Image credit: Alessandro Squadrito
Vietnamese mums. There’s something about them, whether it’s their talent of sewing matching fleecy pyjamas at a pinch, or their unwavering commitment to cooking amazing food. Food so good that, near the Devonshire Street exit of Central Station, there are two Vietnamese restaurants within 30 metres of each other, and both pay homage to their mammas.
Nearby Mama’s Buoi is at its hip best with neon lights and herb gardens. But for those looking for more modest surroundings, Mum’s Table does the trick. The Vietnamese eatery is located in a renovated terrace house, with a banh mi sandwich counter out front, and tables in the main room. Save yourself the confusion—order at the counter, for both takeaways and eat-ins.
Agoraphobics might have a hard time relaxing here. The space is wide and open, the optimal chamber for the tinny 90s radio soundtrack. The condiment saucers and soup spoons are not at our tables, but oddly located at a serving table at the back of the room. I try not to feel too self-conscious walking through the dining area to fetch them (do my arms always swing this high?). Some small adjustments to the space would greatly improve the vibe, but hey, look at the ceiling! It’s decorated with dozens of Vietnamese conical hats. And the walls! They’re covered with a colourful assortment of watercolour postcards.
But we’re really here for the food, and you can judge a Vietnamese restaurant by its phở. The phở tái nạm is a steaming bowl of squiggly rice noodles, topped with slices of rare beef and delightfully fatty beef brisket. If you like your mystery meat, the special phở đăc biệt comes with bonus beef meatballs. The soup is comforting and clear—a sign of a well-skimmed, non-claggy broth—with hints of cinnamon and star anise.
Mixed proteins kind of weird me out—despite the appealing rhyme, surf ‘n’ turf has never been my idea of delicious. So I order the chicken ‘n’ beef phở bò gà with some trepidation... And am rewarded for my culinary bravery. The chicken-based broth is distinctly lighter in colour and palate, and the combo of white and and red meat is pretty tasty. How do you call it? Feather and farm? Pen and hen? Who knows. Get it in my belly.
The phở is the perfect treat for a rainy winter’s day, and workers in the area have cottoned on. I witness two gentlemen walk out with takeaway coffee cups filled with just the broth (one chicken, one beef).
The bánh mì is hands down the best value lunch in the area. At $7, the traditional bánh mì thịt features the standard Vietnamese devon meats, with a good slather of mayo and pâté, and stuffed with herbs and salad. The crispy pork belly option is a winner, a perfect exercise in crunchy and melty meat flavours, with a finger-lickin’ ginger sauce.
All up, Mum’s Table isn’t where you go to see or be seen. It’s where you are fed good food that’s homemade and comforting, just like those matching fleecy pyjamas.