Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sacrilegious: Pho shame

Venue: MissChu
Style: Vietnamese, Hawker
Address: Shop 2, 297 Exhibition Street, Melbourne [Google Maps]
Phone: (03) 9077 1097
Hours: Mon-Sat 11:00am-10:00pm
Prices: Snacks $2.50 - $8.00 / Mains from $13 / Desserts $3.50
Bookings: Unnecessary

Amongst Melbourne diners, there are certain edible articles of faith that inspire something approaching fanaticism. It has less to do with fashion than it does with the fact that some eating experiences defy trends: enduring, uncomplicated pleasures like the smoky finish of good espresso, the architectural wonder that is a well-made burger and the more-ish quality of xiao long bao (burns to the roof of my mouth be damned).

It was only a few weeks ago that I finally experienced another sacrosanct linchpin of the Melbourne eating scene, in Sydney ironically. It's been theorised that phở is a northern Vietnamese interpretation of the French classic pot-au-feu. Slim cuts of boiled beef are tossed into an aromatic broth with rice noodles and finished with garnishes of Thai basil, fresh lime, chilli and bean sprouts. The broth was wonderfully bold and spiked with ginger, with the garnishes adding heat, aniseed and acid. And whilst my late grandmother was no aficionado of Asian cuisine, she would have been delighted by such tender, flavourful brisket.

So I was puzzled to find MissChu offering a Wagyu beef phở on their menu. I wasn't clear on why you'd drown such produce in an aggressively flavoured broth, but I felt duty-bound to test out another phở and both Mr. S and I enjoyed the look of the rest of the menu.

By night, MissChu is a very cool, casual venue offset by flickering candles. They've made the most of a narrow space which serves just as well a relaxed diner or a pre-drinks stopover (indeed, I plan to return on a non-school night to sample the coconut crush mixers). Peruse your tuckshop order forms, as well as the specials board and place your order at the counter.

Mixed rice paper rolls

Mixed rice paper rolls are moist and refreshing, which is the very least you'd hope for from the self-styled "Queen of Rice Paper Rolls" ($6.50 for 2). Inventive combinations are also on offer, like the egg omelet with creamy avocado and caramelised onion with balsamic.

Prawn and crab net rolls

Mr. S and I share a serve of the prawn and crab net rolls ($5.00 for 4), which I misunderstand to be your typical spring roll, with filling whorled up inside of a single sheet and fried. Rather, these net rolls are a solid snack offering: delicate and crunchy without being greasy, with firm, juicy chunks of seafood within. I ensure each mouthful includes a lashing of sweet chilli dipping sauce and a few pieces of crisp lettuce. Mr. S agrees that the net wrapper is inspired and we consider ordering more, however, we've another course on the way...

Wagyu beef pho 

MissChu's Wagyu beef phở ($14) is a problem. Premium ingredients aside, it is the sort of thing that draws people in - or turns them away - all on its own. If your basic dish is handicapped, you won't solve its deficiencies by dousing it in truffle oil. Likewise, this bowl of pho is a disappointment. The broth is not particularly flavoursome, even with the addition of the condiments. Worse, the hero of the dish - the beef - is chewy and doesn't taste of much. Sadly for MissChu and for me, the Wagyu tag comes across as nothing more than a cynical attempt to exploit premium cachet.

This goes some way towards explaining some of the negative reviews MissChu has received, I believe, as overall, Mr. S and I liked the food and the venue and we'd return. We capped off our meal with a bowl of coconut ice-cream studded with chunks of coconut flesh and topped with toasted almonds and fresh mint.

The Queen of Rice Paper Rolls is certainly adept with food, if not marketing.

MissChu on Urbanspoon

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