Given my recent and rising affections for Pho; proximity to Windsor/Prahran area of deliciousness; and my great experiences at sister restaurant Tokyo Tina; it was no surprise that I would lob onto the doorstep of this fine establishment. With a kind of grunge cool that is typical of this breed of hawker style restaurants, it was sure to satisfy my Vietnamese cravings.
The flavours of Vietnam are both varied and complex. On the face of it, you could be forgiven for thinking that all Vietnamese food is a combination of garlic, chili, lemongrass and ginger. Amp up the heat and you have it right there. However, if you look at the offerings available here, you will see that it is far more.
I have been guilty of oversimplifying the Vietnamese cuisine in the past, but my fascination seems to grow with each new restaurant I visit. For sure I can’t comment on the authenticity of each place – having never visited the country – but I do know what I like.
Despite being already full on arrival, starters were a temptation too good to resist. There were so many that I wanted to try, but we settled on the Hanoi spring rolls. These were meaty, crunchy, deep fried goodness. Of course they were coupled with a fish sauce dipper, lettuce leaves and Vietnamese mint. And of course what better way to wash it down than with Bia Ha Noi. I am very fond of this lager, especially with Pho.
Unfortunately they were out of my first Pho choice: spicy beef brisket. I went with the suggested alternative XO Pho with crispy pork and prawn. Not the traditional choice, coming with egg noodles rather than rice noodles, but that broth… The addition of the prawns gave a pleasant fishy aroma to the broth and the rich, fatty, crispy pork was a delight. The subtle hint of the spices in the beef broth was a great match to the chili punch from my liberal use of the condiment tray. I always love to get some hoisin sauce in the broth too.
I will be back for the spicy beef brisket, as I think the more traditional version would be on a whole new level. And the starters… I need them in my life too. Hanoi Hannah is set to be a regular on my list, and with prices that let you afford to go there on the regular, it’s a win-win!
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Perhaps The Kettle Black suffers from high expectations.
I had been wanting to visit for quite some time, but I’m not one for waiting in line for any length of time. Believe me, if you want to brunch at this place on the weekend, you’d better be prepared to wait. Sitting amongst a bunch of uninspiring looking “business” cafes – that no doubt do a solid job of catering to those office bods who need lunch mid-week, but don’t want to spend $20+ for the privilege – it seems like a shining light that is sure to live up to the hype.
No doubt it is obvious now that I was somewhat underwhelmed by my experience.
The coffee was a shining light, or at least my long black was. Perhaps the service was lacking in that there was no mention of coffee choices when I ordered. I was told that mine was the single origin special once it actually arrived. Lucky this was exactly what I wanted. Tick for the coffee… sort of. My dining companion ordered a soy flat white. Putting the soy bit aside for one moment, we both looked at each other and commented on the presentation of the coffee. Looked like a massive white blob of foam on the top. The second one after the meal was slightly better, with the blob resembling the outline of some kind of tulip or other foam form.
The food choices were solid, without being inspiring. I had the chili scrambled eggs, which were well executed. Perhaps a little too much bread, but the generous cube of feta cheese was a welcome addition. Only thing that was lacking a little is the spice that you expect in a dish with “chili” in the name.
The other dish is the avocado on toast. Can’t comment on the eating, although the simple presentation is a bold statement and shows great confidence.
Perhaps the most disappointing element of the experience was the service. It just seemed absent. There was little effort to make us feel welcome. When it is quiet at 9:30am mid-week, you would expect a higher level of service than during a mad weekend rush. Perhaps they just all take a breath for one second and enjoy the opportunity to relax. I expected more.
No doubt my opinion is of no consequence to the roaring trade that is going on down here. Based on my experience I can’t really understand why so many people would choose to wait in line. It is a good cafe, but not worth the hype.
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