196 Victoria Street
Phone (03) 9421 2418
Open 7 days (9am - 10.30pm)
Definition: Cheap & Cheerful
Finding a good meal at 9.30pm on a rainy Sunday night might prove problematic in some parts of town. But Victoria Street, Richmond (or Little Saigon as it's affectionately known), is always open with a stunning array of cheap and cheerfuls to choose from.
As J and I wandered up the street we came upon Minh Tan 2, which had been given a two star rating and quip "bustling vietnamese/chinese" in the Cheap Eats guide. Unfortunately I didn't think it lived up to it's Cheap Eats recommedation on this occassion. We stood at the "Please wait to be seated" sign for no less than five minutes. I made friendly "I would love to be seated" eyes at no less than six waiters/waitresses. But not one of them acknowledged our presence. Five minutes gives you a lot of time to look around a place, and when I noticed quite a few unhappy patrons, a grotty looking kitchen pass, an overflowing bin right in the entry and extremely sad looking dumplings in the display case, I decided that I really didn't want to eat at this establishment. So we turned tail and walked out the door.
Alas, not two shops up from Minh Tan 2 was Co Do, a charming little Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant that appeared both cosy and inviting. On entering the establishment we were warmly welcomed by staff, shuffled to one of the last free tables and promptly served a cup of steaming tea. There was a happy buzz about the place; uni students creating a ruckus in one corner, an extended Vietnamese family talking it up in the other, lots of mates getting together for a feed, a spattering of couples, and even a few singles.
The table accoutrement was quite utilitarian/amusing. On a small tray one found pots of chopsticks and spoons - a matter of help yourself and use as many as you like. There was the usual salt and pepper shakers, soy sauce and fresh sliced chilli. And then there was the stainless steel pot of chilli and oil, a lethal concotion that should be identified with a biohazard sticker. I fear the stainless steel receptacle was born out of necessity and not aesthetics. Next to this was a serviette tissue box, which I assume was to mop up any hazardous spills should they occur.
The menu here is huge. Whilst the Hue Traditional Vietnamese Style Chilli Beef Soup sounded scrumptious in title, the ingredient list made me think twice; sliced beef, pork, beef loaf, pork loaf, blood. Uh huh. Blood. Yeah I know...it's all the same as meat at the end of the day. But the last time I ate blood I was four years old, and my Italian grandmother (who believed that pigs blood held some magical health property), tricked me in to consuming it by mixing it with chocolate/hazelnut Nutella spread. Urgh. Bleh. I'm scarred for life.
Anyway, I digress.
The menu covers everything from noodle soups (with or without blood), normal soups, rice dishes, rice vermicelli dishes, dropped rice noodle soups, rice noodle soups, egg noodle soups, fried rice or egg noodles - and that's just one side of the menu! Then you go on to pork, beef, chicken, prawn, squid, fish, scallop, duck, omelette, steam boat, combination and vegetable dishes. Phew!
So we decided to play it simple. It was 9.30pm and the stomach wasn't up to anything too adventurous.
Entree was a tasty batch of Vegetable Spring Rolls, served with a side of crisp iceberg lettuce and thai basil / mint. A beautiful sweet/salty/fishy dipping sauce was the accompaniment. J, who is a huge chilli connoisseur, decided to brave the stainless steel receptacle and try the chilli oil. Immediately on consumption balls of sweat appeared on his shaven head, his eyes started to water and turn red, and a big grin appeared on his face. He had found his match.
Not a minute after finishing the spring rolls, our main dishes arrived. First up, a tasty serve of Chinese Broccoli in oyster sauce. How can so simple a dish be utter perfection? Eating a dish like this with a side of steamed rice is what Nigella would term "temple food". Mmm.
Our other dish was Sliced Beef with Chilli and Lemongrass. The beef was super tender and gently spiced with chilli (...and yes, J reached for the chilli pot. Again). But what I really liked about the dish was that it was served with a mixture of stir-fried vegetables and crisp salad vegetables eg. cucumber, lettuce hearts and pickled carrots. I thought the vinegary carrots were a fantastic compliment to the dish.
The steamed rice was bottomless, as was the tea, and we were kept in plentiful supply of both without ever having to ask for more. Speaking of which, the front of house staff were quite something. Genuine smiles. Happy chats/banter. And most importantly they operated with that special "waiters peripheral vision". It is a commendable achievement.
All up our dinner cost $29.00, which I believe nominates it for Cheap Eats status. But I'll go one step further and nominate it for Cheap and Cheerful Eats status. It rocked.
Post originally published in tummy rumbles.