Thursday, May 20, 2010

Phu Vinh

Phu Vinh is tucked under the eaves of Footscray Market, on Hopkins St.  It had never caught my eye. However, after reading rave reviews from penny aka jeroxie and Food Floozy, the sparkle on its gold noodle bowl caught my eye one market trip and we had to stop in.

I always love it when the menu is small, maybe 12 things at most, rather than a colossus of "Chicken with Black Bean/Satay/Mongolian/Garlic", repeated ad nauseam for all manner of meats.  It makes me think that the establishment has carefully selected a few dishes which it knows it does well.  Phu Vinh has a simple menu, just 2 pages, and a few of its dishes are displayed in bright, colourful pictures on the walls.  All the signs were there for a great little find.

Spring rolls, $9

Some spring rolls to start.  At first glance, these did look fairly big for Vietnamese spring rolls, which are normally quite thin (and therefore, extra crispy) when compared to their Chinese counterparts.  I was quite miffed to find only four or so small leaves of iceberg lettuce, rather than the quarter-head many restaurants are generous enough to provide you with.  Only European mint was offered, but I put this aside as me being a bit of a know-it-all, so enamored am I with my latest discovery (mixed bunch of three types of mint for 80 cents!)  Shrugging, I dipped my skimpily-clad spring roll into the nuoc mam cham.

Quelle horreur!  It was sweet chilli sauce!!!  What an insult!  The spring rolls were yucky too, mealy and unflavoursome.  Phu Vinh was starting to look very tarnished.

Dry rice noodle with separate soup (#4), $9

Next was this dish of rice noodles topped with shredded pork, calamari, prawn, quail's egg, vegies, and a large cracker.  A tasty chicken broth was served separately.  The rice noodles were thick, yet almost translucent, with a wonderfully toothsome texture.  They could almost have restored Phu Vinh's lustre if not for... more sweet chilli sauce!  It killed the dish for me.  However, if you are a sweet chilli fiend, you are probably thinking by now, "What's she on about?  That Phu Vinh has the Midas touch!"

Special Broken Rice, $9

Where has com tam been my whole life?  Phu Vinh's version was not so memorable, though.  The bi (shredded pork skin) was a little too chewy.  Although the pork chop and banh trung (steamed meatloaf) were tasty, I found them overly sweet.  This did come with nuoc mam cham.  Perhaps the bottle of sweet chilli had run out.

Pork and prawn soup with rice noodle (#1), $9

One sip of this clear, hot broth though, and Phu Vinh was starting to shine again.  A slurpworthy soup, filled with those same fabulous clear rice noodles, and topped with excellent cooked pork, pork mince, quail's egg, and garlic chives.  A forgettable calamari and prawn were promptly forgotten as I returned to polish the whole bowl off.  Delicious.
I loved watching the chef in the kitchen - he was so efficient and fastidious.  I don't mean to bag a small, family business, but the spring rolls did suck.  Some of the other dishes were just too sweet for my palate.  The noodles are delicious, though, and I've since tried their egg noodles, which are also great.  A suspicious-looking box did lead me to ask if they do indeed hand-make their noodles, as has been reported, but they told me they do not.  Perhaps they once did.  Go and try the noodle dishes, but leave #4 unless you are a sweet chilli nut.  They are out there - I once worked with a woman who would have toast with peanut butter and... sweet chilli sauce.

Phu Vinh
93 Hopkins St, Footscray (map)
Phone: 9689 8719
Hours: 9.00am - 9.00pm, 7 days


  1. Regarding the dry noodles with sweet chilli sauce (hu tieu kho), for me it's an essential ingredient. It the whole dish a slight sweet taste, but too much would ruin the dish. I usually dilute it slightly by adding some of the soup (1-2 spoon) from the small bow that came with the dish. This also has the added benefit of loosening and making things easier for mixing.

  2. Oh I really dislike sweet chilli sauce so I can imagine your horror!

    My pet peeve is when a dish is called "Asian blah blah" because it has sweet chilli sauce with/in it. Rawr!

  3. I only go there for noodles and not tried their spring roll before!

  4. The sweet chilli sauce with the dry noodles has always been a staple with the dish in our culture. I can understand your irk with the spring rolls but if you didn't like the sauce with the noodles then, I can't imagine anywhere else that would use a different sauce with that type of dish.

  5. Forgot to add, one time when I took my friend to Thien An and the dry noodle came out WITHOUT the sweet chilli sauce. The horror. It mixed like it has lost its personality. Everything was loose and fell apart when pickup with the chopstick.

    Agnes, chilli sauce was not invented to appease Westerner taste. It's the incorrect used (ie with spring rolls) that gave it that impression.

  6. Hi all and thanks so much for your insightful and informative comments.

    The thing is, although sweet chilli sauce is indeed an authentic Asian ingredient, it has been overused by Western chefs. I mean, every populist cookbook or recipe mag (think 4 Ingredients, Super Food Ideas etc) is full of recipes for noodles, salads, rice paper rolls etc doused in sweet chilli sauce and called "Asian", just as Agnes says.

    Another "Aussie" recipe/travesty calls for a tub of cream cheese to be upended, doused in sweet chilli, and served with crackers as a dip.

    Yet, as Hung points out, there are real applications in authentic recipes for sweet chilli sauce. Hung, I would like to try as you suggest and add a little of the soup, as I think it would change the dish entirely. I am just "burned" from eating so much sweet chilli in the past, mostly at my own hands. Before I understood how to blend flavours from tamarind, palm sugar, lemon juice etc, I just tipped sweet chilli on everything.

    It's good to be reminded that this sauce, although overused in pseudo-Asian recipes, does have traditional uses.

  7. What have they done to my favourite pho shop? It has gone up market with a re-furb. A bigger menu but the pho now comes in smaller bowls. It's not the same place I have been going to every couple of weeks for the past 10 years. I want to cry. Still there are new places to try.

  8. Anon - but it didn't have pho...? Do you mean the hu tieu mi clear soups? I will have to go and check it out again...

  9. they have pho..I always go for special order beef combination with chicken which is not on their menu..and it is not with extra of all..request for the chilli is to die for!

    Maybe time for review no. 2?

  10. Thanks Carlin - sounds like a great tip! I will be sure to revisit soon. Deb of Bear Head Soup did a guest review for me here on the blog and she gave it a big thumbs up. I think the post is called 'Phu Vinh 2' if you search for it.

  11. Hi Lauren
    Just found your great blog I have been shopping here regularly for over 20 years and still find new things every week. Have you tried the stewed beef[ribs] with a bread roll here Phu Vhin one of the great dishes in the hood.
    The cooking during the day is much better than the cooking at night. Two different crews on.
    I love the dry noodle soup as well, a touch of sweet chilli sauce in this dish is just right for me and you do get a squeeze of lemon and plenty of chilli for balance. The owners son has recently opened an small coffee bar at the entrance of the market and he pulls careful well ballaed shots.[crap cakes though trying to get hom to stock Dolcetti's ricotta doughnuts
    I shop in Footcray every thursday for my restaurant and always find a few extraordinary
    points of difference to freshen up the menu.
    Jicama today good fresh and small, Butacavollis for seriously fresh Mackeral the Saigon centre is only place I know for really tender Kohlrabi.
    Thanks for the great insights Footscray has to be the most satisfying food enclave in Australia.

  12. Hi George, thanks for stopping by and for the link to your blog! You have the perfect combination, a reliance on wonderful, peaceful, seasonal home-grown goodness but taking such delight too in the tumult of Footscray and all its colour, smells and noise. What a wonderful bowerbird approach you have, with no preconceived ideas about "oh I must only get X from this place" but just going where it's good. I had also seen the yufka in the Footscray Market supermarket and thought "how cool!"

    You would not believe the day before you stopped by, I had had the bo kho at Phu Vinh! Am loving their makeover so far. Thanks for the thumbs up about Scarlet Corner, will definitely stop in there next time I am out and about.

    See you at Buttacavoli's counter - Lauren


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