Since the 1970s, Melbourne’s strong Vietnamese restaurant offering was a typically unadorned affair, with plastic chairs, fluorescent strip lighting and surly service being the main ingredients. But when Uncle hit the bayside suburb of St Kilda nearly four years ago, its pairing of Vietnamese flavours, colourful décor and soul-driven soundtrack made it an instant hit. Now, Chef Dai Duong and front-of-house Rene Spence are back at it, this time on Collins Street in the Melbourne CBD.
Set one level up among the leaves of the street’s famed Plane trees, designers Foolscap Studio have again created a warm, colourful and enjoyably informal space. Decorative cane screens and hand-finished cane pendant lights channel a touch of provincial Vietnam, while geometric colour-blocked flooring, customised leaf-pattern shade screens and denim-aproned floor staff anchor the venue in the now.
From behind the granite topped bar, bartenders pump out classics with a Viet inspired twist, such as a Bloody Mary with holy basil and chilli pickle, and Spring Street – a cocktail of gin, basil syrup, lychee, bitters, lime and prosecco. Like the flavours on each of Duong’s plates, from bao and banh mi to larger plates such as a barramundi fillet with tamarind caramel, the balances of sour, spicy, bitter, salty and sweet are distinct.