Everyone has a favourite Uncle, right? The one that is easy to be with, liked by your friends and available for a drink when you’re in the area. My new favourite Uncle (sorry Uncle Ron) comes in the form of a slick new-school Vietnamese restaurant in the unexpected location of Carlisle Street, St Kilda. Opened by some well known guns of the Melbourne hospitality industry: Rene Spence (ex The Smith) directing front of house and Dai Duong (ex Dandelion) at home in the kitchen, it has has seen queues since the day the doors first opened and by the end of each night was regularly running out of food. Not a bad start by anyone’s estimation.
Design plays a notable role in creating the ambience and personality of Uncle. Downstairs the bar is dark and a little moody. The “alter ego” according to Spence of the bright modern dining room and terrace upstairs created by Adele Winteridge of Foolscap Studio and featuring furniture from Steve Edwards and colourful hand made tableware from his wife’s business Fork Ceramics.
The menu is divided into Little Guys and Big Guys and whilst it is predominately traditional Vietnamese, some dishes stray from the authentic. Amongst those that do is a betel leaf with lime cured hapuka, coconut, pomegranate and chilli. More of these please! I have been to Uncle twice and enjoyed this on both occasions – I daresay I will have it next time as well.
Fried soft shell crab comes ready to be wrapped in butter lettuce leaves with the fragrant herbs familiar to many lovers of Vietnamese fare. The free range chicken slaw is packed full of flavour with just the right touch of chilli. Served with an oversize prawn cracker, which when broken up makes the perfect eating vehicle for delivering all the crunch straight to your mouth.
One of my favourite snacks when I was in Vietnam was Báhn Mí. The versions offered at Uncle are a modern take on what the street vendors I visited had to offer: think succulent Fish with tumeric, dill & mayo or Crispy pigs ears with pickles and peanuts.
Traditional Phô (beef, chicken or vegetarian) is served with the assorted herbs, shoots and condiments you need to pimp it up yourself and, cleverly if you ask me, comes in two sizes meaning you can have some of the Little Guys and a bowl of phô without feeling so full you will explode.
I’m yet to try any of the Big Guys, filling up on so many Little Guys will do that, so I am looking forward to returning to experience the rest of the food offering. Food is not the only thing to get excited by at Uncle. The long bar and spacious outdoor terrace lend themselves perfectly to the clever drinks offering: DOC wines on tap, a range of lesser known varietals well chosen for the food, and some fabulous cocktails. Made with Jasmin Gin, Lychee, Creme de Mure, Lime and Prosecco and bitters I think the Ho Chi Mama will become a summer favourite.
If you live Southside, or even if you don’t, come for the tasty eats, great drinks and smooth service.
Open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday and lunch Wednesday to Sunday you’ll find my new favourite Uncle at 188 Carlisle Street St Kilda.