66 Victoria Street
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 3 9428 2036
Melbourne is home to hundreds of Vietnamese restaurants, many of which are open as early as 9am in the morning on any given day. These early opening hours are a godsend for those who crave a steaming bowl of phở first thing in the morning. The downside to this, however, is that most Vietnamese restaurants close relatively early once the peak dinner hour is finished. Yes, while phở is traditionally a daytime dinner for the Vietnamese, I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only person who thinks that a late-night phở restaurant isn’t such a bad idea. Especially since late one Saturday night, when Marty and I got the uncontrollable urge for phở.
We didn’t like our chances, but we figured we’d ring a few Vietnamese restaurants in Richmond to see if they were still dishing out bowls of that sweet, soulful stuff at 11pm. Thankfully, Tho Tho on the Western end of Victoria Street did, provided we ordered before 11:30pm. Too easy. We quickly got ready and took the 109 along Victoria Street, and walked into enormous-for-a-Vietnamese-restaurant eatery. The lights were dimmed, the waitresses were mopping away and there was no one eating except for a table with two guys on it but we were still ushered in and shown to a table by the window.
Tho Tho claims to be a ‘neo-metro’ restaurant and this is evident in its spacious and modern surroundings that bears no resemblance to any of the dime-a-dozen Vietnamese restaurants on the street. You would not be able to tell that you were dining at a Vietnamese restaurant unless you looked at the menu which is extremely extensive. It seems like Tho Tho doesn’t specialise in anything, but offers everything. They even try to adhere to their ‘neo-metro’-ness by offering rice paper rolls filled with non-traditional fillings such as salmon and duck. Well, I guess it could work…
I had actually been here once, but a long, long time ago. At the time, I had ordered a bowl of hu tieu (seafood noodle soup) but declared it ‘sucky’ because it had too much vegies, and not enough seafood. These days, my palate is more refined (well, I hope so anyway) and I have a greater appreciation for vegetables so I decided to sit here with an open mind. Because the restaurant was closing up, some of the stuff we wanted was unavailable, for example a glass of three colour bean drink and brisket for our beef and brisket phở. Eventually, we both settled for a bowl of sliced beef phở each ($9), and a serving of pork and prawn rice paper rolls to share (four for $8). The rice paper rolls were generous in size and tasted pretty good. The rice skins were a bit on the thick side, too, which would irk a lot of purists off but Marty and I like our rice paper skins thick so we happily welcomed them.
As we waited for our bowls of phở, it was nearing 11:20pm. We saw a male tourist walk in and ask for a table before being told by a waitress that the kitchen was closed. The tourist was a little pissed off and argued, ‘But I was just told that you guys were still open about five minutes ago and that we have until 11:30pm to order!’ A fair comment; I would have been a little annoyed too. The guy didn’t stay for long, though, he just shook his head and walked west. At that moment, our bowls of beef noodle soups arrived.
Okay, so they weren’t the best phở we’ve ever had. If you look closely at the images, you may be able to see a slight greenish-yellowish tinge on the surface of the broth – that was the MSG that I could feel down the back of my throat for hours after we finished our meal. Yuck. But at the time, they were a lifesaver. Sure, the broth might have been equal parts too salty and too sweet (no hoisin sauce was required) and the sliced beef pieces were a bit tough, but we slurped our way through the bowl.
We would have finished our phở too but for the fact that the MSG was doing all sorts of nasty things to my throat, and I was getting a little bit full thanks to having consumed two massive rice paper rolls beforehand. Plus, I could see that half the kitchen had already gone home and felt a bit bad that the remaining waiters and waitresses were obviously sticking around just for us. We quickly paid the bill, graciously said ‘thank you’ to the people behind the counter for letting us overstay our welcome and started walking back to the city (yes, we walked back from Richmond!).
Although our phở was not mind-blowing, it did the job at 11:30pm at night when no other Vietnamese restaurant could. That was enough for us. If I was in Victoria Street during the day, however, Tho Tho wouldn’t be the first place I’d go for phở. On that note, though, it seems like phở restaurants that open past 9pm could be on the rise. One of my colleagues from the HR department, for example, told me today that newcomer Hanoi Hannah is open until 11pm and is definitely worth checking out. Whether I’m ambitious enough to walk to the city from Prahran after eating phở, however, is another story…