Thursday 28 February 2013

Pho Bo Ga Mekong Vietnamese Restaurant

241, Swanston Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000

Pho Bo Ga Mekong Vietnam on Urbanspoon

This place rides on a number of things; location, history, and price. The food is mediocre at best and has gotten worse each time I have tried it to the point where I am not that keen as there are other Vietnamese joints in the city now. The place also has history - with Bill Clinton and Jackie Chan both having had their offerings and raved about it - but seriously - that was a long time ago.

What helps it is really its location where it continues to attract of healthy number of SEAsian tourists in the city who are looking for something familiar on the Swanston Street scene - the numbers of tourists then continue to perpetuate the idea that it is a popular place to eat. Also, you will have groups of students after a cheap eat. That's my explanation of the crowd.

The Place
Bright, Mirrored, Noisy and Cramped. It's like eating in a very busy cafeteria, so if you like that kind of buzz, this is the place for you. It is really conveniently located on Swanston Street, hence the crowd.

Things to do Nearby: It's on Swanston Street - there's plenty to do and see.

The Food
The food is really not very exciting. I always try to look for the positive but there's not a lot here other than one glimmer of hope.

Pho - this is the mainstay of the restaurant needs to be the highlight. However, the speed with which they serve them and quantity of serves they get through because of the crowd, means that the soup is usually never steamy hot. At best, it's lukewarm. The ingredients are not bad at all and mostly fresh. However, the soup itself is a bit too sweet and lacks the Beef pho taste of the best Pho restaurants in Melbourne - it's really quite watered down. One thing though - I quite like their beef sausages which are really peppery (love pepper) but it might be too hot for many.

Ok - their chilli sauce left on the tables are a bit scary because I seriously do not know how hygenic they are. Unlike many places that at least try to keep the containers clean - the ones here are somewhat greasy, and sometimes the sauce is dried out.

Broken Rice - this is pretty average here and again, while the servings are generous, there's not a lot of excitement here.

Spring Rolls - ok, this is where it's at - I kind of like their deep fried spring rolls! I don't normally do spring rolls but their tiny ones are really crunchy (if a bit salty) and great with the fresh lettuce. Some would say it overcooked - but I like how crunchy it is! Not to everyone's taste. But then, one can't live on spring rolls alone.

The Service
It's really efficient here and they have never gotten my orders wrong. The speed is phenomenal (hence, the lukewarm soup) and never rude. But that's about it. So, nothing much to write about.

I used to be a fan way back but even back then, I always wanted hotter soup but now, I know better and expect better. One needs to improve with time and its sad when an institution stagnates in its offerings and lives off its past reputation. Hopefully, this place will improve but I fear that as long as they live off the trade of one time visitors in the form of tourists - they won't improve. Melbourne has much better Pho restaurants.

Cultural Moment
Vietnamese food in Melbourne is characterised by the various Pho offerings, broken rice (com tam), Vietnamese roles (banh mi), Vietnamese coleslaw, and many Chinese Vietnamese dishes. You know you are dealing with Chinese dishes when you see things like crispy noodles, sweet and sour pork, lemon chicken.

While Phở, Cơm tấm, Bánh mì are all relatively authentic in Melbourne, I think that's where it ends. In Vietnam, the food is a lot earthier. more herbal, and stronger tasting all round. There are so many exciting Vietnamese dishes that do not seem to be available here (unless if there are secret menus I am not aware of). For example Chả cá thăng long which is a fabulous grilled fish dish, and Nem rán which is the northern style spring rolls are amazing!

I hope that at some point, a Vietnamese Restaurant in Melbourne will take up the challenge of offering these earthier tasting dishes that will truly introduce Australia to a whole new insight into Vietnamese cuisine. If you are aware of any of these - point them in my direction - please...

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