One I was particularly looking forward to was the Bo Bay Mon, a seven-course beef-focused Vietnamese feast normally reserved for weddings. It was held at Tuu Lau Hoang Gia or "Royal Reception", a restaurant I had hitherto never heard of, above the shops in Leeds Street.
I couldn't get a good pic inside as it was quite dark and I dislike using my flash (I think it disturbs others' meals) but I think this is more an "events" venue, eg, for a wedding reception. It's quite small but has a dance floor and lights, plus they apparently do karaoke. There was a full Vietnamese/Chinese menu but also a separate banquet menu with multi-course seafood banquets priced for 10 people or more. Indeed, there was a huge tank of seafood inside with very healthy-looking lobsters and mud crabs.
Unlike most Vietnamese restaurants in the area, they are fully licensed, but it has to be said - the wine prices are absolutely outrageous - the only sparkling wine is Passion Pop for $30. I am not kidding! Evidently the drink of choice is cognac and upon entry, there are two of these glass cases filled with cognac bottles with the names of patrons stuck to them. Obviously you can buy a bottle and keep it here for next time you come. I am really curious about this place - if you know more, please tell me!
Course number one bounded out of the gates - wafer-thin beef slices which we cooked ourselves in the hot, vinegared water before rolling up in rice paper with vermicelli, vinegared vegetables and fresh herbs. The sauce was quite delicious - I believe it was mam nem which I have had before and disliked - it's made from fermented shrimp paste and is really, really stinky. This must have been toned down as it was only a little fishy but very tangy and sweet, perhaps from tamarind or pineapple.
The best - so simple, fresh and healthy. If you want to make these at home, they are so easy. You can buy the rice paper in Asian grocers - they come dry in packets and you just dip into hot water to rehydrate them. The rolling takes a little practice. You can fill them with anything, really. Make a sauce by heating then cooling hoi sin, peanut butter and a dash of milk to thin it out. Yummy!
Next course - "BBQ beef". This was the same thin beef lightly cooked with a hint of cumin, perhaps. I found it a bit underseasoned but it tasted great in the rice paper rolls.
Courses three, four and five came together - beef in betel leaves, "beef skewers" and "beef in pork fat". I normally love beef in betel leaves (often written as "beef in vine leaves" on menus). Betel leaves are used in India to make paan, a mixture of areca nut which is a mild stimulant and various aromatics around which the betel leave is wrapped. It is then chewed and the nut stains the mouth and teeth red, pretty much permanently over time. Don't be scared to eat the leaf, it's the herbal filling that is the addictive, stainy part. I didn't like these much as I actually prefer my beef in betel leaves to be quite thin and have lots of leaf and not much beef (see here). These were the opposite but perhaps this would be considered better in Vietnamese culture for a feast, ie being more generous with the meat.
The beef on skewers I think was treated with bicarb as they were beef pieces but were very, very soft - I wouldn't have minded more "chew" and more charred flavour. The "beef in fat" I think was bo mo chai which is minced beef wrapped in pork caul fat. I found these a bit plain and by this stage I was beefed out. What did you expect, you say? I know - I don't really eat that much meat and was having a hard time eating so much without any accompaniments (we had eaten all the rice paper and herbs by now - not sure if we were meant to have saved to wrap these items). As always, this is just my personal reflection. If you were a big meat-eater, I'm sure you would have been in heaven.
Steamed beef meatball with glass noodles and wood ear mushrooms. This was very nice, very soft and juicy but I couldn't eat any more meat!
The last course, beef congee. I must say I am not mad about congee so only had a spoonful or two.
The maitre d' was lovely and was concerned we didn't eat much of the last two courses. I explained that I love all the pickled vegies and fresh herbs of Vietnamese cuisine and didn't enjoy the meat-heavy, rich style of the last few courses. But that is the thing - this is a traditional wedding banquet. In rural Vietnam I would imagine to kill a whole cow or buffalo would be quite a significant sacrifice and without refrigeration, you would need to eat as much of it as possible, as quickly as possible. So I imagine this was quite authentic. Despite my own personal preferences, it was a privilege to try something so traditional that many non-Vietnamese Australians would never have a chance to do. I look forward to many more Food and Wine Festival events in Footscray in the coming years - we have so much to offer.
Tuu Lau Hoan Gia (Royal Reception)
45A Leeds St, Footscray (map)