Hip hop isn’t a genre you would typically associate with noodles, but that is the pitch at Homi Noodle Bar. They tie together a little better when you pronounce it as you would “homie”, then it becomes wordplay on the slang. We went there on a weekday mid-afternoon, past a likely lunch crowd, in search of good food at a slightly off usual feeding time time. It rated well, so we headed there hopefully.
Located on the ground floor of one of the many tall buildings on Queen Street, it certainly looks more bar than noodle shop. It was the menu on the door (as well as Google Maps) that clued us in to it being Homi. There is also “There’s no place like Homi” imprinted into the concrete at the entrance, just through the door, but you do have to actually look down to see it.
Through the door, we could see the glossy white-tiled bar and service counter. On the wall were purple neon-lighted signs with puns like “I’m sorry Miss Jackson I am pho real”. Above the atrium entrance area was a white neon light that made a squiggle that we couldn’t quite determine if was abstract or outlined something. Regardless, it was eye-catching, and filled the space from the high ceiling well.
After we crossed the entrance threshold and approached the service counter, we were invited to sit at any of the available tables. The tables and seating are all bar-height, and the tabletops covered in a swirling camo-like patterned print (except polka dots possibly don’t make for a great disguise). The edges of the tables are a vivid turquoise, which actually complements the purple neon lights well. These statement colours lift the space from being too clinically industrial, which would have been the alternative likely outcome, what with the polished concrete floor, white walls, and otherwise black and white seats. It was ghetto cool without the grunge. One of our few gripes was that because all the seats had either low or no backs, you couldn’t lean back and relax into the seating at any point.
Chilled groove music played in the background, some of which could be picked out as remixed Missy Elliot. Because of the off-peak time we visited at, there weren’t crowd voices to contend with, and it certainly wasn’t noisy.
The tables were set with chopsticks, ladle-style spoons, and, in a further nod to their particular offerings, bottles of siracha hot sauce. There were menus on the tables as well, food options printed on one of a single sheet, in sections of Munchies (snacks like spring rolls and dumplings), Bao burgers, Noodles, and Salads. On a stand at the table was a list of available drinks, and as they are also a bar, they had cocktails and other alcoholic drinks available.
We ended up choosing the Bun Cha Hanoi, and the Soft Shell Crab Banh Canh from the Noodle section of the food menu, and couldn’t help but be intrigued by the drink offering of the Salted Coconut Vietnamese Iced Coffee.
We asked for one off the Salted Coconut Vietnamese Iced Coffees in a takeaway cup, and one in a regular glass to have there. The one to have there came served in a glass in the shape of a soft drink can, but larger in scale (but preserving the proportions). The mix was rich and caramelly. It was sweet, thick, and indeed coconutty, with flavours reminiscent of a sago gula melaka pudding. The ice chilled it nicely, and with time, enough melted to temper the sweetness somewhat. It was definitely an indulgent drink.
The Homi “Bun Cha” Hanoi was listed in the menu as having Hanoi style grilled pork belly and patties, crab and pork spring roll, vermicelli, and greens. All the components came served on a tray, lined with paper that had lines of “Homi” printed all over it. In the bowl of broth were the pork belly and cut up pork patty, as well as pieces of sliced pork. Bits of carrot and green leaves were also swimming in the mix. On the side and kept dry were the fried spring roll, two mounds of vermicelli noodles, and a little heap of assorted fresh herby greens. So. How you are supposed to eat bun cha is, you take some of the meat out of the broth, take some of the vermicelli and dip it in the broth to coat it, and wrap them in a lettuce leaf, dip it all in the broth again just to get as much flavour on and in it as possible, and then eat that. DIY roll and wrap, really. Fresh herbs like coriander and mint add even more flavour, and when eating in Vietnam, you will find them served generously. There were a number of issues we found with the dish here, unfortunately. The first problem was that there really weren’t enough leaves to wrap the meat and vermicelli in. The dish was only served with one lettuce leaf, which, really, is not enough, even if you tried to make either one really giant wrap with as many ingredients as you could, or smaller ones with barely enough leaf to hold things together. The second problem, and this was probably the most significant one, was that the broth had a very mild flavour. We were looking for the sweet-sour-spicy punch that the broth is meant to deliver, and given that that is the thing that ties everything else in the dish together, its lack of kick made the whole dish quite flat. (For those in Brisbane, Pho Queue in Annerley delivers a much tastier version.) The third issue was that they used Vietnamese coriander instead of the more typically used parsley-resembling coriander. While the initial taste is similar, Vietnamese coriander follows with bitterness, then heat, which means it has quite a different flavour profile.
The other dish was Soft Shell Crab Banh Canh, described in the menu as rice drop noodle, soft shell crab, quail egg, prawns, and fish cakes. It came served in a conical-shaped bowl, which despite its sharp taper, was quite stable. The fried soft shell crab floated atop the orange soup, and across the surface was also scattered fried garlic and coriander leaves. The soup was thick, like an egg drop soup, and had savoury seafood broth flavours. The noodles were plump and springy, like udon noodles, and held the broth well. The soft shell crab had a good crunch outside from the light batter, and was juicy on the inside. To keep it from getting soggy, we fished it out of the broth so that we could savour it more gradually with the rest of the dish. The other ingredients were hidden in the opaque soup, and had to be found, like a lucky dip. The quail eggs had lightly cooked yolks. The fishcake slices and prawns were also there in good amounts and were cooked until tender. Despite it originating from tropical Vietnam, this actually made for a hearty winter meal.
You can get fresh lime and chilli on the side to add more flavour to your dishes, as is common in Vietnamese eateries.
Homi Noodle Bar definitely has style and swagger. The Salted Coconut Vietnamese Iced Coffee, we would certainly have again. The food was delicious..if the right item was ordered.
Food: 3/4 (saved from being average by the coffees.)
Price point: Entrees (or Munchies) $8.50 to $11.90. Burgers $8.50 to $10. Noodles $13.50 to $16.90. Salted coconut vietnamese iced coffee $6.90.
Value: Not bad, for the delicious things.
Address: Shop 2, 190 Queen Street, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 03 9670 5825
Website: Homi Noodle Bar