Last week we headed out to Dickson to try out a newly opened Vietnamese joint that specialises in pho. I absolutely love pho, I grew up on it. My mum’s not a great cook but over the years of being a mum she has really mastered the art of pho making. Her day to day cooking is fine but her pho is on a whole other level. So pretty much whenever we were craving pho, the following Friday there would be a pot simmering away on the stove, you could smell the pho aromas and spices as you walked through the front door. Those really were the days. Now sadly I don’t have that privilege anymore. I still get it when I visit Sydney but having pho once a month just doesn’t quite satisfy my cravings enough! Hence, in Canberra I’m always on the look out for the perfect pho. One that is done right with a deep, dark, meaty and delicious broth plus noodles that are done properly and served soft, of course there are other factors that people rate a good pho on, like amount of meat, portion size, amount of fresh Vietnamese herbs but for me it’s the soup and noodle, portion and price plays a factor but if you get the first two right, I’m happy to pay. In Sydney, I probably wouldn’t be willing to pay a lot for a pho but that’s because there are plenty of Vietnamese restaurants that can make a good pho. In Canberra, its been a little hit and miss. However, it looks like that’s all about to change.
Pho @ Dickson has been open for about a month now. It replaced Bao’s Kitchen, which I really quite liked and am sad to see go but at least something has taken its place quite quickly. There was one slight thing to note about Pho @ Dickson, on their menu they mentioned that a couple of dishes are only available for lunch, including many classical Vietnamese dishes like bun bo hue and pho. However, despite this warning, the pho is available at dinner, though the rest are not. It’s kind of weird, for lunch Pho @ Dickson serves food like a real Vietnamese restaurant that you would find in Cabramatta or Bankstown but at night it seems more Western and homely, kind of like the food you find at Griffith Vietnamese restaurant. I guess Pho @ Dickson has catered their menu for a Canberrian audience. Its a bit of a shame seeing as there aren’t many people or places that can do a good bun bo hue, and it would have been nice to be able to try out the one at Pho @ Dickson but I’m never really going to be able to go there for lunch.
Alrightie, onto the food.
Before jumping straight into the much anticipated pho, we decided to grab a couple of entrees. First up, the Prawn toast ($6). The prawn toast at Pho @ Dickson was pretty good, there were two slices of toast with some prawn mince spread out over them. The bread was fried to bring just the right amount of crispiness and crunch to the toast but they didn’t overdo it and make the prawn toast too oily and sickening. The prawn mince had a good strong flavour to it, and allowed the flavour to really come through quite well on the bread even though Pho @ Dickson didn’t give you a massive layer of prawn mince. Normally, I prefer a super thick layer of prawn mince because well, that’s what I’m buying isn’t it? I prefer to get a lot of prawn with my toast, but it’s honestly pretty rare from the prawn toasts I’ve had around town. The prawn toast at Pho @ Dickson wasn’t like that but because it had enough flavour to it, it was still quite enjoyable. So far, Can Tho is the only place that has a really thick toast that I prefer, but at the end of the day the prawn toast at Pho @ Dickson is an enjoyable one and much closer to home which means, chances are, if I’m craving a prawn toast late one evening, I’ll probably be making a quick trip to Pho @ Dickson.
For our next entree, we grabbed a serving of Chicken wings ($6). These were really nicely fried with a crunchy skin and nice tender meat inside. I felt that these textures worked really well, and made it a really interesting dish to eat. The flavours were a bit basic, if I had to guess probably just salt and pepper, but this was alleviated by the addition of a lovely garlicy chilli soy sauce. This was was a highlight for me, really great flavours and I went crazy dipping the chicken into the sauce so that it’d cover all the meat. The sauce added some nice sweetness and just made the chicken that much more enjoyable. Not sure what else I can say about chicken wings, these were good, but probably similar to what you’d find in other Vietnamese places.
For our last entree, a serving of the Vegetarian fresh rice paper rolls ($6). These came with tofu, you can also get the standard steamed pork and fresh prawns fresh rice paper rolls as well. I didn’t notice any chicken or other weird combinations but I’m more than happy with that, traditional fresh rice paper rolls are made with steamed pork and fresh prawns, there are some other version of them, like Vietnamese sausage (nem nuong) or shredded pork with pork skin that you get as a part of a pork chop broken rice combination but chicken is unheard of. So for anyone who loves Vietnamese rice paper rolls and has only ever had them at hipster food joints, you’ve got to take it back to basics and try the traditional flavours because they’re fantastic and you’re missing out!
Anyways, I went for the vegetarian one. The fresh rice paper rolls at Pho @ Dickson were really nice. Vegetarian ones are normally pretty different and vary from place to place and since you don’t have any meat or seafood, you’re left with tofu and veggies which need to make up all the flavour. Back at home, my parents would sometimes season it up by stewing it or sataying it. Here at Pho @ Dickson they used fresh silken tofu with the fried skin on the outside and I was really happy with this decision. I love this style of tofu, I had it a lot at home, its really creamy and quite refreshing but they don’t bring a lot of flavour. So here, for flavour Pho @ Dickson used was pickled carrots and radish, much like what you find in pork rolls. I’ve never had it like this before but its worked like an absolutely gem. The tofu was super creamy and then you had a lot of tanginess to it as well as great crunch and texture. There were also a few bits of fresh Vietnamese herbs here and there through out rolls. Definitely one of the better vegetarian rice paper rolls I’ve ever had.
Finally, here we have it, the much anticipated Rare beef pho ($12.50)! I decided to go with the standard rare beef version, Pho @ Dickson also has a special version, which is about $2 more. If you decide to go with the special version you’ll get the whole deal, tripe, beef balls, plenty of rare beef, tendon and etc. which makes it quite the meal. Not saying that the standard version wasn’t enough because there was plenty of food. For $12.50 you get a good amount of soup, noodle and meat. Its probably one of the larger ones I’ve seen around Canberra and that’s not even the best part about this bowl of pho.
The pho broth at Pho @ Dickson was amazing. It was deep, dark and really meaty. There wasn’t a lot of sweetness to it but I’ve never had an issue with that, I find if I want to add more sweetness to a pho, I can add some hoison sauce but if I hit a pho that’s a little sweet for me, I find it quite hard to fix. The second thing that really sold for pho at Pho @ Dickson was the noodles. I know that sounds pretty weird, the noodles are not overly complicated but so many places get it so wrong. There’s nothing worse then getting the wrong type of noodles, it completely throws off the whole pho. It doesn’t feel right and the amazing pho flavours can’t be absorbed properly. Another issue I find with some pho places is that the noodles come out slightly hard. It’s an easy fix so I don’t get why restuarants get it wrong so often. Pretty much, you can’t just have room temperate pho noodles or worse yet, fridge temperature pho noodles and pour pipping hot broth over it, this isn’t enough, the noodles will come out quite al dente, which to me, is not an enjoyable pho. You’re meant to warm up the noodles before hand, about 15 to 20 seconds in the microwave is all you need, then piping hot broth over the top of that, and that’ll get you an amazing bowl. Here at Pho @ Dickson, they’ve got the broth 100% on the mark and they’re noodles are perfectly soft as well. So big win from me.
For people who love all that other stuff, the pho here is a great serving for the price, the pho comes with a fresh plate of Vietnamese herbs, I don’t eat them but I know them and it looked like Pho @ Dickson had most of the key herbs if not everything.
The entrees at Pho @ Dickson were fine, they weren’t better than any other Vietnamese joint in Canberra but the pho here is a great addition to Canberra food scene. The crew at Pho @ Dickson had all the elements spot on. I absolutely love this place, I am a little sad to see Bao’s Kitchen close down but its nice to see such a great business open up, plus a business that seems very homey and family run. Great stuff, can’t wait to visit this place over and over again. Its on my list of weeknight dinners. No need to head down to Weston anymore for My’s (my previous favourite), the north side now has a deep, dark and meaty pho of it’s own! Don’t really want to get into the whole North vs South debate, but if you’re a pho lover, check Pho @ Dickson out, its worth the trip!