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This Vietnamese mama packs a real punch.

The team behind Melbourne's first pay-what-you-want pho pop-up have launched their first permanent hospitality venture, Hochi Mama. A contemporary day-to-night venue a few doors up from Rice Paper Scissors on Liverpool Street, the restaurant champions modern, Vietnamese-inspired cuisine. Although this time there's a set price for a bowl of pho.

With separate lunch and dinner menus, Hochi Mama is an ideal CBD pit stop for takeaway at any time of the day or night. The dinner menu is divided into flavoursome post-work tapas and mains that are predictably designed to share. Favourites include the signature Hochi banh bao, a soft bao pillow stuffed with crispy fried chicken, spicy kimchi, fermented chilli beans and tangy creamy sauce ($8.50 each) and the beef short ribs, which are super tender and served with morning glory, beansprouts and seasonal market vegetables ($18). The Phoplings — a playful dumpling-pho hybrid — are made with steamed beef and pork mince and served with Hochi Mama's pho broth.

A word of warning to spice-phobics, though: this mama packs a punch. Littered with tear-jerking red chilli, sizzling pickled vegetables and spicy sauces, these dishes have been known to make grown men (at least the ones we know) cry crocodile tears.

Luckily, Hochi Mama's bar is stocked with a boutique list of local and international beers, wine and cider. Tropical, Asian-inspired cocktails similarly suit the food; the Thai Chi with double gin, Vietnamese mint and frozen young coconut juice is the perfect refresher, while the Good Morning Vietnam, a modernised espresso martini, is best for a post-meal tipple (both $18).

Laidback yet intimate, Hochi Mama's interior features low, glowing lanterns and stylish aged timber. A wall mural and open kitchen completes the dynamic space. Dinner menus rotate with daily main, dessert and cocktail specials, and ravenous pairs can make a beeline for the $59 Me Hungry Now menu, which includes two starters, two mains and a side to share.

Vibrant and extremely affordable, it might not be Ho Chi Minh city — but Hochi Mama is still very much worth a visit.

Published on April 20, 2016 by Ellen Seah

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