There is a no nonsense attitude about this place. It is there in the name, with the street address included. There is nothing fancy in the fit-out either, and no decorations. Just a long narrow rectangular tube with glass at the street end and a counter at the back. Tiled floors and plain painted walls, containing a row of tables on either side of a central aisle that leads straight from the door to the business end. There is nothing fancy about the food either: Vietnamese/Chinese that is not great but good enough for the price. Service is fast, and you can drink Coke or Sunkist or Water, or you can bring your own. We brought our own. A nice little Pinot Grigio courtesy of the Coopers Arms across the street, which seemed a bit far to go as there is a Vintage Cellars next door, but unfortunately it is closed due to it being Boxing Day and there being trading rules.
It is early but Pho 236 is fairly busy — as it always seems to be. It has been around for as long as we have been paying attention and nothing seems to change. It is popular with the traditional Newtown set of students and people after a quick feed before a movie or going on to a pub or whatever it is that young people do after 9pm when all decent gentle folk are in bed or watching Midsomer Murders.
We are earlier than usual tonight as we have the granddaughter, Pancetta in tow, and we are leaving bright and early the next morning to go on a Summer Holiday (sing along now with Uncle Cliff: We’re all going on a…., No more worries for a week or two, etc.). Stropette and the Heathen are along for the ride and we’ve extended the family to include, Cousin Alison and Brother Steve. After dragging a couple of tables together, counting heads and matching them to chairs, we are delivered of a pile of particularly raggedy-looking laminated pictogram menus.
Due to the rule of nominative determinism Strop and I resolve to have the Special Beef pho. Strop likes to go for the “Special” because it traditionally comes with sausage and bits of tendon (or gristle as she refers to them). Steve orders the chicken pho, Alison goes for sizzling king prawns, Stropette orders spring rolls and vermicelli for herself, and tofu and vegies for the Pancetta. The Heathen has something with prawns and tofu, chow mein I think — I wasn’t paying very close attention. To start we have fresh spring rolls, because they’re usually delicious, and a bit of a tradition with us.
The Pancetta, being blonde and gorgeous, proceeds to seduce the staff behind the counter by smiling and talking nonsense at them, only occasionally interrupted by the ear-drum piercing squeal of a metal chair leg being dragged across a ceramic floor tile, and being amplified by every hard surface in the restaurant. Yes, it is a bit noisy. But the food comes quickly, preceded by a handful of cutlery and chopsticks, placed in a delicate pile in the middle of the table.
Fresh spring rolls: nothing special, nothing terrible. About the same quality as you can buy in any food hall in the city.
The Special Beef pho is not bad, although Strop is disappointed by the total lack of gristle, but there is plenty of sausage to compensate. I really enjoyed the stock when I got the balance of basil, chilli, and lime garnishes just right. Strop was disappointed but then she is comparing it to Pho Pasteur which has very good stock. I think the verdict on the rest of the dishes was along the lines of “Okay, but I’ve had better.”
I hadn’t planned on being the entertainment for the evening, but that was the way it turned out when I got a chilli seed caught at the back of my throat. My usual reaction to a chilli overdose is a light-hearted bout of hiccups, which is particularly entertaining for Strop. This was different. This was coughing. And choking. Perhaps not life threatening, but certainly snot-and-tear-inducing. The worst part was that it seemed to have scarred the back of my throat so that even when I had regained my composure, and assured Strop that I didn’t need “a good thump between the shoulder blades,” every subsequent mouthful of soup brought on more coughing. How they laughed — once they had decided I wasn’t going to actually die.
The damage, apart from my pride, was $75 for seven people. Not bad.
So now we have reached the intersection of Church Street, from now on we will be turning right at King Street and making the run down towards the railway station, where we will have to decide whether to stick with the mediocre task at hand, or allow ourselves to be seduced by the bright lights and higher culinary standards of Enmore Road. Only time will tell. See you next year.