Wat Da Pho
212 Clarendon Street
+61 3 9696 5605
I am an avid believer that a restaurant that specialises in specific cuisine should be staffed and patronised by “their own kind”. Or to put it in simpler terms, Chinese diners served by Chinese people in a Chinese restaurant, romantic French accents from staff and patrons in a French bistro and Vietnamese restaurants full of musical clatter and Vietnamese folk. And to be even more race-anal, I’d drive to suburbs where residency is predominantly of that particular race, i.e. Boxhill for Chinese food and Footscray or Richmond for Vietnamese.
When I caught wind that my local had a pho joint, I was dubious. I later researched discovered that it was well-received and became intrigued. I’m quite particular with my pho, and am a devout supporter of “I Love Pho 264” but I did my best to approach Wat Da Pho in South Melbourne with an open mind (and tummy).
Wat Da Pho is a sorta newish Vietnamese eatery on Clarendon Street. There is pho, grilled meat on skewers, rice paper rolls and spring rolls on the menu. Alarm bells clanged when I stepped in for lunch one Tuesday; there were Caucasians galore and so were the wait staff. A quick peek into the kitchen had me seeing black Asian hair and a sigh of relief swept over me. I hopped in line, ordered a bowl of chicken pho and snagged a seat on the communal table.
Da Pho: Ga – Chick a Dee. $9.80
As I fiddled on my phone, I couldn’t help but overhear an Asian lady teaching her white girlfriends on the art of enjoying pho and waxing lyrical on the dish. Her words were: “part of the beauty of the dish is the crunchy textures of the beansprouts with the silkiness of the rice noodles”. How poetic and simple, yet true.
My pho came with condiments served on a chopping board. It was aesthetically pleasing and surprisingly pretty good. The chicken broth was light and clear, with condiments adding depth to the soup. I was in and out in 25 minutes and had already decided to visit again real soon.
Two weeks later, I dragged The Angmoh into Wat Da Pho for dinner. The ethnic distribution hadn’t changed and I wasn’t expecting it to. The Angmoh had pho with beef brisket, sliced beef and beef balls and I went for skewers, after receiving positive feedback from Winston.
The Angmoh, too, is fussy with his pho and gave it a passing score. The soup was slightly on the sweet side but there were strong hints of beef stock and spices. My skewers were pretty tasty with pronounced herby lemongrass and coriander flavours. They too, however, were slightly sweet.
The serving of pho was inadequate to fill The Angmoh’s famished stomach. He placed an order for rice paper rolls, which had limited flavours by that time of the night. We were given a free roll due to its slightly misshapen haphazard appearance. It was fresh but could do with a bit more herbs.
Pandanacotta - pandan flavoured panna cotta + coconut crisps + coconut syrup $6
For dessert, I had the pandanacotta. It was alienishly green and The Angmoh was not having any of it, which meant more for me, YAY! That night, it was served with vanilla ice cream and I couldn’t detect any coconut syrup. The pandan flavour was fragrant and dense, which I can only describe it to be Asian-coconuty-vanilla-ish. The texture was thick and more gelatin-like. While it didn’t quite have the wobbliness of panacotta, I still enjoyed it and dexterously scraped every single bit from the glass jar.
Wat Da Pho is a more “poshed” up version of your usual Vietnamese eatery. The dishes are named with a sense of coolness and almost every item is served on a wooden chopping board. While it doesn’t really quite match up to my beloved “I Love Pho 264”, it makes a real convenient satisfaction for when I’m in desperate need for a good bowl of slurps, yet can’t really be bothered to battle through the Victoria Parade/Punt Road traffic nightmare.