252 Victoria Street Richmond, Victoria 312103 9043 7458
|Opening hours||Daily 9am-10pm|
|Features||Gluten-free options, BYO|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
There are 31 Vietnamese restaurants on a 500-metre stretch of Victoria Street, between Hoddle and Church streets (I went restaurant-spotting). So, why choose this overrun strip to open another Vietnamese restaurant? In the words of Thai Nguyen, part-owner of Super Bowl (opened December 2012), channelling Sinatra, ''If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.'' (Although, arguably, running a restaurant in a refugee camp - which Thai's family did in Thailand in the '80s - would have its challenges, too.)
So how does a place stand apart from the crowd? First, and most obviously, is the name - America's equivalent of the grand final, as well as the super-size bowl of pho they offer. It's huge and has become something of an American-style eating competition - ''can you finish the pho?'' The American connection? There's a Super Bowl restaurant in Seattle run by family members. This Richmond outpost is a family business too, with mum, Trieu Hoang, cooking her grandmother's recipes. And this is the main reason that Super Bowl stands out from the crowd: the food.
The menu is small, with just 30 dishes; more than half are varieties of pho and bun bo hue. The pho is fragrant and bright, anchored with fresh, flat rice noodles, and topped with still-pink slices of eye of round beef. Other options include other bits of meat (well-done flank, tendon, tripe, chicken and prawn). Bun bo hue is prepared the same way as pho (beef bones simmered and skimmed for eight hours, redolent of cinnamon and star anise), but has the added zing of lemongrass and chilli powder. It has the beef slices, as well as an onion bite, and pork-mince balls. DIY add-ins are a colourful mix of shredded red and white cabbage, iceberg and mints, plus beanshoots and fresh lemon. Super - whatever the size.
Thai reckons theirs is the only place on the street doing Ha Noi-style spring rolls - pork, vegetable and prawn wrapped in rice paper, which, when deep-fried, has a rough, crunchy texture compared with the usual springy pastry (which they also make). Wrap them up in a lettuce cup, with vermicelli and mint, before dipping in fish sauce.
No.30 is another unique Ha Noi-style dish - instead of spring rolls, make an iceberg wrap with a char-grilled pork patty (marinated in oyster sauce and five spice, and dripping juices) and grilled pork slices.
The other standout element at Super Bowl is a fresh fitout: terrazzo floor, slate features and high-backed wooden chairs, all brightened by a wall-length photo-mural - and blasted with concussive pop music.
With plans for a CBD Super Bowl later this year, ''start spreadin' the news … ''
Don't … hesitate to ask for more or less heat in your bun bo hue - they're most obliging.
Dish … bun bo hue.
Vibe … relatively ritzy, smooth operator.
Note: Cash only; merchant facilities (MC V eftpos) expected by mid-July.
Corkage: $2.50 a head.
Nina Rousseau is on leave.