Saturday, 24 May 2014

Perth Day 14 - Northbridge (Foodies' Day Out)

Crowded Row of Brothels on Roe, Bros.  Dôme Domination.  When is a Town Not a Town?  X Marks the Spot.


  21 °C

I'm guessing that the name Northbridge was born out of the fact that the area is located immediately north of the bridge. And the bridge in question is the Horseshoe Bridge, which is a heritage-listed bridge that was built in 1904.

Horseshoe Bridge, Perth, WA, Australia
Horseshoe Bridge from below
I read a few angry reports (by disgruntle local residents) that they were fed up with the night-life in Northbridge with its drunken brawls and whatnot. I didn't encounter that. Maybe I was lucky. Maybe I wasn't in the right area. Having said that any place with a heady mix of clubs, bars, and other nocturnal activities should expect some rough edges.

Having said that, considering that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Northbridge was a hotbed (no pun intended) for prostitution. The number of bordellos swelled (no pun intended) to 70 just on Roe St alone in 1930. This put Amsterdam to shame (good or bad thing, depending if you ask a tourist or a local resident). Too bad that none of these gentlemen's hangouts left.

Piazza, Northbridge, Perth, WA, Australia
Piazza in Northbridge

The Perth's tourism authority and industry promoted Northbridge as a multicultural district, which is - to me - a code word for cheap eats with ethnic variety. There's the Little Italy around the Piazza. We popped into the Dôme - diametrically opposite to the Piazza - to sit out the rain. It was the most unsettled day since we arrived in Perth thus far. (Dôme is neither an Italian, nor a French coffeehouse chain. It's actually a franchise based in Perth. This explains its ubiquity in the city. It gives stronger cup of brew than most American franchises like Starbucks).

Sculpture at the corner of the Piazza on James St, Northbridge, Perth
Sculpture at the corner of the Piazza on James St
Is it a lightning? A tentacle? A twisted and mangled car park barrier post?

Maybe it's the temperamental weather, few people made use of this public space of the Piazza with a giant outdoor LED screen as its main focus (no pun intended). Dôme, on the other hand, was packed. Rain sitter, I presume.

On our 1st day in Perth, we made a quick visit to "Chinatown" in Northbridge. Basically, we went to 2 Chinese shops: Billy Lee's, and the grocery shop opposite it (you can read this in my diary Perth Day 1 - "Chinatown"). With this inconvenient weather (sorry, Al Gore), today is the perfect day to do more exploration of Northbridge where we just eat and shop (for grocery).

I know Chinatown isn't meant to be a literal town. In other capital cities of Australia, it could be just a single street or a city block. Would you call, say 2 shops grouping together, a Chinatown? There must be a minimum number of Chinese business premises huddle together to qualify it a town. I think in Northbridge, the Chinese business have fell below or comes perilously close to this cut off point.

And then I strolled to 64 Roe St and saw this pailou arch (or paifeng) that stands in front of an empty lot that looks like a car park with a solitary dumpster bin standing defiantly in the middle of it like Wyatt Earp in O.K. Corrall ready for a deadly draw. It was a sad sight. I couldn't help but  laughed out loud (I beg your pardon, LOL) in sadness. And then I said to myself, that's it. This is Chinatown. Like 'X' marks the spot, the pailou arch marks the start of Chinatown even if there're only 8 Chinese shops behind the horseshoe shape lane (what is it about Perth and its horseshoe? Australia calls itself the Lucky Country, and I think Western Australia is the luckiest). Even if there is only one. Even if there's nothing else but a big dumb dumpster bin (not even have to be made in China), it's still called a Chinatown. Comprando?

Chinatown pailou, Northbridge, Perth, WA, Australia
the Chinatown pailou  (view towards Roe St)

Well, apparently there're more than 8 Chinese businesses in Northbridge (not counting the ones in Old Shanghai food court). Due to the limit of geographical expansions around the pailou - there's only so many peas can be fit into a pod; and only so many shops can be fit into a horseshoe lane - more Chinese shops could be found on William St, especially the section between Newcastle and Brisbane Sts. There're other Asian restaurants too, especially Vietnamese restaurants that run by Chinese-Vietnamese Aussies.

We went to a Chinese-Vietnamese Tra Vinh Restaurant for lunch.

After lunch, we walked around some more before heading for the 2 largest Chinese supermarkets - VHT and Dragon Supermarket for some grocery shopping. They're quite close to each other on William St. VHT is looking like a more savvy (at least seems bigger) business with their own website.

What I find quite interesting - more like surprising - when I arrived in Singapore was that Chinese supermarkets in Australia stock greater variety of Chinese products than Singapore's. Many of my favorite Chinese products, take the Hakka brand that specialises in making excellent meat balls, can't be found in Singapore's shops. I've kept my eyes peeled for it in the last 5 years. As it turns out, this Hakka is an Aussie company. Their beef + tendon balls are to die for.

As for why this Hakka beef balls aren't available in Singapore, one possible explanation is their aversion of beef. This is simply not very popular meat. Perhaps because of the high percentage of Buddhists.

Apart from this Aussie made Chinese products, in general, Chinese supermarkets in Australia simply stock greater brands of Chinese products than Singaporean supermarkets. This should be surprising when you consider majority of Singaporean (about 75%) eat Chinese food, and Singapore is supposed to be a shoppers paradise due to it's being an international port where goods flow into it like wine and honey, honey.

St Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Perth, WA, Australia
St Constantine and Helen, a Greek Orthodox Cathedral
20 Parker St facing Russell Square
Perth Mosque, Northbridge, Perth, WA, Australia
Perth Mosque
427 - 428 William St

The walking and shopping was just the thing to work up our appetite for dinner. We walked past a crowded Vietnamese restaurant called Viet Hao (越華) not far from the supermarkets on William St. We decided to trust the crowd and gave it a try. After reading through the menu, we sneaked out of the restaurant like a couple of VC guerrillas. Haven't done that for a long while (since the Vietnam War).

Like Tra Vinh, Viet Hao has a menu with a mixture of Chinese and Vietnam cuisine. Of course, I have nothing against Chinese cooking, it's just that we already tried that for lunch at Tra Vinh. Now, we wanted to eat in a Vietnamese restaurant that's cooked by Vietnamese who can't speak Chinese, for a change of taste. I know, we're a couple of fussy eaters.

In both Tra Vinh and Viet Hao, the Chinese names should be dead give-away that they're cooking Chinese-Vietnamese cuisine. Alternatively, we could just look at their shop windows with their descriptions that go something like "Chinese & Vietnamese Restaurants". Apparently, I was blinded from hunger (too much eating apparently can also lead to blindness because of diabetes).

We finally found one Vietnamese restaurant where its name is free of Chinese association - Lido Restaurant. Ok, "Lido" is French, and Vietnamese restaurant owners/operators do like to use it for their businesses. We went in, the female boss spoke only Vietnamese (to her staff), the decor is very Vietnamese, and the menu was free of Chinese dishes. Everything checked out. We stayed put (once again, instead of playing Sherlock Holm, all I had to do was looking up the restaurant that has a very big sign up the top that says "Authentic Vietnamese Cuisine". But then, what fun would that be? Playing Sherlock Holm is my regular appetiser).


This time, I stayed clear of novel dishes, and stuck with the true and tested Phở đặc biệt (special beef noodles soup). My score? 7.5/10. Quite happy. I would give it an 8/10 if they included the usual tendon (yes, it's abundantly clear that I've a weakness for tendon).

P.S. I went back to Tra Vinh on the last day. I had to try out their Bún bò Huế (beef vermicelli soup in Hue style). The noodles were a bit soft, and the soup was a bit spicier than I liked. But it was a cold night, so that's not too bad. This noodle soup is called beef in spicy soup in their menu for good reason. Still, it was quite good, and tasted authentically Vietnamese. This soup got a 7.5/10 from me.



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