It was just a normal Thursday. Lazily refreshing my inbox, wading between the Frequent Flyer missives I never read and foreboding overdue library book notices, I found a little gem. "We have been in business for 20 years and both my parents are the chefs," wrote infectiously chirpy Tiffany of her family's restaurant, Vy Vy in Flemington. "We have many dishes we would love you to try, such as crispy soft shell crabs in spicy salt, vietnamese steamed rice rolls (banh cuon) freshly made and rolled, our laksas, salty fish chicken fried vermicelli, malaysian curries such as beef rendang, vietnamese curries, etc."
Fast forward two weeks and that's how S and I found ourselves ensconced at Vy Vy one Tuesday night, sipping at cooling homemade longan iced tea and ready for the gastronomic equivalent of a foot spa, massage and deluxe facial - a tummy pampering of epic proportions!
Vy Vy in Racecourse Road just turned 20 years old. While the area around Racecourse Road is fast turning into Melbourne's Little KL, Vy Vy was actually the first Asian restaurant in the area.
It is and has always been run by Winnie and Peter, now with the assistance of their gorgeous daughter Tiffany who runs Vy Vy's Facebook page. Winnie in particular is lovely, so hospitable and full of stories!
It's spick and span inside and unashamedly old school - love it! As we dined, it became clear that many of the steady stream of customers were much-loved regulars, beckoning Winnie out from the kitchen for a chat or placing orders with the ease of reeling off lucky Tattslotto numbers.
Soft shell crabs, $6 each
They may have lucky numbers but I have lucky dishes, and if soft shell crab is so much as hinted at I know I just have to have it. These crabs are harvested at an opportune time in their life cycle which means their shell is still pliable and can be eaten just as easily as the juicy meat inside. You are reading the words of the most squeamish offal virgin, so trust me, there is no ick factor - just all flavour! Vy Vy's were delicious, larger than other specimens, really meaty and with light, non-greasy batter.
Hot and sour soup, $5
Wickedly good hot and sour soup with the perfect combo of pleasant sour tang, chilli heat, soothing glutinous texture and a cast of quality ingredients like silky tofu and tender Chinese mushroom.
Banh cuon, $10
What had really piqued my curiosity in Tiffany's email was Vy Vy's fresh banh cuon. This is the same homestyle Vietnamese dish that I love for breakfast from Dinh Son at Little Saigon market - impossibly thin rice flour crepes filled with minced meat, rolled and topped with salad. Fellow banh cuon fiends, Vy Vy's version is awesome. While Dinh Son do pre-make and reheat them, they're made fresh to order here, and are steamed the proper, old-school way instead of being made in a frypan. Winnie also reports she makes the batter from scratch and doesn't use any kind of packet mix. The filling here is minced chicken which gives them a more delicate taste. Combined with fragrant mint, crunchy bean sprouts and mild Vietnamese sausage, they are a winner!
These have been a much-loved family recipe, and now Tiffany has convinced her mum that everyone else needs to try them too. Check out the other specials above, including vegetarian rolls in the middle.
Chicken roti chanai, $10
Vy Vy specialise in Chinese, Vietnamese and Malaysian food. I admit I'm often suspicious when a restaurant offers more than one cuisine, as I worry they're spreading themselves too thin. In fact, Winnie is originally from Vietnam and her husband Peter from China, and on her long journey to Australia, Winnie spent time in Malaysia where she learnt a lot about the cuisine there. This is definitely evident in this awesome chicken curry, full of rich, warming spices and shiny green fresh curry leaves. I was worried at first that it would be too oily but it worked perfectly, especially with plenty of rice and crisp yet pliable roti for mopping up all that wonderful sauce.
Silky tofu and eggplant, $14.50
There are two types of people in the world - one who looks at the above and turns away in horror, and another who needs to step back and stop drooling on the keyboard. Eggplant and silken tofu are definitely a love 'em or hate 'em kind of deal - and I adore them. This is a vegan dish and it was fantastic, delicate yet full flavoured with a light, tasty sauce, the tofu melting like snowflakes in the mouth.
Chicken ribs with spicy salt
I do love me a chicken rib, but we were so stuffed we could only manage one or two of these babies. They were delicious but I think had the skin on, which when battered really gilds the lily. Still yummy, just extra naughty!
Deep-fried icecream, $5.50
I have no idea how it is possible to deep fry ice cream, where a hot, crispy shell gives way to an icy scoop of vanilla. Like the best magic tricks, I have no intention of researching it and every intention of just enjoying it.
Banana fritter, $5
Seriously, what is it with the "dessert stomach"? Somehow we managed to eat all of the above, despite being so full. Top marks for great banana fritter action.
Tiffany often whips up little freebies for customers, whether they're home-made chocolates or these traditional Vietnamese steamed cakes, made with glutinous rice flour and mung beans and swiped through coconut cream.
I was so pleasantly surprised by our gorgeous, authentic dinner here. On the surface Vy Vy may look like the suburban restaurants of your childhood, but this ain't your mama's Chinese takeout. The menu is chockers with delicious traditional fare that's made with love and no cut corners.
One thing to be aware of is that in response to some customers' concerns in the past, Winnie may modify dishes to suit the older Anglo-Australian generation's palate. Particularly in the case of fried noodles, if (like me) you covet that authentic wok hei charred flavour, you're encouraged to ask for them "authentic Chinese style".
If only every email could lead to such a lovely discovery. Now, back to those overdue library notices...
Vy Vy (Facebook)
318 Racecourse Road, Flemington
Phone: 9372 1426
Hours: Mon-Fri 11.30am-3pm, 5-10.30pm
Sat 11.30am-3pm, 5-11pm.
Sun noon-3pm, 5-10.30pm (closed Christmas Day)
Disclosure: I attended Vy Vy as a guest which meant that in exchange for writing a post, a friend and I had a menu chosen for us and we did not pay for our meal. This offer was conditional on subsequently writing a post on Vy Vy. Vy Vy has not sought nor been given any editorial control of this post.
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