Song Huong

71 Alfrieda Street
St Albans VIC 3021
+61 3 9356 0567

New Year’s Eve 2009. I don’t remember much of the day (drinks later that night didn’t help) but I do remember it being stinking hot. And yet, I still thought that having a hot, bowl of bun bo hue was a good idea.

As you may be aware, my favourite place to have this fiery Vietnamese noodle soup is Dong Ba in Footscray, followed a close second by Nam Giao, Springvale. Apparently, though, legions of Vietnamese people swear by the bun bo hue dished out by Song Huong, a modest yet bustling bun bo hue specialist in St Albans. Because I was meeting Adam at his place prior to heading over to Aaron’s for his NYE gathering, we decided that a late lunch at Song Huong would be super.

We both had an iced Vietnamese coffee ($3 each), the perfect way to keep our bodies buzzing for the remainder of the day and evening. This was also the first time we had ordered Vietnamese coffee at a restaurant and have it presented to us in a drip filter. I hate it when restaurants present it to us in a tall glass with shitloads of ice because I can never know whether they actually brewed the coffee from scratch or whether it was just instant coffee (and in some cases, I have suspected the latter). Here, at least I was able to be rest assured that my coffee was made fresh.

Oooooh yeaaaaah…

The prawn spring rolls we ordered (six pieces for $6) were, as far as I could remember, adequate. Not overly small either. The dish in the background is Adam’s salted fish and chicken fried rice (can’t remember how much it was, $9.50 I think) which I didn’t particularly like as the rice was a bit gluggy but Adam loved it.

My bun bo hue. At Song Huong, you can order according to sizes which is always a plus one in my books. I ordered a medium-sized bowl for $8 but if you were less hungry, you could opt for a small bowl ($7) or even a baby-sized one for $5. Generally speaking though, most people would go for the extra large bowl, a steal at $10.

So, how was my BBH? Well, it was good but not as good as I expected. I was dismayed at the fact that I received a measly portion of noodles and probably about three pieces of beef brisket. The broth was lovely – tangy and hot without being too overbearing, even in the heat. I did, however, feel that the dish was somewhat one-dimensional, lacking the intricacies that BBHs from Dong Ba and Nam Giao offered. I guess I’d come back here if I was in the area and felt like BBH… but only if I really could NOT sit through a 15 minutes drive for a better one in Footscray.

Phuong Vi

56 Alfrieda St
St Albans VIC 3021
+61 3 9366 1729

Adam’s parents took me and Adam out to dinner this evening. With a lack of decent dining facilities in the Keilor Downs/Kealba area (Souvlaki Hut anyone?) we went to St Albans for some Chinese-slash-Vietnamese fare. We were originally going to go to Quang Vinh on Alfrieda Street but it was packed so we headed a few doors down to Phuong Vi, a not-so-packed but rather decent joint from what I’ve experienced the last time I ate pho there for lunch.

Apparently the restaurant is currently under new management so everything was new. There used to be this Viet fob waitress who had this massive crush on Adam. Every time he came in, she would rush out to serve him and make chit-chat with him. And while he ate, she would sit at the counter and admire him from afar. The first time Adam brought me there, she took one look at me and said to him, “She’s your sister right?” before Adam decided to humour her by saying that yes, I was his sister while grabbing my hand/playing footsie during the meal etc etc. Yessssss, we are one fcked up very very close family indeed. Ugh.

Okay, onwards to the food! Upon opening the menu, this made me laugh:

Yeah, obviously proof-reading was never high on their list of priorities. Adam and I argued as to whether they really meant ‘crab’ or ‘carp’ but personally, I think they meant carp because there was no way they’d charge the crab soup $7.00 while charging $8.00 for the fish soup above it. And salted crab sounded, I don’t know…

And while the ‘crap’ thingy was obviously a typo, I couldn’t help but think that this was somewhat a subtle form of foreshadowing for things to come…

I ordered an avocado smoothie. At $2.50 a pop, I reckoned that this was a pretty good price given that other Viet places I’ve been to charge $3+. Although Vietnamese avocado smoothies are nowhere near as nice as the Indonesian version, I liked this one. Yum!

While I was happily sipping on my smoothie, Adam was waiting patiently for his mung bean one, but halfway into eating my meal, it had not yet arrived which prompted Adam to ask the waiter whatthefeckwasgoing on. And lo-and-behold! 30 seconds later, his mung bean smoothie was presented.

This is my vermicelli with spring rolls. I usually order pho or seafood rice noodle soup when we have Vietnamese, but having already had chicken pho for lunch (write-up coming up next) I decided to have this one instead. Now, I rarely order this dish myself and instead, steal some bites off whoever is with me and happened to order this dish but today I decided to eat my own. The first time I ordered this dish was at Tila on Swanston Street. I didn’t really like their version of it because they were stingy on the spring rolls and their vermicelli was soggy. Phuong Vi did a much better version with the vermicelli being fragrant and “al dente”, if you like. The accompanying nuoc cham was done really well – the right amount of sweetness and tangyness – but I couldn’t say the same for the spring rolls. They didn’t really taste all that fantastic and you could tell that they had been sitting around for a while because of their limp texture. And wtf was with the gado-gado vegetables (including. cos lettuce) on the side? Overall, though, it wasn’t too bad and I managed to finish it all off but it really wasn’t that fantastic.

Adam decided to go for the tomato rice with crispy chicken wings. It took forever to arrive (as with Adam’s dad’s noodles). Put this way, I’m not a fast eater. My vermicelli was quite big. And I was almost done with my meal when Adam’s dish arrived. Yes, I know I know, new owners and all but ffs, this is Vietnamese food. Vietnamese cuisine is simple and does not require a lot of time to put together. I could understand if it was a fine dining establishment but we’re talking about no frills easy-peasy Vietnamese food.

The rice was very bland but that was nothing in comparison to the chicken. By golly, they were just awful! I don’t think this photo shows it very clearly but the batter in which the chicken wings were fried in had this god-awful bright yellowy colouring to it. I’m not sure whether they used curry powder in the batter or whether it’s the overdose of MSG giving the chickens an unearthly glow. Either way, they made the chicken taste awful. Poor poor Adam.

We all shared a Cantonese steamed barramundi. I can fairly say that this was the highlight of my Phuong Vi experience tonight. The barramundi was bigger that what we usually get at Chinese restaurants and the flesh was delicate without being the least bit soggy. Although they should have put a few more coriander sprigs okay, I think I’m just getting fussy .

After that meal, I don’t think I’d hurry back there for a while. There are way better Vietnamese restaurants than this in Footscray/Richmond/Springvale/Box Hill. Come to think of it, I don’t think that any of the restaurants in St Albans are excellent (from what I’ve experienced anyway). Even the kebab shop on the same street, which used to be decent five years ago, has gone downhill and is no longer worthy of the title “Victoria’s Best Kebabs.” But then again, I haven’t really tried many of St Albans’ Vietnamese places so if anyone knows of any decent places there, let me know!