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August 23, 2009

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Tacos, noodles and crepes Fumin's new fastfood options

THE dining scene along Fumin Road on the Changle and Julu Roads vicinity is ever changing and three new outlets add to the growing number of options.

Mexican cuisine and noodle shops are attracted by the range of international and local clientele and two of these have recently opened while a creperie is also carving out a piece of the action.

Pho Real stands out on the streetscape for its distinctive interior design. Its full glass frontage draws your attention into a tight little restaurant whose floor is about two meters below street level and the tall ceiling is covered with a mass of hanging wicker basket light shades.

The outlet's name is drawn from the English pronunciation of Vietnamese for noodle soup which is a specialty of the country's northern region and reflects French and Chinese influences. The simple dinner menu for 88 yuan (US$12.87) consists of two courses of a set starter and mains with only three options.

The entree of two traditional Vietnamese spring rolls and a Vietnamese-styled sausage summer roll, served with a garnish of lettuce leaf, noodles, bean shoots, chopped chilli and herb leaves, is as fresh as the day and the mint influence makes it a light treat with subtle flavors.

Noodles kick in at main course with combinations built around choices of beef, pork or chicken.

The Pho Real signature noodle soup with raw beef brisket, beef balls, cilantro, green onions and green scallions draws out the full orchestra of tastes in the dish and the pasta is slithery fresh. Staff encourage you to transfer the leftover sides from the first dish into the soup and a side dish of long green beans and dipping sauces are provided.

The other main course options use cold rice vermicelli and vegetables. Desserts are 20 yuan extra, limited wine choices are 42 yuan a glass and a flower tea is an outrageous 16 yuan a small cup.

Despite the undeniable quality of the simple food provided, Pho Real has set-up and start-up problems. It seats about 20 in a tight space which puts diners on one wall and a large canopied serving area on the other with the distance between the two so narrow that overzealous staff bump into diner's chairs.

And the kitchen may not yet have it right as a patron sitting nearby sent back an entree that had an unexpected ingredient and the majordomo on the night whisked away another diner's meal that he noticed was undercooked.

Its minimalist, whitewashed brick wall aesthetics are appealing and the hole-in-the-ground style is novel but could be more comfortable and relaxing with some chill-out applied ?back off the staff, turn down music too loud for the room, give diners some space.

The Vietnamese food culture uses fresh vegetables, specific herbs and fish sauces and is done no injustice in this kitchen but until some rough edges are polished it will be a restaurant that remains more faux than what Pho Real could be.

Pho Real

Address: 166 Fumin Rd

Tel: 5403-8110

Taco Loco doesn't try to be anything more than what it is: a narrow, single-fronted cafe with simple tables and chairs and a limited menu that fits on the back of its business card.

Here they don't mind if you eat and run and there are no creature comforts to keep you hanging around. The walls are white, the floors black, the waitress swiftly seeks your order and the small keyhole kitchen at the back churns it out.

The food is surprisingly ample and good for the price, consisting of a basic range of Mexican tacos, burritos and nachos. They even throw in a free Tsingtao beer for orders over 35 yuan.

The Fish Taco (12 yuan) consists of freshly grilled fillet on a flour tortilla with tomato, lettuce and shavings of cheese accompanied by a small pot of tomato salsa. It's a perfect snack if you're stopping for a quick bite and need to move on after checking your emails using their free wifi.

If more sustenance is required, the Burrito with Steak Carne Asada (28 yuan) will do the trick. It's two portions of tortilla filled with tender chunks of steak, Mexican rice and kidney beans. Fresh, flavorsome and foil-wrapped to retain the heat, it's an appetite stopper.

As well as the beer, juice and coffee, they do a fantastic banana smoothie (18 yuan).

Taco Loco

Address: 185 Fumin Rd

Tel: 5403-2348

Dessert looms six doors away where Voila Bistro does fresh crepes.

Again the menu is sensibly restrained with five different treatments of either sweet or savory crepes. A gelato bar provides a selection of creamy enhancements.

The made-to-order Cinnamon Apple Crepe (16 yuan) is of good size and thickness with thin apple slice fillings. The texture was perfect but despite the caramel drizzle inside it could have done with a little more over the finished product.

The dryness can be fixed with a healthy scoop of gelato (Voila's own brand), an optional 10 yuan with each sweet crepe.

The range is interesting. One menu item is a peanut butter and Jam Crepe (18 yuan) and another has bananas smothered in rich Nutella (16 yuan). Savory crepes are more elaborate and expensive with the Kickin?Chicken and Santa Fe Chicken each 32 yuan and would appeal as brunch or an afternoon snack.

Voila also does pastries ?roissants (12 yuan), apple turnover (10 yuan) and muffins (12 yuan) ?coffee and imported beers.

Calling it a bistro is drawing a long bow but it's roomy with friendly staff who welcome patrons as they walk in, an efficient kitchen, lively decor and free wifi.

Voila Bistro

Address: 173 Fumin Rd

Tel: 5403-3918


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