Victoria Street has always had a few things that regardless of the time of year or what you’re doing, you’ll always come back for; pho, heroin, Banh Mi (pork rolls), those ornamental Asian cats that constantly wave and Minh Tanh 2! This stalwart of the street has consistently been dishing out delicious treats for decades! Whether it’s a quick Sunday yum-cha, a birthday dinner or a mid-week pre-movie meal it never fails to deliver! (Please note: Minh Tanh 2 doesn’t actually deliver. Pick up only)
Above and beyond the quality of food, Minh Tanh 2 has also established itself over the years as a clear sentimental favourite for the Phuc Buddies. Not only because it was where Dizz tasted lobster for the first time on his 18th birthday or even for the famous day in the late 90s were a communication breakdown between waiter and customer left Yask and Dizz with 8 five spice quails between them (that’s a total of 40 spices for those counting at home) but because Minh Tan 2 more than any other restaurant served as an introduction to the street as a whole.
So it was with these years of experience under our belt that we made the almost-automatic decision to start with a couple of serves of prawn dumplings, a duo of chicken san choi bows for Marge and Dizz and a chicken and sweet corn soup for Yask. The dumplings arrived hot and steaming in no time at all. While the delicate casing made the transference from steamer to mouth a bit tricky, the sweet and succulent prawn filling ensured that each mouthful was a juicy delight and regardless of the amount ordered you’d always be left wanting more. Although the san choi bow could have benefited from a little more plum sauce, not just for the requisite sweetness but to bind the whole mixture together (the stains on Marge’s chinos are testament to the fact that it was difficult to eat!). Yask’s chicken and sweet corn soup rounded out the first course perfectly. While he may have been a little heavy-handed with the administering of soy sauce, turning the thick broth from a beautiful golden yellow to a murky brown there was no denying the flavour. Perhaps a bit thicker than what is customary with generous amounts of soft egg whites floating liberally amongst the corn and chicken pieces there seemed to be little opposition as it too was quickly consumed.
If you could aim one criticism towards Minh Tanh 2 it would be that the main course rarely delivers on the promise set by the quality of what precedes it. This may seem a bit unfair, as you could argue that this is the case with any Vietnamese meal or any food in general really. But like movies where sequels rarely manage to improve on the original (unless of course you’re talking about the second mighty ducks) MT2 seems to be victim of their own high standards and simply setting the bar too high for themselves. Regardless of this track record we still forged ahead by ordering a serve of salt and pepper chicken ribs, sizzling beef with honey and black pepper and a serve of bok choi with oyster sauce.
The chicken ribs came out first and as has been well recorded in reviews 1-21, the phuc buddies love fried chicken - so unsurprisingly these crispy little guys were well received and quickly devoured! Another of Minh Tanh’s strong suits is their liberal steamed rice policy. Where some of the street’s other establishments opt to charge a few dollars per individual serve forcing you to ration out the staple, MT2 provides you with a seemingly endless bucket of the stuff. While this was irrelevant for Midge who is carb free since ’93, it was graciously received by the rest. The sizzling beef and bok choi proved to be the perfect foil for this abundance of rice. The tender beef provided an ideal balance of flavour between the sweetness of the honey and punch of the black pepper. And although the token inclusion of only two pieces of broccoli created a tense moment between the three phuc buddies, the large quantity of quality meat ensured a confrontation was averted. The bok choi rounded the meal off nicely, with its freshness adequately offsetting the richness of both the chicken and the beef.
Satisfied and content, we decided to forgo the complementary orange slices in favour of an extra round of Buck Hunter before the latest installment of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s prolific acting career. As we made our way out and not for the first time the thought crossed our minds - if sequels were in fact rarely better than the original, then where the phuc is Minh Tanh 1!
Although each of the Phuc Buddies are finely tuned eating machines adept at consuming long, drawn-out meals it is fair to say that none of us are endurance athletes. Yet, as we embarked on our twentieth meal along Victoria Street we were beginning to experience a condition usually reserved for marathon runners pushing their bodies close to the point of breaking. There was no doubt about it, as we neared Xiao Ting Box it was obvious that collectively we had ‘hit the wall’. Conservative estimates have us about half way to our goal of conquering the street, so it is unsurprising that fatigue and doubt were beginning to set in and slowly corrode our normally positive demeanours. Like athletes though it was imperative that we did not falter to the point of losing momentum, the time had come to shake things up and take a new approach. In order to make it to The Box we had to start thinking outside of it.
Despite Yask’s persistent lobbying for a Caribbean style vacation for a different perspective (unerringly similar to How Stella Got Her Groove Back) it was eventually decided that the inclusion of some fresh faces (albeit in a temporary capacity) would be enough kick us out of our rut! The addition of Suf, Shkoff, B and the D-Unit ensured that if nothing else we’d at least be looking at bit more variety in the way of conversation not to mention entrees. The idea of a mid-week dumpling feast and the hitherto unimaginable opportunity to rub shoulders with the Melbourne Jewish community’s answer to the three fat guys from Master Chef, was too good to pass up and the newbies accepted our invitation on short notice.
Few, if any of us had eaten at the box since it had changed hands but we could all clearly remember the halcyon days of its previous owner Kevin. So it was with mixed expectations and more than a hint of trepidation that we walked through the doors. Immediately we were struck with the strong sense of familiarity but at the same time we were also acutely aware of what had changed. For one, the tables that used to be bustling with large groups frenetically picking apart plates of soft-shell crab, were now empty. Even the infuriating indie/bohemian couples sipping on cheap red wine and insisting that they were the ones that had ‘discovered’ this place, where nowhere to be seen! As it was, we were the only people at all in the restaurant.
After looking over the menu, which surprisingly had remained completely unchanged throughout the handover we quickly and automatically agreed on a selection of food. Two serves of chilli oil dumplings, two serves of prawn and pork (one steamed, one fried), salt and pepper squid, beans with pork mince, sizzling beef and veg and Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce as well as a couple of chicken and sweet corn soups for Dizz and Yask. The thicker than usual soups arrived first and were quickly demolished under the watchful eyes of the five others who all seemed to be silently ruing their decision to forego the small soup option. The regret however was short lived as the barrage of dumplings arrived shortly after. Despite looking identical to the dumplings which used to see us traveling across town to sample, it only took one bite to realise that they were far from the same. A far thicker casing and a significantly blander filling resulted in a pretty underwhelming experience. This was more pronounced in the prawn and pork variety, as they didn’t have the fiery chilli oil to hide in.
The beans, which arrived next also left us with a feeling of ‘same, same but different’. The platter of shriveled beans with only a meager smattering of minced pork looked as if they were part of a Bupa commercial representing the less healthy, happy version of themselves. But sadly a plump, glistening, healthy version with adequate health insurance was nowhere to be found. The salt and pepper squid was nice and crispy and while it could have benefited with a little more chilli was a clear frontrunner for dish of the night. The Chinese broccoli was also well received, perfectly cooked and with the glorious, glistening sheen (MSG) that had been missing from the previous dishes. But by the time both had been consumed, two things had become apparent, this meal didn’t look like it was going to reach any great heights, and that we were going to need another round of dumplings. The late inclusion of a couple more serves of prawn and porks truly was testament to the old Chinese adage that ‘average dumplings are better than no dumplings at all’.
Although The Box didn’t quite live up to our lofty expectations there are a couple of things we can focus on: One, we tried hard. And two, we’re still dear friends!
With pho establishing itself as the city’s soup de jour in recent years it was with high expectations that we ventured down to eat at one of the street’s early adopters of Vietnam’s national dish. Like many great establishments before it this place transcends the notion of a simple name instead it seems to always be referred to by the iconic imagery of the cow and chicken on it’s sign (think Victoria Street’s answer to the Golden Arches). So, with Yask running characteristically late and Marge characteristically ditching Yask and Dizz for a Game of Thrones date night we were left with only a small window to pho down and fit in the requisite best of three rounds of Buck Hunter.
So after a few frenetic text messages and without further delay, two medium beef with beef balls (for Dizz and Yask) and a small Chicken (for Marge) were ordered along with a double serve of prawn springers. However, the ordering didn’t end there, without Yask’s cool head and calming demeanour there was nothing standing between the present Phuc Buddies and a last minute audible in the way of a totally unprecedented fourth soup! If the addition of egg noodles and a different broth weren’t enough to wet our appetite then the presence of fried chicken, a proven Phuc Buddy weakness, was more than enough to obliterate any potential resistance.
Luckily, just as Marge and Dizz began to exhaust their supply of small talk both Yask and the springers arrived simultaneously. While the entree was welcomed with the warmth and familiarity of an old friend, the old friend was welcomed with a fresh Vietnamese iced coffee and a sigh of relief. The trio forwent the formality of greetings, even opting not to address the ongoing issue of Yask’s tardiness. Instead turning their attention to the glistening mountain of spring rolls in front of them. Forever the crowd pleaser, they didn’t disappoint. The succulent, fresh filling was encased by perfectly cooked pastry that met even Marge’s high standards. The waitress’s timing proved to impeccable yet again, just as each buddy was silently beginning to contemplate whether or not they were entitled to the one remaining springer, she arrived with three steaming bowls of soup.
Each quickly went to work adjusting and tweaking the broth with all the available accoutrement. After the dust settled from the short flurry in which the chilli, mint and lemon exchanged hands numerous times it seemed that not everyone was satisfied with what sat in front of them. While Marge’s finished product was a zesty concoction with all the necessary layers of flavour, neither Dizz nor Yask seemed able to find the right combination to build out the depth of taste they wanted from their soups. Even the addition of some pickled onions failed to lift the broth from anything more than tepid bath water. Unfortunately the soup’s contents failed to provide much in the way of redemption either. While the meat and noodles were good quality without setting the meal alight, the beef balls ended up asking a lot more questions than they answered. The always ambiguous balls are pretty much the Vietnamese equivalent of dim sims, no one’s quite sure what they consist of but when they’re good enough no one needs to know. Sadly these weren’t good enough and on this occasion the reward didn’t seem to outweigh the risk. As both Dizz and Yask were lamenting their rather disappointing orders on the other side of the table Marge was faring much better. With good quality chicken breast and a far more flavoursome broth and the smaller serving size it was quickly polished off. After what initially seemed like an excessive order, the additional soup proved to be something of a saving grace for the meal. Amongst the robust and salty broth there was an abundance of egg noodles, some fresh bok choi as well as a good smattering of spring onions. The fried quarter of chicken, which was admittedly picked apart and consumed with out even touching the soup, was easily the pick of the day. Without being overly oily and still providing a crisp skin above moist chicken it certainly went someway towards erasing the disappointment of the preceding beef soups.
Perhaps in days gone by before Pho had achieved a cult following in Melbourne ‘Chicken & Cow’ might have passed as a viable dinner option. But now with a considerable increase in industry standards and a multitude of emerging competitors it just doesn’t get the job done anymore. In light of the beef pho it might be time to at least retire the ‘cow’ and rebrand as simply ‘chicken’.
Following two arduous, pain staking nights of Seder, the Phuc Buddies reunited for an unprecedented third helping of the divinely given festival. The only differences on this night was that dinner would be held at Szechuan House, Kosher le Pesach guidelines would not be adhered to and it would be an experience shared with people we actually loved.
Having not touched a carb in well over 48 hours (going on 48 months for Marge), the three Phuc Wits were toeing the line between hungry and ravenous. Nestled between a Chinese medical clinic and a store that seemed to be selling anything and everything metallic, the two storied Szechuan House stood out like Mount Sinai in the Egyptian desert. As we made our way to the entrance a burning bush caused us to stop in our tracks, much to our disappointment however, it was merely a group of junkies trying to keep warm rather than the sign from God we were hoping for.
The menu literally left us spoilt for choice. Page upon page of dishes that were quite unfamiliar to Victoria Street veterans like ourselves and although in over our heads, we were excited by the prospect of trying something new. Szechuan cuisine is notorious for its spice and fragrance, elicited from the generous use of garlic, chilli and the aptly name Szechuan peppercorn. A three chilli classification system, three for the spiciest and one for the mildest, was used to warn patrons of the eye watering affects of each dish.
It should be noted that each dish we ordered was a mere two on the chilli scale. It was decided that a combination of intestinal blocking matzah and formidable quantities of chilli would have been a recipe for disaster, and cooler heads prevailed.
As a pre curser to the meal, the waitress brought over what could be described as a deconstructed charoset, with spice rather than sweet being the overriding flavour. The walnuts of the charoset were replaced by some form of soft peanut, the apple was substituted with marinated seaweed, and the red wine swapped with spicy tree fungi. The pickled chicken feet, were not only out of left field, but also inedible.
Having spent the last two nights meticulously poring over the Haggadah while opportunistically siphoning a crumb of matzah here, or a pickle there to satisfy our burgeoning hungers, we were pleasantly surprised when within minutes of polishing off the last of the peanuts our main meal had arrived. It was as if the chef’s not only knew we were coming, but knew exactly what we would order. Whether it was divine intervention or possibly the fact that we chose the most popular items on the menu didn’t matter, because it was time to eat!
The broth of the wonton soup was infused with what looked like chilli oil but turned out to be sweeter than anticipated. The chicken filling tasted more of a nutty cinnamon mix found in Turkish desserts and frankly left a lot to be desired. The fact that 3 of the 8 dumplings were left untouched speaks volumes. Especially because after the overdose of matzah balls, the Buddies were craving something that resembled kreplach, the wontons however, did not deliver.
The spicy deep fried chicken was arguably the star dish of the meal receiving wide acclaim from all three of the musketeers. A bed of roasted whole chilli’s was punctuated by deliciously spiced, and cooked to perfection pieces of flawless chicken. With the same addictive tendencies of a KFC favourite pop-corn chicken but with far less batter and negative health ramifications, the giant platter big enough to feed 5 was barely enough to satiate 3!
The pork and vegetable stir fry was also fantastic. Shredded pork combined with delicately cooked carrot, cabbage, broccoli, snow peas and of course liberal amounts of chilli, was heaped onto a plate and delivered to us still steaming from the wok. The consistency was almost like the filling of a spring roll, but fresher, tastier, and downright better. The corn flour thickened sauce ensured that the flavours were even distributed over every ingredient. If you enjoy a bowl of rice to really soak up a dish, this is the one for you.
The stuffed eggplant came to us incased in an aluminum shell that we quickly ripped open. Inside we found a generous portion of eggplant that was stuffed with pork mince, then seemingly pan fried on top to caramelise the meat and also seal in all the flavour. The eggplant was expertly cooked, with that melt in your mouth consistency that every aubergine-cooking chef should aim for. Although not overly spicy, it complemented the other two dishes which, when put together had enough spice to cover for this plant.
Unfortunately for the service points, but serendipitous for ourselves, the green beans were forgotten and although not even close to hungry, a little bit of foliage wouldn’t have gone astray!
The courteous and friendly service of all the waiters was noted and appreciated. Perennially dehydrated, we were extremely impressed with their dedication to ensuring we always had our glasses filled with water, however due to the explosive nature of the food, it’s basically a duty of care.
Overall the meal was highly enjoyable and easily one of the best we’ve eaten on our journey so far. As the manager delivered our bill with “a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” we were again impressed with the value of the meal.
As we made our Exodus from the restaurant we were all relieved that we would not have to follow in the footsteps of Moses and the Israelites and wander Victoria street for 40 years looking for our car, because it was exactly where we left it, in the parking lot.
Also, for the first time in living memory, Yez was beaten in the traditional post meal Buck Hunter session. Out of the three sites visited, Dizzle managed to conquer two of them while Marge shot magnificently to bring up a stage victory for himself. It has been reported Yez is taking time off to consider his future in the sport.
The Incredible Bury Wonderstone 0.5/5 – If you like movies where a bunch of has-been’s embarrass themselves then this is the movie for you
Extremely hungry and strangely craving lip balm, we decided to get stuck into the menu. While quite comprehensive and boasting a large array of specials, our previous disappointments had led us to take a more conservative approach. To start with we went for the obligatory prawn springers, some fried quail and a serve of salt and pepper pork ribs. Realising that we had just picked the trifecta of fried goodness we choose to move down a healthier route for the mains. Water spinach with garlic and Vietnamese salad with beef rounded out the meal.
*We did also order a serve of prawn stuffed eggplant but having run out of eggplant, this dish would have proved hard to conjure.
The springers arrived first, followed closely by the quail with pork ribs coming in 2 lengths behind. All three, while immediately clogging our arteries, were given a thumbs up, something seldom seen in recent times. The springers were crispy on the outside while moist on the inside and accompanied by some well-pickled carrots. The quail, reminiscent of a Phuc Buddies favourite, was bigger than usual. Almost in astonishment, Dizz asserted “I can’t even eat these bones”. This fact, in no way reflects a good quail but it is worth noting for the sake of Dizz’s eating habits. Next, the pork ribs, which were well spiced and flavourful, though they did have a large surface area of batter that left them a tad oily.
To break up the meal and try to wash away the vast amount of fat we had just consumed, Yask suggested a serve of Vietnamese iced coffees. While this is not a rarity at our meals, these drinks were on the stronger side of the scale and would have been well handicapped at any other restaurant on the street.
With both our moods and caffeine levels equally high, the mains were brought out. The water spinach was fresh and crisp with the garlic strong enough to give flavour but subtle enough not to over power. The Vietnamese salad was next down the straight and did not disappoint. It was well balanced, fresh and even well decorated… It’s the little things.
Maybe it was the amount of fried food, maybe it was the Vietnamese coffee mid meal but on this occasion the Phuc Buddies fell a few lengths short of finishing the meal. Though slightly embarrassed, we left with tomorrow’s lunch… And that is what you call a ‘vinh vinh’.
Movie With Marge wanting a “quiet one’ it was left to Dizz and Yask to fly the movie flag. Zero Dark Thirty was good, if not a bit too predictable but the real winner was having a night off from the kids!
Our first few outings in 2013 have been nothing short of a culinary rollercoaster, we reached dizzying heights with Pacific House only to plummet back down to earth with a ‘meal’ at Loving Hut a week later. However, as we moved away from these more ‘novelty’ restaurants with their crazy ideas of veganism and towards some of the street’s more generic options we expected that our ride would at least reach a momentary plateau. Thanh Phong which on face value is practically undistinguishable from a host of the street’s other restaurants boasts an extensive menu full of all the expected staples but offers little extra in the way of specials or any x-factor to set it apart.
By now, extremely familiar with this sort of menu we quickly skipped past the large egg-noodle soup section, straight through the hot pots and settled our attention on the chef’s specials. Intent on unearthing Thanh Phong’s hidden gems rather than filling up on lemon chicken or beef and black bean. We waited for something new and exciting to catch our eye. Unfortunately though nothing was jumping out, so with the assistance of our waitress we eventually settled on a serve of ‘Vietnamese sausage’ after her initial suggestions of lemon chicken and beef and black bean were quickly rebuffed. Additionally we also settled on a trio of small wonton soups, some prawn springers and a Vietnamese Coleslaw with prawn and pork to get the meal started.
The sausage or ‘Vietnamese salami’ as our waitress called it, arrived in quick time accompanied by some lightly pickled carrots, shredded lettuce and fresh cucumber as well as a peanut dipping sauce. Far from offensive the sausage had a rich, sweet taste that was complemented well by the fresh veggies. However, as the meat cooled and the surrounding supply of vegetables diminished it felt like the sausage was becoming increasingly overpowering and heavy. It was almost with relief that we were able to usher it to the sidelines of the table as the wonton soups and spring rolls arrived in unison. Immediately it was evident that the soup was absolutely abounding with dumplings, instead of the customary four or five wontons, each bowl was boasting close to eight. In addition small pieces of minced pork floating in the light broth ensured that this soup was one to be remembered. Slightly less memorable but no less delicious the spring rolls too were well received and quickly demolished. Finally, the arrival of the prawn and pork coleslaw rounded off the starters nicely. Although the sliced pork didn’t taste great and prawns didn’t really taste at all, the fresh salad with a generous amount of shredded cucumber and a good smattering of tasty fried shallots provided a refreshing remedy to the hot summers night.
With a 9’o’clock session of Django and talk of an extreme popcorn combo in the air it was decided that we’d go light on in the way of mains in order to maximise both our time and our appetites. However, as our serve of chilli chicken and salted prawns arrived any concerns about overeating quickly disappeared. About ten fried prawns which were perhaps slightly over-battered and under-seasoned posed little threat to our appetites. As for the chilli chicken it was a miracle that we were even able to maintain any semblance of an appetite in the wake of its arrival. It was immediately obvious that the chicken wasn’t great quality and was more skin than meat. A brief taste confirmed our concerns that the dish was practically inedible with the chilli sauce doing nothing to mask the taste and feel of the chicken. Despite Marge’s polite claims that ‘the carrots were ok’ (they weren’t) it was abundantly obvious that the meal would conclude on a low point!
Unfortunately it seemed that our roller coaster would remain in decline for at least one more week, luckily we had a blockbuster movie and a massive bucket of popcorn to look forward to. While the movie lived up to expectations, Dizz’s introduction of a sachet of cheese flavouring into the popcorn ensured that, that was also ruined!
Value 2.5/5 ($102)
Django 4/5 - The d might be silent but unfortunately the way Dizz eats popcorn isn’t!