MELBOURNE | Homi Noodle Bar is the newest venture from the team of family and friends turned restaurateurs behind Workshop Brothers and The Northcote STN. It’s a modern Vietnamese restaurant that’s a little bit Hanoi, a little bit Ho Chi Minh City, and a little bit Melbourne.
Walk inside and you’re greeted with a venue that ticks the on-trend boxes for a Melbourne restaurant, ahem, eatery, in 2017. Local design studio One Design Office (Hobba, Cupcake Central, Scroll) have designed a space modern space with raw concrete floors, white tiles, neon/LED lights, and a mixture of tables and stools – perfect for groups and individuals. Around the walls are an assortment of posters featuring cheeky puns and hip-hop puns, and through the speakers you can hear the requisite hip-hop and R&B tracks. It comes together nicely, but as is the case with many of the new openings in Melbourne, all of the bare surfaces do mean that the place can get quite loud when it gets busy.
Staff are attentive and friendly, and happy to explain any of the dishes on the concise menu. On the menu, you’ll find traditional dishes like Spring Rolls, Pho, Bun Cha, and Banh Canh Cua, which have been given a bit of a facelift while remaining true to the spirit of the traditional versions. Alongside these sorts of dishes are things that do the opposite, Fried Chicken, Tater Tots, and Panna Cotta, which put a Vietnamese spin on dishes one doesn’t usually associate with Vietnamese food. The tater tots, for example, come with “crack salt”, sesame mayo, and tobiko.
We spoke to co-owner Jason Taing about the menu, and he told us that the aim at HOMI is to make simple food that people like to eat, using a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar flavours. For example a lot of the Vietnamese food that people in Melbourne are familiar with is the food of Southern Vietnam. Jason (and his co-owner brothers Nolan and Brian) have Southern Vietnamese heritage, and that comes through in many of the dishes at HOMI, but there are also influences from Northern Vietnam, and of course Melbourne.
The spicy steak tartare sees diced sirloin combined with laoganma oil, nashi pear, and marinated egg yolk for a sweet flavour with a smooth, luscious texture. Horseradish cream on the side adds a nice little kick to each bite, while puffed sesame and seed, almost non-greasy prawn cracker-like puffs provide the final textural piece of the puzzle. The salt & pepper fried calamari is perfectly cooked – soft yet firm on the inside and crisp on the outside. The milk aioli adds an unexpected sweetness to each bite, while the shisho/perilla leaves add a further, unexpected minty flavour to each bite. It all comes together really well and is a good example of the simple little twists to common dishes that the team are doing here.
The Hanoi dish Bun Cha, one of our favourite Vietnamese dishes, is served a bit differently than usual here, with the rice vermicelli coming in a block rather than piled high. Also in addition to the required grilled pork patties, the HOMI version adds sliced pork belly to the mix. The requisite herbs are included, as is the sweet, diluted fish sauce dipping sauce. A bit of everything in each mouthful does a good job of transporting you to Hanoi, although we did find that the char/barbecue taste of the pork wasn’t quite as intense as we are used to. Regardless, it’s still very tasty. The Bun Cha is served with a tasty Hanoi-style spring roll on the side – fried yet light and airy, and filled with pork mince.
Finally, the highlight of our night, the dish on the menu that’s, according to Jason, been the surprise star dish for many customers in the few days they’ve been open. The dish in question is the Bánh Canh Cua, a rich, thick crab broth soup with thick rice drop (think udon) noodles, two medium boiled quail eggs, prawn, and Soft Shell Crab. Usually this dish is served with regular crab, with the soft shell crab being HOMI’s twist on this very traditional dish. Everything about this dish works really well – the thick soup is full of flavour and combines with the slide down your throat, slightly gelatinous coated noodles for an unctuous sensation. It’s one of those things that despite being full, you’d happily eat a second bowl of.
The drinks menu is small, containing a focused selection of mostly local wines, along with a few spirits, soft drinks, juices and the like. The beer list is perhaps the one disappointment on the menu, containing three imported commercial lagers, and nothing local or craft. We were impressed with the house made Vietnamese salted coconut iced coffee, another spin on a classic with a surprising thickness and intensity of flavour – do make sure you stir it before drinking!
The Tiang brothers and Co have been very busy in 2017, and we’ve been impressed with every one of their venues that we’ve visited to date. HOMI sees them break away from the cafe-style venues that they’ve become known for, and we’re happy to say that they’re onto another winner here. Well priced, tasty food that’s innovative, while retaining a respect for traditional flavours, in a fun, funky space, with friendly service. Now somebody get us another bowl of that Bánh Canh Cua.
HOMI Noodle Bar
2/190 Queen Street
Telephone: (03) 9670 5825
E-mail: [email protected]
Mon – Wed: 11:00am to 5:00pm
Thu – Sat: 11:00am to 10:00pm
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