I've always felt a certain connection to Sapa. It opened not long after I started blogging, and despite being Footscray Vietnamese restaurant number 5,002 (or that's what it felt like), quickly became one of the most popular in the strip.
I love the food but I equally love the staff and the way they put paid to the taciturn Asian waiter stereotype. They are really friendly and always appreciate one's feeble attempts to pronounce Vietnamese words.
I should do a quick disclaimer here, but it's not really much of one. I have written about Sapa Hills a number of times in published articles, and they were an integral part of the Rickshaw Run earlier this year. But they are probably also my most blogged-about restaurant (this will make post number four) - I write about them because I genuinely love them.
Recently a number of new dishes have popped up on the menu, so this time, the beef in vine leaves got put to one side and the crab spring rolls ($13) stepped in. These are similar to Sapa's Ha Noi-style spring rolls in that they are wrapped in rice paper, not wheat wrappers, making them devilishly crackly. You can definitely taste the crab in the mix, along with rice vermicelli and black mushroom. Nice but I'd be just as happy with the bo la lot.
Just a simple vegie soup ($5.50) to contribute to my five a day. Simple, cleansing, mighty fine.
Some old dishes have made way for the new, but Sapa would never, ever take off this one. It's practically their raison d'etre. It's bun cha Ha Noi - two types of marinated, chargrilled pork (strips and little patties), with tangy dressing, rice noodles and herbs ($13). Layer it in a bowl, douse with dressing and eat. So incredibly amazingly wow.
I really wanted to try the green apple salad with crocodile fillet and the fish with Hanoi-style fresh tomato sauce, but the new dish we went for was the lamb cutlets in honey pepper sauce ($25). This was awesome - the lamb really tender, rich, sweet and completely gnaw-able. Underneath was a lovely saute of spring onion, regular onion and lettuce that had soaked up all the lovely stock and juices. I prefer my broc a bit crunchier though - this was pretty soft.
I went back another day for a classic - beef fried rice noodle (dried) ($12). Always look for that "dry" or "dried" in brackets (or "khô" in Vietnamese) to get the right dish, otherwise you will get a thick, glutinous sauce. I am mildly obsessed with this dish. It has only the slightest lick of sauce but the flavour is so concentrated. A lot of it comes from the char of the searing hot wok it's cooked in. This is a Cantonese-style dish and can be found in various guises from Hong Kong to Singapore (where it might be known as beef hor fun). Sapa's version is excellent.
A lot of Sapa's magic comes from owner Long. He is a total professional and an all-round lovely bloke. It's always wonderful to see a successful small business, but I'm extra happy to see Sapa doing so well, because I think Long and his wife Ha genuinely put their hearts into what they do. And that is something you may not be able to smell or touch - but it's something you can definitely taste.
112 Hopkins Street, Footscray
Phone: 9687 5729