Monday, March 22, 2010

Sapa Hills

I have a friend who has an almost pathological aversion to classy ethnic restaurants.  If the menu is not cracked and peeling, and does not feature such items as "Prok" and "Duck Ling", his appetite is not whetted.  If a trip to the toilet does not entail a scramble over five bags of rice and a mega-box of paper napkins, to be greeted by a cracked rim and stained bowl, he is unmoved.  The highest compliment he can pay to an eatery is, delivered in a hushed voice - "No whiteys!"  For all these reasons, he would hate Sapa Hills - and he would be seriously missing out.

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

Sapa Hills on Urbanspoon


  1. mmm, soft shell crab. Now that's a dish I don't get enough of. Thanks for this 'west side' review.

  2. Hi Adrian, how good is the soft shell!? I have to go it every time I see it.

  3. Was told by another blogger about this place. Will check this out soon.

  4. Have been here before but went back last night and tried pretty much the same menu as you guys did. The soft shell crab is fantastic!

    Love the blog, keep up the good work.


  5. I was excited when I heard you could finally get bun cha in Melbourne. Glad you and Phil both give it the thumbs up - looking forward to trying it soon!

  6. I'm glad that you liked it - good bun cha is surprisingly hard to find.

  7. Penny - glad you guys liked Sapa Hills, and thanks for the shout out!

    Angela - let me know what you think. If your list is like mine, it is very long!

    Simon - wasn't the crab amazing? Thanks for the lovely compliment btw! So glad you like the blog.

    cloudcontrol - the owner says he has customers who come in and ask for bun cha, and if they've run out that day, they get up and leave!

    Phil - I'd never had it before so looking forward to trying to spot it when dining out... although Sapa Hills' will be hard to beat.

  8. i love your blog! i just had dinner at sappa hills before from your recommendation and i loved it. the soft shell crab was amazingggg

    thanks for the awesome food reviews of footscray!

  9. William - aw shucks! Thank you so much! I'm so glad you liked the soft shell crab.

  10. What a lovely looking meal! Great review

  11. Hi Nicole - thanks! It was a real winner. We recently introduced some rellies to the owner, as they were heading to Hanoi, and he gave us the scoop on his family's restaurant there. So lovely.

  12. I ate here yesterday with a very conservative non-foodie friend. I thought it looked like a good choice under the circumstances, but like the friend that you mentioned, I was wary of the extreme cleanliness and fancy appearance. The food was terrific! The menu was extensive (even Miss Fussypants found something to order, albeit the chicken and vegetables). The service was also impressive, and the prices very reasonable. I will definitely go back.
    I can't get my blog account to work. It's Jen writing this!


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