447 High Street, Preston, phone 9470 1588
WHERE AND WHAT
Pho. It's a big subject. North of the river, it's the Richmond operatives who dominate the pho press but it's worth spreading the ambit to Preston, where Pho Hung (there's a sibling restaurant in Springvale) has been getting great word-of-mouth reviews since opening in 2000.
WHERE TO SIT
One tidy shopfront near Preston Town Hall, three tightly packed lines of laminate tables and steel-framed chairs. The walls are painted lime green, decorations include a giant fan and Vietnamese paintings, the floor is a sombre grey tile, and there's a shy little water feature burbling down the front. So far, so usual. Each table has a box of tissues that struggles against the splatter tide, and there's a container holding a small artillery of chopsticks, forks and spoons, and various sauces including chilli and soy. Children are made to feel very welcome - just make sure you keep them out of the way of the pho-laden trolleys.
WHEN TO GO
There's tea and soft drinks only but you can BYO - corkage is $1.50 a bottle.
Everybody is ordering the Vietnamese national dish, this one with a particularly clear, smooth and aromatic broth. It's seriously good. The smiling cow and serious chicken painted on the window have cornered this particular pho market - amp up the thin slices of beef with the rich-giving brisket and gelatinous tendon, or go the beef and chicken combo. A wallet-friendly $9 each, the only criticism is they could be a bit more generous on the plate of beanshoots and herbs (some tables get Vietnamese mint, others basil) for sacrificing to the steaming hot broth. Aside from pho, there's a bewildering amount of choice - the numbered menu goes up to 310, stopping all stations from vegetarian spring rolls (roll them up in the lettuce leaf cups, add mint, dip in the salty-sweet fish sauce) to XO pipis in a glossy joy of a sauce powered by chilli, spring onion and a host of other aromatics. The fried salt and calamari is more like garlic and ginger calamari - it's OK, but the menu is priced kindly enough to absorb a few stumbles.
The lunchtime crowd is as diverse as Preston. The Vietnamese diaspora probably wins at a pinch.
The pho's great, and if you can't find anything else on this menu, you aren't looking hard enough.