Highett is known as a sleepy suburb near the beach – there isn’t even a pub here. But as the inner city keeps sprawling, the milk bars and discount stores of this bayside spot have been replaced with restaurants and cafés worth the half-hour train trip.
Look for Typhoon’s fairy lights and busy street-side tables. Inside, the original Art Deco shop has had a Hanoi chic makeover with bar seats around the open kitchen, bamboo walls and contemporary South East Asian art. The restaurant serves North Vietnamese street food that starts with family recipes and offers vegetarians and vegans so much more than a token vegetable stir fry.
As tradition dictates, start with cold rice paper rolls (tofu and vermicelli) or deep-fried spring rolls (chewy mushrooms and vegetable) that both come with fish-sauce-free nuoc cham dipping sauce – but don’t miss the eggplant chips. Twice fried in a cornflour batter, they come with a generous serve of spicy lime aioli (there’s also a vegan option) and their super-crunchy outside and silky inside has us (nearly) ready to abandon the potato version.
But really it’s all about the huge bowls of pho here. Head chef Thai Nguyen is from Hanoi and makes his secret family-recipe broths fresh every day for the pho bo (beef), pho ga (chicken) and pho rau (vegetarian) and we are here to tell you that his meat-free soup is an absolute winner.
If you’ve been continually disappointed by the broken promises of stock-cube faux phos, prepare to be happy. The vegetable broth is complex, with deep earthy notes balanced by a cassia-bark sweetness that changes with each mouthful of chewy white snow fungus, black shiitake or rice noodles. Green choy sum and fresh herbs bring out the ginger heat, while fried tofu soaks up the umami in the soy. The zing of fresh chilli is optional, and you can experiment with extra soy, chilli oil or Sriracha sauce if you fancy some extra heat.
The drinks list here is small but considered. There’s organic wine from New Zealand and Australia, vegan wine from the Adelaide Hills, and Bia Ha Noi and Beer Lao. Or finish the night with a drink at Hawker Bar next door (run by the same team) where you can watch the trains from the window seats over a chilli Mojito or smoked tequila Old Fashioned and toast to the best vegetarian pho in town.