Chelsea Le grew up eating ga ran (crispy fried chicken ribs) from a particular restaurant in Footscray – so when it came time for her to open her Vietnamese restaurant in 2015, she knew that she needed to have it on the menu.
The problem? She didn’t know who the chef was.
Thanks to the Footscray Vietnamese community grapevine (the bank manager of the ANZ Bank knew someone, who knew someone, who knew someone…) Chelsea and her husband Alex tracked down the now-retired chef of that restaurant.
He became their mentor for a year, guiding these self-taught cooks on how to prepare ingredients and operate a commercial kitchen. After some initial reluctance, he finally passed on his secret recipe for ga ran to them.
The result? The lightest, crispiest fried chicken you’ll ever have is now the best-selling dish at Friend or Pho.
Friend or Pho pays homage to Alex and Chelsea’s cultural heritage. They have taken a cosy heritage-listed terrace house facing Yarraville’s Pop Up Park (which is actually a permanent street park now) and transformed it into a modern Vietnamese restaurant.
From the outside, you can see festoon lanterns and cathedral mesh. Once you pop inside, recycled hardwood benches, blondewood tables and bright white walls welcome you to the restaurant.
Alex and Chelsea both work in the kitchen, serving hawker-style food from various regions in Vietnam. “When we wanted to open a restaurant there was never any question that it would be a Vietnamese restaurant,” smiles Chelsea. “It’s the food that we know best and what we grew up eating.”
Pho, the house speciality, is made from scratch by simmering bones for 12 hours. Their vegan version uses wild mushrooms and tofu.
Other highlights include banh xeo, a huge crispy savoury pancake with either pork and prawn or mixed wild mushrooms and banh hoi, a crispy roast pork dish served on rice vermicelli.
“We cook food the way we like to eat it – so there’s no MSG and we use the freshest ingredients,” explains Chelsea. “We also want people to feel at home at Friend or Pho, just like we’re serving food to our friends and family.”