It’s been a while since I saw my good mate Pat in person. The last time I could recall ever seeing him was back in May last year which makes me such a bad friend, but to my defense he’s the one who decided to get himself a girlfriend, Leah, while spending his days looking at proteins in the lab for his Honours research during the year so I’m not solely to blame, ha!
Anyway, Pat’s just started his PhD and has since moved in with his misses in an apartment in South Yarra. Keen to suss out his new place and to have a bit of a catch-up, Adam and I took the train to Richmond yesterday and went for a walk up Punt Rd, past the river and landed in South Yarra. After a brief inspection of their freakishly clean apartment, we set off towards Victoria St, Richmond for some cheap and cheerful Vietnamese food. In Leah’s car, of course. We weren’t crazy to walk all the way to Victoria St. I mean, we COULD HAVE but I was wearing tight jeans and didn’t want to end up feeling even more gross and sweaty.
We passed a really interesting-looking restaurant on the East side of Victoria Street which was semi-open aired, not dissimilar to the ones they have in Vietnam according to Adam. I couldn’t exactly remember the name of the place but just look for a green sign with “Vien En” or “Viet Em” on it. There seemed to be heaps of diners there so we thought, Great! we’ll give that a shot! We sat down at a table near the entrance, right by the open window so we could people watch. We were given menus complete with photos of the food which, for some reason, were predominantly a mix of Thai and pan-Asian style dishes. There were only a handful of Vietnamese dishes such as a plate of four mini spring rolls ($8.50!!) and some curry dish accompanied by a piece of bread which doesn’t really sound Vietnamese at all but according to Adam, it WAS so who was I to judge?! Anyway, nothing on the menu really interested me and while I was about to settle for some unexciting-sounding dish, I noticed that the other three were also frowning. We knew what to do. We nodded to each other and within seconds, we were out on the street again and walking as fast as we could away from that place. I always feel bad when I have to do a walk-out but hey, why ruin your afternoon by pretending to enjoy your food while you’re looking at the other Viet restaurants across the road and sighing?
After ummming and aaahing over several choices, we ended up at Thanh Ha 2 on the north end of Victoria Street. It may have been quite late (around 2:30pm) but the fact that most of that tables were still full indicated a promising start for the four of us. Secondly, I also remembered seeing Thanh Ha (1) in last year’s Cheap Eats and figured that Thanh Ha 2 would be just as good given that they’re most likely run by the very same people. So anyway, we ask for a table for four before we were told that we can take the table by the door which was still being cleaned up. That was cool with us. So we stood around for a bit before we realised that that was, in fact, a clean table at the back. We wondered why they didn’t just give us that table before another waitress came to us and asked us if we were after a table. Yes, we said, for four. And immediately, she told us to go to that back table. Go figure .
We were given menus (more than 250 items, no less) as well as a “specials menu” which was written in really strange fobby English. For instance:
Yes, we know that specials menu tend to come with more unusual dishes but getting someone with a decent grasp of English to convey that to your customers would undoubtedly help. Obviously, Westerners aren’t very likely to respond well to “strange dishes” but if you use phrases such as “local delicacies” or “regional specials”, they are more likely to respond a bit better. Then you have this:
One thing that we all agreed about Thanh Ha 2 was that the service sucked. The table incident earlier on could be forgiven but being ignored while we’re frantically waving our hands around to order is just bad service. And I know that ignored us because they would be walking in our direction but instead of approaching us, they’d swiftly turn the other way to load up on toilet paper or fold napkins or something stupid like that. I think it took us another 10 minutes to catch the eye of another waitress… before she disappeared again to the bar. Just as we were discussing whether to do yet another walk-out, the waitress reappeared with a pen and paper. Phew. Finally. Food and drinks were ordered before Adam declared, “Okay, that was JUST the first phase. Let’s see whether our food will actually arrive.” Surprisingly, they did. Very quickly, in fact. Clearly a lot of it was partly pre-assembled earlier on too but we didn’t dwell on that. It was 3pm and we were STARVING.
Further comments from Pat and Leah established that this restaurant does not serve the best Vietnamese food on the street. Leah ordered the bun cha gio (same as me, but with spring rolls instead of beef) which she didn’t really find extraordinary. Ditto Pat and his tomato rice with crispy chicken which was remarkably dry. It’s fair to say that this restaurant is definitely not on our top 10 Vietnamese restaurants list, even though it was cheap (around $55 for all of us, including drinks). Never again.