There are some places you end up eating the same dish over and over again. Might not even be the stand out feed on the menu. Might be that you alone have trouble getting past this one particular item. Used to be a place up on the north coast did an amazing flash fried spanner crab omelet. They could have just called themselves 'That Omelet Place'. A lot of folks never get beyond the ragout at Enoteca, or the ribs at Crosstown. When I still lived in Darlinghurst, my then girlfriend used to ring Kim Le, a Vietnamese restaurant, every night when she got home from work.
"Hi Kim, it's Heather. Can you send us dinner now?"
And a guy would arrive at the front door fifteen to twenty minutes later with the same order, every night. (Ginger chicken, chili fish, steamed rice, and beef with mushrooms, for the dog).
There's a place in West End, called Viet Hoa, where I never seem to get past the spicy beef noodle soup. It's not that the rest of the menu sucks. Viet Hoa is the goods, and whenever you walk in at least half the customers there are ethnic Vietnamese, which is always a good sign. I first went with young Sam Watson, the poet, shortly after he'd won the David Unaipon Award, and I've always been grateful to Sammy for dragging me into a joint I wouldn't otherwise have bothered with.
It's an unremarkable sight from the footpath. A small corner store, some pot plants to protect a clutch of outside tables. Shiny white tiled floor, in that SE Asian style. Waving cat thingy on the counter. A mix of familair Chinese and Vietnamese dishes, and a bunch of mystery picks. Just one of dozens of nosheries in that part of town.
Ah, but the spicy beef noodle soup. 'Tis a wonder. Worth the drive across the southside for me. It's the master stock that powers this dish, a deep, earthy blend that's been closely guarded by the owner's family for many years. Possibly generations. As you can see from the happy snap there is a generous balance of colour and texture, with lashings of greens as an option for those who swing that way. The beef is soft and falls apart on the tongue, a few spiced chicken dumplings surprise when they pop out from under a basil leaf. The noodles are springy and the chili just the right side of ringing the fire alarm.
But it's the stock which carries this dish. If you're in the mood for hot-n-spicy soup and you're over West End way, you know what you have to do.