Sapa Hills is the newcomer to Footscray's CBD and stands out with its English name and polished, modern interior design.
The stereotypical "hall of mirrors" of many Vietnamese restaurants has been dispensed with in favour of a panaroma of the restaurant's namesake, the hills of Sapa in northern Vietnam. Dark wooden tables and chairs are set neatly on a polished concrete floor.
On Saturday night it was packed and we nabbed the last table.
Bo La Lot, $7
We started with Bo La Lot, which I recently learned you are supposed to wrap in lettuce and mint, à la spring rolls (I have always eaten them like dolmades - oops). These were amazing! Peppery beef wrapped in betel leaves like little cigars, their pleasing fatty juiciness complimented by crunchy iceberg, refreshing mint and fantastic homemade pickled vegies - all dipped in seasoned fish sauce.
Seafood San Choi Bau ($5)
A seafood san choi bau, which was sweet with peanut, sesame and prawn. Pretty good.
Bun Cha Ha Noi ($11)
The star of the show - Hanoi-style grilled pork with rice vermicelli. The most tender, flavoursome pork, grilled over real wood charcoal (we checked), so juicy, peppery and meaty. Absolute heaven! (Phil, thanks for the tip-off.) Chatting with the owner, who comes from a family of Hanoi restaurateurs, we learned that this is his family's specialty back in Vietnam. If you have been tainted by dry, leathery pork, you have to try this. In fact, whoever you are, you HAVE to try this!
Soft Shell Crab, 2 for $12
Could it be bettered? If anything was going to, soft shell crab was going to. These little beauties were ultra-crispy, tingling with spicy salt, on a bed of crispy noodles and lightly-wokked onion, spring onion and chilli. The meat was so fresh and juicy. Divine!
We drank our beers and enjoyed the happy hub-bub of the restaurant. The owner explained he wanted to make a place where people could sit and enjoy more than just food - to enjoy a pleasant atmosphere, and not feel they had to "eat & run". We think he has hit on something big. I am ready to get down & dirty in any grimy café or restaurant in search of the best dosa, dumplings or duck, but what a treat to find such fabulous food in such a visually appealing and friendly venue! The owner spent a while chatting with us, and still made the rounds to chat with others, take orders and clear plates, as well as spring to open the door for almost every group of patrons leaving.
Sticky Date Pudding, $6
Just for the sheer joy of it, we had to try their sticky date pudding. And yes, my nerdy birdy friend, Sapa Hills was full of whiteys, the toilets were spotless and the menus pristine. Let's go anyway - we can order their "Steamed Boat", just so you feel at home.
Sapa Hills (map)
112 Hopkins St, Footscray
Phone: 9687 5729
Hours: 10.00 am - 10.00 pm, 7 days