I’ve been a bit down on the phở scene in Footscray over the last few months.
One of my regular go-to joints, Phở Tam on the corner of Leeds and Ryan streets has been hugely inconsistent on the soup front. They do a great bún riêu and have the hardish-to-find street food bánh bột lọc on the menu. Their phở bộ đặc biệt is above average: always packed with sizeable chunks of tendon, a thick slice of peppery sausage and toothsome strips of tripe.
The broth however ranges from sweet and watery to dense, beefy and rich depending on which day you hit it. I’m convinced that the broth gets watered down on a busy day, especially weekends; an undeniable conspiracy against the nine-to-five working man. The consolation is the above cà phê sữa đá – condensed milk sweet, rich and as predictable as a metronome.
Location: Corner of Leeds and Ryan Street, Footscray, Melbourne, Australia.
I don’t take coffee too seriously. I’m aware that there are more aromatic compounds in your java than in a glass of wine but I don’t personally seek them out even though I draw a good part of my income from describing tastes to other people. Call it a cognitive dissonance reduction strategy wherein I pretend not to care just in case I’m wrong.
Sensory Lab (1) is another coffee vendor in the “third wave” of Melbourne coffee; the wave where people started riding fixed gear bicycles and eschewing milk and sugar in favour of flavour alone, thus swapping calories for the ability to fit into ever tightening jeans. It’s owned by Melbourne coffee god, Salvatore Malatesta, a man whom I used to see on the days when I could afford a coffee at university at his first(?) cafe, Plush Fish. In the mean time, he’s gone on to own at least 30 cafes. I’ve gone on to start a string of poorly-paying food blogs. Maybe I should have started taking coffee seriously earlier in my life.
Apart from the caffeinated beverages, the most entertaining part of Sensory Lab is watching people approach the counter trying to work out what the hell is going on. Is it art or commerce? What senses do they test? The high school science lab schtick seems to be a psychological barrier to the average punter ordering a coffee.
As for the brew, I’m starting to develop an appreciation for siphon filter coffee (above). Compared to their other methods of production (espresso, pour over and cold drip), the flavours in the coffee come out clean and bright, and intensify as you get to the bottom of the cup. There’s acidity rather than straight bitterness. And there is nowhere for it to hide.
It doesn’t tempt me to forgo my morning latte habit but it does draw me that one step closer to seriousness and a tighter pair of pants.
Location: At the back of David Jones department store (ground floor), 297 Little Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000.