21 Queen Street
Brisbane QLD 4000
+61 7 3306 8888
What does a $22 bowl of pho taste like?
That was the question I was asking myself as I walked into Brisbane’s Treasury Casino one Thursday afternoon after a morning meeting. When it comes to Vietnamese food, I’m a purist – well, if you consider Footscray, Springvale and Cabramatta pho houses to be legit (which I think they are). I don’t like try hard pun-ny names using the word ‘pho’ nor do I like overpriced modern interpretations of Vietnamese food – they look good but often lack the essence of the original dish they’re trying to add a spin to.
Yet, I’ve been wanting to try Luke Nguyen’s modern Asian restaurant in Brisbane (Fat Noodle) for quite some time. As a chef and an all-round nice guy, I respect him and his passion for teaching the greater population about the nuances of regional Vietnamese food. I have a few of his cookbooks at home and have attempted one of his traditional recipes with a reasonable amount of success.
When you walk into Fat Noodle, it’s obvious that you’re not at your typical pho house in Footscray. You’re greeted with solid timber furniture, sleek black lines and teas served in ornamental teapots. Apart from the odd solo business diner, you pretty much get the place to yourself for the first half of your visit. Then as it hits 1pm, you’re surrounded by elderly casino patrons, tourists and groups of gossiping Asian aunties who have obviously spent way too long in Australia. (By that, I mean more than 30 years because that’s how long my mother has been in Australia and she still refuses to pay more than $10 for pho.)
So why did Fat Noodle charge double the standard price of a bowl of pho? For starters, Treasury Casino’s rents are high – that’s a given. But the ingredients? Well, you have the thin slices of sirloin and brisket coming from an Angus, so that’s that. Then you have the bone broth (groan) that’s been cooked for 20 hours. As for the bean sprouts, fresh Thai basil and chilli on the side? They may have come from farmer’s markets or they may have come from a no-name wholesaler, who knows.
As much as I wanted to like this dish, I couldn’t. While it wasn’t terrible, I expected more flavour and more punch for a broth that’s meant to have been cooked for 20 hours. It was so plain and muted, nothing like the cheapie bowls of pho I’ve come to love over the years. While it’s true that there was no MSG used in this broth, I still felt there was something missed – depth. If this pho had been amazing, I would have happily paid a premium for it again and again. But it wasn’t. I doubt I’ll see myself coming back for a second bowl of pho – or any of the overpriced mains, for that matter. I’m better off driving across to Inala for pho – or making my own at home (still a work in progress but hey).