Mekong on Swanston St: The meaty taste of disappointment

Mekong on Swanston Street, Melbourne

I’m starting to become accustomed to the sense of betrayal that I feel after eating once again at old favourites in Melbourne. Most continue to please (or at least, meet expectations). But Mekong on Swanston Street in , to use more common language, has gone to shit.

Well before I left Australia for Cambodia, Mekong on Swanston St was my reliable lunch joint. I’d worked my way through every offal-packed variation on their basic beef (bo) and chicken (ga). The stock was shining example of pho in Australia: both meaty (which is the key to Australian-style pho) and evenly spiced with star anise and cinnamon. Week to week, there was no variance. At a rough estimate, I would have spent between one and two thousand dollars at Mekong over the years.

It became my yardstick for a damn good bowl of phở; the sort of joint that you would recommend to newcomers to Melbourne to whet their appetite for the more challenging journey into suburban . Their staff had a vindictive shirtiness that was always refreshing. A friend often described one of their staff members as a “malign dwarf” but it came from a warm place in his heart.

But no more.

Phở from Mekong, Swanston St, Melbourne

These days the pho at Mekong is like your average oil rig worker: big, meaty and covered in grease. The subtlety has disappeared; the serving sizes seem more gargantuan. The restaurant is still as packed as ever.

Bill Clinton had two bowls

Also, the mention that “Bill Clinton had two bowls” is a lie. He ate two bowls at Pho 2000 in Saigon, Vietnam and has never set foot in Mekong in Melbourne. Unless he had two bowls sent up to him on one of speaking engagements in Melbourne, Bill Clinton did not eat two bowls of this particular pho.

Location: Mekong Restaurant, 241 Swanston St, Melbourne, Australia

13 Comments Mekong on Swanston St: The meaty taste of disappointment

  1. Duncan | Syrup&Tang

    I think Mekong lost me about four years ago when they served me cold spring rolls, and when I complained they just microwaved them. Foul, alongside the deteriorating quality of pho. Didn’t realise the Bill Clinton thing was a con.

  2. Towser

    I share your disappointment. Underwhelmed over two visits about 6 months ago one with overseas guests and have been loathed to ever return. Noodles were soft and sloppy and the beef specials were big bowls of broth to be sure, but lacked fillings and dare I say, gotten awfully less offally! Seemed to remember it was better than that before. Not worth fighting the crowds for now.
    Luckily it’s convenient for us to get to Footscray often.

  3. Anne

    Thanks for the honest review of an undeserving ‘institution’. I’ve been thinking bitter things about Mekong, but wondering (because I didn’t have the benefit of time away) whether I was imagining the freshness and depth of the soup in years gone past? Plus the chillis have been old and weak lately, not good enough for a restaurant that uses kilos daily.
    I just found your blog through a search for good banh mi in Melbourne and am reading through — wow! I love your writing and your passion for decent food in Melbourne. I’m a Vietnamese food addict and am resolved to try Cambodian food now. Research first…

  4. Claire

    hey guys.

    thought you might find this an interesting read.

    Filth, bugs cost city restaurant owner $10,000

    A leading member of Melbourne’s Chinese community has been fined $10,000 after his 12-year-old restaurant was closed in a state of “terrible” uncleanliness.

    Mont Albert company director Yin Yam’s son and sole shareholder Wing Lam was also fined $10,000 and the company that runs the Swanston Street venue $20,000.

    The three defendants, who were not convicted, were charged by the City of Melbourne after they voluntarily closed down the Pho Bo Ga Mekong restaurant on May 9 this year to get pest controllers in.

    Melbourne Magistrates Court heard yesterday that a council environmental health officer seized items that included live and dead cockroaches and damaged or dirty equipment.

    Mr Hannan said the restaurant, which reopened with council permission on May 11, had been in a “terrible” state but was now in a satisfactory condition.

    The defendants pleaded guilty to four charges each that included failing to store food to protect it from likely contamination and failing to maintain food premises to a standard of cleanliness.

  5. Melanie

    In addition to the store smelling like a danky wet dog, this was the worst Pho I had ever had the misfortune to eat.

    -Everything in the store was filthy – from the chopsticks to the toilet.

    -The Pho itself was just terrible. Tasted like plain water over a bowl full of noodles. There was absolutely no flavour. The beef smelled like old meat that’s gone off and made me dry-wretch.

    Never will I return. For lack of better options in the Melbourne CBD for good quality Pho, I think Mekong keeps on attracting people that just don’t know any better. There are plenty of good Pho joints around Melbourne, Mekong is not one I would recommend.

    WARNING: Some joints may be recycling the beanshoots and basil that comes out with the Pho…

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  7. Love Pho

    I must agree with those above who are unhappy with Mekong on Swanston st.

    Unfortunately their issues with food hygene are not surprising – I would strongly suggest that the inspectors visit them again – I was there with friends (but did not eat!!) recently, and clearly observed dirt, poor food handling and a musty smell that pervades the area nearest the kitchen.

    I don’t want to detract from what I am saying by trying to promote another Pho resteurant, so I will not name the places where I prefer to get Pho, but they are alreaedy mentioned and praised on this site.

    What really sucks are times when I’ve tried to introduce a friend to Pho – only to find out that they’ve been to Mekong, and are now totally against the idea of t\rying Pho again. To quote one of them “I’d rather throw some cheap sliced meat into some Maggi Instant Noodles”.

    I’m so grateful that there are other places in Melbourne, where I can get consistently fantastic Pho! All the places I have visited are already reviewed here.

  8. Warning

    Unfortunately, Melanie seems to be right : after reading her comment, I kept a vigilant watch when attending a certain Pho house that shall remain nameless,

    I personally witnessed bean shoots that were left over on the plate from a previous customer being tipped back into a trough of bean shoots ready to be served ‘fresh’ to new customers. Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!

    It is sad to suggest this, but maybe people should start tipping all uneaten bean shoots into their bowl after eating – hopefully this will make it obvious if they try to serve them tp somebody else.

    There are a whole host of diseases that could be spread via this malpractice.

    HEALTH INSPECTORS : Most Pho houses are hygenic, some are cess-pits. Please inspect them and take appropriate measures, before somebody becomes seriously unwell.

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