Cheap and cheerful, with a little something extra
On the morning of this review, it was noted that my dining companion was a man who used to eat generic canned food labelled “fish”. These days, he’s got all fancy. The last meal he posted to social media contained pomegranate molasses. I had high hopes for the calibre of his critique.
“We should order the char kuey teow,” he said with authority. I waited for a dissertation on springy noodles, smoky heat and lard versus vegetable oil. “We need to know how it compares to the food hall,” he said.
Po’ Brothers is a pan-Asian venture on Ponsonby Rd. The interior is simple but stylish, there are tables for very large and very small groups, and the menu is split across three price points: on the street, working class and luxury life. Something for everyone in a part of town that frequently feels like it’s only for the few.
I very badly wanted to begin with deep-fried chicken skin ($9). Unfortunately, I had not been to the gym in a decade. Cue the fresh rice paper roll ($9), packed with lettuce and heavy on mint. It’s the only obvious vegetarian offering on the menu, though I did see meat and seafood-free versions of other dishes being delivered.
Light and refreshing, the rolls were the perfect justification for a bowl of deep-fried cornflakes (aka chicken karaage). The $10 dish of really juicy thigh meat with a cereal coating was cooked to a bonkers level of golden crispness. Highly recommended.
I skipped the “stripper” fried rice ($16) even though the menu assured me was “authentic Thai-style”. Google didn’t recognise the dish. My best guess? An hilarious play on the more famous Italian store-cupboard carb, puttanesca (spaghetti in the style of a prostitute, blah, blah). How about that char kuey teow though? It featured crunchy bok choy, melting chunks of pork and (slightly chewy) strips of beef. If I had a complaint, it was that there was more meat and vege than there was noodles. I’m aware that for some, that would be a bonus, and that at $15, it was ridiculously good value.
Pork belly chilli jam came in at a similar price point. I’ve stopped ordering this kind of food because it confounds my critical faculties (pig fat, yum, repeat) but this was great. Sticky and quite sweet, but saved by an almost coffee-bitter note in the background. Swoon. We forgot to order rice ($2), but that was rectified within seconds of asking.
There is ton to like at Po’ Brothers, even without trying the beef brisket curry, the seafood noodle tom yum or anything at all from the “luxury life” ducksalmon-lamb-king prawn end of the menu ($24-$28).
Two desserts ($8 each) literally finished us off. A mango parfait and sago pudding was a little tropical paradise in a bowl; and a deep-fried bao bun with matcha ice cream was finest fusion — crispy, creamy and sweet, with a strange earthy kick.
We’d eaten very well, drunk quite a lot of rosé, and had pudding. Given the locale, I honestly thought they’d missed something off the bill.
Po’ Brothers is next-level cheap and cheerful and you should check them out soon.