South East Asia is honestly one of my favourite places to travel to - I'm really thankful to have been born in Singapore and love how all of these great places are only just a stone throw away whenever I'm visiting home! As far as ticking off travel destinations goes, I've been waiting for the opportunity to visit Vietnam for the first time. There's a great Vietnamese-Chinese community around Perth and at one point as a kid, my family use to gather with a few others and we have these great Bánh Tráng Cuốn (Rice Paper Roll) making weekends! In the morning, we'd meet at one family's house and to start preparing ingredients like Vietnamese Pork, Garlic Chives, Prawns and Vermicelli Noodles. The dads would kick start the barbie later on in the day and it would be this great Vietnamese meets Australian barbecue cook out. By dinner time, mini-Whit would be standing on a chair, ambitiously soaking her own rice paper rolls in water before loading it up with ingredients and going dipping sauce crazy! It was a fabulous way to spend a weekend and always followed with ice cream cones and a couple of rounds of hide and seek chasey before we all called it a day. It wasn't until a few years ago that I was actually exposed to Pho and Bánh Mi, which are now arguably two of the most popular and replicated Vietnamese dishes around Perth.
M and I get into various "noodle" craving moods and I had suggested that we step out to grab some Vietnamese for lunch. I'm ready to be schooled on where I can get great Vietnamese food from around Perth - especially Pho. Let me know in the comments below! Sandy from Hungry Again? always says that the best Vietnamese food in Perth is actually from the kitchens of Vietnamese families! I don't doubt that for a second - but I do wonder if there are reliably good restaurants out there. We decided to give Tra Vinh in Northbridge a try - I had read some great things about their stuffed chicken wings and delicious broths. It seemed like an affordable, casual and authentic place that a lot of local punters go to.
To start off with we got a few drinks - I really like Basil Seed; they're incredibly fun to chew on, especially when coupled with another favourite of mine - Grass Jelly! I tend to find that your general run-of-the-mill Asian restaurant will charge you cafe prices for mind numbingly sweet drinks that are 60% ice. That's the case here in Tra Vinh too - the Thai Milk tea especially was a disappointment, considering that just a few blocks down William St S&T hit out a killer batch.
It wasn't long before the Stuffed Chicken Wings arrived at the table - they looked a little more like the index claws of a dinosaur to me! It's the Frankenstein of chicken wings; larger than life, crispy and absolutely bulging with stuffing - more dipping sauce would definitely be necessary!
The filling within the chicken is actually a slightly mysterious mix of meat, carrots and cloud ear fungus - it was a bit pasty and not the kind of succulent, juicy chicken that we all look forward to with deep fried wings. The filling could have done with a bit more seasoning too, but the accompanying sweet chilli sauce did help with the blandness. Much like when chicken is stuffed with herbed butter or cheese, it could have been a pretty tasty dish. The result didn't fulfil the hype for me but it's a filling entree that will keep you at bay till the rest of your dishes get here.
I love a good monster sized bowl of Pho - especially when it's filled to the brim with a rich broth (you know, the beef bones, spices and simmering for hours kind!) and al dente noodles. As far as Pho variants go, I love the combination of savoury beef balls and thin, tender slices of raw beef. However, on more than one occasion I'll be on the receiving end of overcooked beef - this was one of them. The broth didn't impress either, even after adding the usual flair of a squirt of lemon, mint and a little siracha. The fact that the noodles were also overcooked amongst all the other shortcomings really put the nail in the coffin pho me.
The portions here are huge and a bowl between two for $11.00 would have definitely filled us up - the serving sizes could be compensation for a lack of satisfying flavours, but imagine if they had managed to deliver on deliciousness AND portion size! M's Bun noodles was definitely an improvement - there were a lot of fresh flavours going on and I have an odd weakness for spring rolls...however commercial they may be!
I did really the accompanying garnishes; the rough julienne of vegetables gives the noodles a lot of freshness and a good crunch from the severed spring rolls. Sauce wise, M ended up adding more siracha - for us, the noodles ended up being a little bland without enough of the sauce to cascade over the vermicelli noodles. It was fine adding condiments ourselves in the end to remedy what could have been an excellent lunch. I believe that every restaurant owner and every chef has a story to tell through their food and it's a shame that what we ended up experiencing seemed to be served without passion for what's going onto the plate; here's hoping that it's a one-off bad experience. Good quantities and presentation, whilst very ideal will still rank lower from a customer's perspective than good taste. The service and the ambiance are average, however it becomes a problem when the food doesn't step in as a winning compensator - real South East Asian street food is generally a no frills experience but at the very least, the taste will overwhelm you with goodness. I haven't had much luck with finding reliable Vietnamese restaurants in Perth - but I'll look phoever if I have to!