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A ladies lunch in the city

Yesterday the ladies of our family met in the city for lunch to celebrate the birthdays of two of them - my niece and my ex almost daughter-in-law. The destination chosen by my niece was Ho Chi Mama - an extremely hip - if that's the right word - Vietnamese fusion food restaurant and bar at the top end of Little Bourke Street - Melbourne's Chinatown. I so rarely do these things, that obviously I have to write this up in some way.

Today I have been trying to find out more about the place and have been a little tantalised. I also felt a warm glow towards the place because all the publicity you read about it is how hip and buzzy it is, and here we were - one old lady - three approaching middle-aged ladies and a baby. Not what you would call super hip and trendy - although I probably malign the other three here. In spite of the trendiness of the actual place, I really did not feel at all suburban - which I often do - even when I go shopping at Doncaster shopping town. It's the downside of being - well - suburban.

But the staff were amazingly thoughtful about where they seated us - just inside the door behind the desk where there was a gap for the pram and a booth in which we could spread ourselves out with the baby in the place of honour at the end of the table. They even had a baby seat! And because there was music and the noise of people talking against all the usual hard surfaces, nobody could hear him cry - which he only did for a short burst anyway. Not quite what you expect from a trendy bar. I mean baby friendly?

Ho Chi Mama actually has two locations - one here in Chinatown and one in Richmond. And this is a new, updated and enlarged version of the original which was just around the corner in the laneway that is Liverpool Street.

Today I have been trying to find out more about the history of the place. I think the picture on the left is part of the interior (or maybe exterior) decoration on the former place. Very striking. The restaurant is owned (I assume it's still the same owners as the founders) - three young men, friends at high school with a mutual interest in rap, street art and presumably food. Their names are Midawell Phal, Thai Ho and Raymond Phan, so I am assuming they are all of Vietnamese origin.

They explain the name on the website.

"Ho Chi Mama was the god mother of all aspiring street artists and rappers in the early 90's.

An immigrant in the big city, she hosted underground art shows along with rap battles for the rejects; a place where you could just be at home, but with family. The whole crew was always welcome, the more the merrier, and she was well renowned for creating innovative dishes using the original famous dishes from her home country, and plenty of booze, in her spacious and homey warehouse."

All of which is very tantalising and I really tried to find out more about her but could find absolutely nothing, so now I am left wondering whether this is just a very nice but invented story. There is a very dramatic mural at the end of the restaurant - similar to that earlier piece of street art in that the face is not complete. Is this Ho Chi Mama or just a great piece of interior design? The current one is actually marginally less striking when there are customers in place - as you can see below, because you can't see the lips. I've also added some other interior shots - the first and last are mine, the other two are from the web site. I realise they make it look a bit dark, but it isn't. There was plenty of light flooding in from the street.

But the food. Oh the food. It was delicious and plentiful and not quite Vietnamese. We chose the Feed Me Now option which cost $39.50 per person (minimum two) and gave you an entrée and main per person plus two sides. Well the price was a little bit tricksy because a few of the dishes had supplements and drinks were extra of course, but we got away with just over $50.00 per person which was all the food - I think two or three had supplementary add ons to the price - and the equivalent of a glass of wine each. Good value I thought for some truly delicious food. I don't think I could fault a single dish. Some were a bit spicy I suppose if you are not into spicy but they certainly weren't too spicy for me. And they are also very with it when it comes to all those dietary requests - vegan, vegetarian, gluten free - you name it. Not that we had any of those. These are three of the entrées - the mains you can just see in the top picture. The other one was a chicken satay.

I am so grateful to these three ladies for the opportunity to go into the city - always a small thrill for me. I travelled in by train this time and decided that the quality of the graffiti, although still mostly the dreaded tags, that line the tracks all the way, has improved slightly. It's certainly more colourful anyway. So just to conclude a few snaps I took.


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