I am a self-proclaimed epicurean and often find myself wandering the alleyways of Melbourne pursuing my gastronomic journey to discover the tastes and the subtle ﬂavours of the myriads of cuisines on offer in my stunning city of Melbourne. Rave reviews from friends brought Hochi Mama to my attention and I made a booking to check out this Vietnamese joint without further ado.
Hidden away at 11 Liverpool Street, CBD, a stone's throw away from Parliament railway station, Hochi Mama beckons patrons with its flamboyant, neon signs. When we arrived at the door of Hochi Mama on a chilly wintry evening, we were welcomed by a beaming waitress. At 7:30pm, the neat little restaurant was abuzz with life. As funky music played in the background, murals and groovy lights added a casual and fun vibe to the modern eatery. A full bar decked one of the walls.
We squeezed ourselves into our seats and were handed the small yet concise menu.
Food and drinks The menu had the usual Vietnamese favourites like the pho, rice vermicelli noodles, caramelised pork belly and more. However, there were intriguing fusion options like crispy pork belly bao, pholings (dumplings served with a special pho broth), Vietnamese sushi roll, salmon sashimi and so on. Prices started from $5.50 for the dishes. The menu offered small and large dishes which were designed to facilitate sharing with family and friends. The menu also listed salacious cocktails which enticed the palate.
After some animated discussion, we opted for their special promotion which consisted of 5 dishes for 2 people for $59. The 5 dishes comprised of any 2 smaller dishes, 2 larger dishes and 1 side from their menu. This gave us the opportunity to sample a wide array of items on the menu so we picked randomly and waited patiently.
Our food made their appearance after 15 minutes. The baos were the first ones to be placed on our table.
I tentatively picked up a crispy pork belly bao and took a small bite. The bao can be described with one word: yum. The thick yet soft bao was stuffed with fresh cucumber, pickled daikon, spring onion, crushed peanuts, hoisin sauce and pork belly. The tender pork belly was complete with crackling – my favourite! The cucumber and pickled daikon along with other ingredients lent a lip-smacking freshness to the dish which tantalised the taste buds. Conversation stopped. The world around me receded to oblivion and all the hustle and bustle seemed to disappear. All my attention zeroed in on the delightful bao as I slowly demolished it. Delish!
Hochi chicken banh baos were recommended as a must-try on the menu and had influenced our decision in ordering it. Deep fried chicken was served with spicy pickled cabbage, fermented chilli beans wrapped by a soft steamed bun. With great anticipation, I bit into my chicken bao and found it to be fresh and tasty but somehow it paled next to the delectable pork belly bao.
The larger dishes appeared together: garlic prawns and crispy soft shell crabs. The sweet and sour crispy soft shell crabs were perfect! There were 2 crabs which I reluctantly shared with my dining partner. The crab had been deep fried giving it a crunchy exterior which crumbled away to reveal succulent crab meat. I was amazed at the absence of grease and at the level of crunchiness. The sweet and sour special sauce beautifully complemented the dish and I found myself licking my fingers as I polished off the crab. The accompanying slaw was quite dry and would have appealed more with some salad dressing.
The soft shell crab: non-greasy- tick, fresh – tick, flavoursome – tick, crunchy - tick! It was love at first bite!
The next dish I turned my attention to was the garlic prawns. Caramelised prawns were served with crispy Kale. Encased inside crispy shells, the prawn meat was oozing freshness and scrummy flavour. Known as a superfood, the crispy kale tasted sensational with the tangy sauce that had pooled underneath the caramelised prawns.
Our side dish was the Hanoi seafood spring rolls. The crusty shells slowly peeled away to reveal a small amount of seafood inside. The spring rolls were quite tasty but the experience was heightened when I dipped them in the tangy sauce of the garlic prawns dish. It was a foodie delight!
We finished every morsel of our food and purred like happy cats. It was just right!
But no meal can be complete without dessert. Hence, we placed an order for the chef recommended pandan panna cotta ($16). Our wish was granted when a big plate appeared with a flourish containing honeycomb, strawberries, pandan custard, mixed colourful melons, vanilla ice-cream and mango ice-cream. The delectable mango ice-cream, the scrummy pandan custard and the toasted honeycomb made the dish a delicious one. Only downside was the fact that some of the honeycomb had been toasted to the point of burnt charcoal and prevented us from enjoying all of it.
My drink of the day was lychyeezy ($18) - a beautiful concoction of lychee liqueur, vodka and pink grapefruit! The drink was served with a whole lychee and a lovely orchid. The drink was potent and had strong hints of the lychee liqueur and vodka. It was a drink that deserved to be savoured and serenaded and I paid my tribute by singing its praises to my dining partner.
Service and setting
Hochi Mama takes pride in good service which was evident from the attentive, friendly staff who made sure our glasses remained full, took our orders promptly and cleared our tables with a smile.
The only downside to my amazing dining experience was the size of the seating area. Hochi Mama is quite small and the owner had attempted to fit as many tables as they could. The restaurant appeared to be quite popular and by 8pm almost all tables were taken. This created a claustrophobic, uncomfortable environment which was not to my liking.
Six dishes and 1 cocktail resulted in a bill of $98. It was money well spent on a lovely night out.
For food, Hochi Mama scores a respectable 4 out of 5. For service and price, Hochi Mama bags a lovely score of 4 out of 5. With regards to setting and vibe, Hochi Mama gets 3 out of 5.
I will recommend the lychyeezy as a refreshing alcoholic drink. As for the food, my votes go to the soft shell crab, pork belly bao and garlic prawns. The seafood spring rolls and pandan panna cotta are also worth sampling.
In terms of the prices, Hochi Mama is by no means cheap. I would place it in the middle of the spectrum with the opportunity to have a good night out for $59 or more for 2 people.
Making a booking will be wise if you wish to try Hochi Mama. A word of caution: if you are going on a weekend try to book before 7pm or 7:30pm to avoid crowds. Popularity is usually a good litmus test for the quality of a restaurant. The fact that almost all the tables were occupied when we departed from Hochi Mama is a testament to their high standards.
Further, Hochi Mama takes group bookings so if you are looking for a place to celebrate a special day then Hochi Mama has you covered. They also have a lunch deal comprising of 1 small dish, 1 biggie and 1 drink ($19.90). You can sample peking pork bao, seafood spring rolls, fried rice with pork belly, slawberry salad and more. They also offer gluten-free and vegetarian options.
I look forward to returning to Hochi Mama to make more culinary discoveries and sate my palate with more top-notch fusion food.