Pho Nom | Tan Thanh Loi
Lwr Ground, Emporium
287 Lonsdale St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
We’ll cover a couple of Vietnamese eateries today that happened pre-Bhutan. One of them’s a pretty slick shop set in a CBD shopping mall while the other one’s old-style and in the burbs.
One good thing about Melbourne Cup Day is how the city tends to be a lot quieter in the afternoon as the rest of Melbourne crams itself into Flemington for the races (just make sure you’re out of town before the race finishes and the celebration starts!).
Fatbee and I decided to spend that fine day doing a spot of shopping in the city, and our favourite mall has to be Melbourne Emporium, where they actually have some of our preferred international vendors like Topshop, Muji and Uniqlo.
Even the food courts upstairs and in the basement have somewhat more ‘premium’ vendors like Dainty Sichuan Noodle Express, Earl Canteen, Jimmy Grants and I Love Pho Express. That afternoon, we decided to sample Pho Nom (in Emporium’s basement). This store has been receiving pretty good reviews from the foodie community. On arrival, I chuckled a little at the colourful pronunciation crash course telling you “IT’S FUR, NOT FOE”.
Like with most food court stalls, it’s pretty much self-service… order at the counter, grab a buzzer and return to the counter to collect your food when the buzzer blinks and rattles like a madman. Add your own herbs, spices and condiments before taking a seat and slurping to your hearts content.
PHO BO SAIGON 12
Sliced rare beef, brisket, meatballs
Fatbee went with what could perhaps be called Pho Nom’s version of Phở Bò Dặc Biệt – a combination soup with rare beef, brisket and meatballs… but here, it’s noticeably lacking the more adventurous items such as beef tripe, tendons and meat loaf.
PHO BO WAGYU 15
Sliced Wagyu sirloin
I went with Pho Nom’s specialty – Wagyu pho offered at a slightly more premium price. What arrived was a bowl of noodles and soup (you add the herbs and garnishing yourself), and in a separate bowl you are given six slices of raw Wagyu beef (see below).
Fatbee’s Pho Bo Saigon | My bowl of sliced raw Wagyu
Overall, we found the MSG-free broth on the clean side with very mild hints of spice and a little bit lacking in the ‘beefiness’ department. I also found my broth a bit too salty for my liking, although I admit to having a pretty low tolerance for salt.
Fatbee’s broth was nicer because it came with the pieces of beef and meatballs in it, meaning his soup was slightly sweeter, beefier and better balanced overall. All that said, we both agreed that our pho did not taste ‘street’ enough.
Fatbee’s slices of (non-Wagyu) beef were of pretty good quality, but sadly they were firm and rather overcooked when we dined there. As for my raw Wagyu offerings, I liked how it was served on the side and it did have good texture and flavour on its own. However, I thought the quality of the beef soon got lost inside the stronger flavours in the soup.
I wanted to like Pho Nom. The quality’s there, but the concept, broth and its accompanying components did not quite strike a chord with us. If you ask me, I think MSG sometimes has a unnecessarily bad rap. I’d personally rather have some MSG in my broth than have a bowl of soup that’s too salty. All that said, I still think Pho Nom will suit those of us who prefer clean-tasting broths.
TÂN THÀNH LỢI
A few days later, we found ourselves in Footscray for our regular grocery shopping session. I was looking for lotus root to cook Fakegf’s Canto-style braised pork belly with lotus root dish, and for some reason all the Asian grocers that I visited in Melbourne weren’t selling fresh lotus root in November.
Dinner happened just around the corner from Little Saigon Market, at this old-school Vietnamese eatery that Fatbee heard was popular for its Com Tam (broken rice) dishes. I must say that sitting in there, I realised that I prefer this type of old-fashioned ambience than the refurbished and more glitzy joints in Footscray.
Cơm Tấm Bì Sườn Chả Trứng $10
Broken Rice with Shredded Pork, Grilled Pork, Meat Loaf & Fried Egg
While it’s hard to not like broken rice as a Vietnamese dish, I’m glad to say that Tan Thanh Loi’s version exceeded my expectations. Our plates came with all the components piled on like a mountainous mess that, strangely enough, still managed to look very delicious to me. The grilled pork was nicely chargrilled and tasty, the fried egg came nice and oozy and I liked how our plates of rice came with a little side serve of (admittedly salty) soup.
I believe the enjoyment of food can be affected by the setting and circumstances that you’re eating the food in, and being in this snug little joint probably appealed to me more than eating in a sparkly food court. What’s served here isn’t fancied up or anything, you don’t get any of those big chunks of pickled carrot or pretty pretty garnishings and neat food-styling. Instead, it is just what it is… a simple, tasty and very ‘street food’ type of meal, which is probably the kind of food that I tend to prefer.