264 Victoria Street
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 3 9427 7749
There are only a few things in the world that I think we can all agree on, and one of them is that hangovers are NOT fun. Now, I’m someone who, on paper, doesn’t seem to fit the category of someone who is usually – lucky for me – resistant to the after-effects of a wild night of drinking (Asian, female, very slim). So when I experienced my very first hangover in a long, long time, I had a hard time trying to believe that it actually happened.
While my work Christmas part was fun, the ensuing hangover certainly wasn’t, and everyone who’s been through an Asian mother of a hangover like I did over the weekend will agree with me here. One thing that many will disagree on, however, is what the best method is for curing such hangovers. I have friends who swear by KFC, others who drink glasses of Bloody Marys and many others can’t get past the classic bacon and eggs. Not I, though, for these aforementioned cures are a bit too much on my delicate stomach on a Saturday morning, especially last Saturday when the mere thought of food was enough to make me throw up. Thankfully, my appetite returned yesterday in time for some last minute Christmas shopping though my head was still pounding.
Before I knew it, I found myself on the quiet end of Victoria Street, Richmond sniffing around for a nice, hot comforting bowl of phở. Stumbling into I Love Pho 264 and squinting into the dim dining room to see if there were any signs of live within – it was, after all, a late Sunday afternoon – I was greeted with a polite nod by a matronly waitress who I thought was going to seat me, but then she started fiddling around with the front door, ignoring me like I was a Saigon street rat. Didn’t blame her though, I must have looked like one too. Unperturbed, I plopped myself down onto a table by the window and surveyed the menu board on the back wall, which contained the menu items written in Vietnamese, English, Chinese and Korean.
Judging by the restaurant’s multi-lingual menu board, a name that’s easier to pronounce compared to other Vietnamese restaurants (relatively-speaking, of course, for I know that a lot of people still say po/foe/poo/per-hoe) and a predominantly Caucasian clientele, it is clear that I Love Pho 264 is trying to appeal to a wider audience. Additionally, they also sell merchandise such as ‘I Love Pho’ t-shirts and bowls to garner appeal from the masses though to me, this symbolised the commercialisation of the humble noodle soup, kinda like what Mr Packer did to cricket all those decades ago. Heck, they even cater to vegetarians by offering a – wait, for it! – tofu and vegetarian phở! I’m sorry but, seriously, W.T.F.
Anyway, I did eventually receive some attention. My waitress (a different lady) did not say a single word to me as I placed my order, nor did she smile but it didn’t matter anyway. I was too busy trying to eavesdrop on conversation between one of the waiters and a group of women who were asking him about the ‘weird’ name of the restaurant. Apparently this place used to be called Chu The but then there was some sort of a conflict that was on par with the Vietnam war (okay, maybe not quite…) and so they ended up changing the name to this for whatever reason. I tried to listen again but the more I tried, the more my head started hurting.
But alas! No time to ponder such things, for my small sliced beef phở ($8) had arrived. One thing that annoyed me about this place was that they did offer their phở in sizes, from small to large, but they did not advertise that (and prices) on the menu. I don’t think it’s reasonable for the restaurant to assume that everyone knows that there is a sizing/pricing system in place without it being advertised (and it certainly isn’t the norm in all Vietnamese restaurants) so the least they could do was make mention of it. Through observation, I saw that those who didn’t request a size (like I did) were given the medium-sized bowl ($9) by default which I didn’t think equalled excellent customer service.
Luckily for them, all was forgiven when I sipped that soothing, aromatic broth which was slightly infused by the fragrant bits of fresh basil and a squeeze of lemon. Okay, it also had a bit of MSG in it but given the amount of rubbish I ate (and drank) on Friday night, who cares about a bit of E621? To diffuse some of the saltiness, I tipped a bit of hoisin sauce into my soup. It’s not something that I would have normally done but it made the broth taste a little bit better. And as I slurped up those slippery rice noodles and bit into the slices of beef, my pounding headache started to slowly disappear. For the next fifteen minutes or so, all that was on my mind was the bowl of phở in front of me.
It might not have been a humungous bowl but it was certainly enough to fill me up until I went to bed that night (yes, I was too full even for dinner!). The restaurant, which was too 20/20 cricket for me, may lack the ‘humble authenticity’ of an ‘ordinary’ Vietnamese restaurant, but it did draw the punters in. My phở may not have been the best phở ever (I prefer the more gritty, more flavoursome but less MSG-diluted broth that makes Chu The in Footscray famous) but hey, when you’re nursing a hangover, this is pretty damn good. Give me this over KFC any day.