs. Snooze herself commented on liking the fairly strong basil taste which grew as she was drinking her soup. My own take on the soup was that it was ok, flavoursome but not terribly subtle or complex. In terms of ingredients, I liked the way my beef was properly rare and pink. Given that the ingredients continue to cook in the hot soup my biggest gripe with pho is when the meat is already fully cooked when served, so by the time you start to eat it is over cooked and even a bit rubbery. However, the pieces of meat didn’t appear to be of the best quality and both of us thought they could have been more generous.

Ducking the usual prawn rice paper rolls we (or more correctly I) ordered the chicken rolls. These were a little mediocre, the chicken slightly dry and probably could have been improved by a few more herbs. On the other hand, the beef wrapped in betal leaves was tasty even if I’d have preferred a bit more beef and less of the accompanying vegetables and noodles in the serving bowl.

Something I'd heard of but never tried before was the Vietnamese iced coffee. Strong and sweet, I'm an irregular drinker at best of coffee and probably wouldn’t order it on every visit but I did like it.

If desperate for a good bowl of pho my first recommendation would be to head out to the suburbs. But if you’re a CBD office flunkey like Snooze and myself you could do worse than Pho 102 Saigon. Food is ok, prices are reasonable and unlike the indifferent attitude you sometimes get the staff here seemed to be trying hard to make the café a success (it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the place is family run).

Food – 7
Service – 7
Ambience – 6
Price – 7

Shop 5 Hub Arcade
318-322 Little Collins Street
Tel: (03) 8683 5578

Phở 102 Saigon on Urbanspoon

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