Traditionally a peasant meal harking from Vietnam, its simplicity and wholesomeness has led to pho becoming a staple of the Melbourne food scene. There are few things better on a cold winter's night than a big bowl filled with noodles, meat and broth. Luckily, there are plenty of restaurants in Melbourne to cater to pho-cravings. Finding authentic ones, however, can be tricky.
Enter Mekong Vietnam on Swanston St: a chaotic blur of people, chopsticks and bowls where the tables are mashed so closely in together, it's almost as if you are one big family. Combined with the rushing waiters and the kitchen, the energy in this restaurant can be as scary as the first walk down the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. Whilst this is intimidating for novices, it also seems to be part of the allure for veterans, with Vietnamese flocking to this restaurant daily to chow down on some quick authentic food.
Soon after arriving, we were ushered into a back corner table and handed menus. Uninitiated pho-eaters beware, this menu is made for seasoned veterans and you need to be careful to read what is in the 'meat specials' so you do not order brisket. Thankfully the same level of caution is not needed for the starter menu.
We ordered two chicken breast pho's (a fairly tame Sunday afternoon) and some pork rice paper rolls. The service was quick and the food came out in relatively fast. While the rice paper rolls were a decent size, they were mainly filled with rice noodles, leaving us unsatisfied. The satay dipping sauce helped rescue the dish though.
A disappointing start, yes, but thankfully the pho's were pretty great. Given with a side of bean sprouts and Vietnamese mint, the well seasoned chicken broth, stacks of rice noodles and chicken breast left us both very full and content. A great end to our afternoon.
Despite being on busy Swanston Street, Mekong has managed to capture the feeling of a little Vietnamese enclave. It is well worth a trip inside for a quick dish and a crash course in Vietnamese eating culture.