This Ponsonby Road newbie is one of the best Vietnamese restaurants to have popped up in town lately (and there have been a ton). Le Vietnamese Kitchen is unassuming from the street, but when you step into the restaurant or the beautiful courtyard out back; the candlelight, parquet tiling, swaying bamboo lampshades, flowers and an assortment of oriental ornaments effectively transport you to another place and time. Owner and Hanoi native David Dau has clearly put a lot of effort into the space's design; it's unrecognisable as the old haunt of cafe Little 107.
Head chef David Gao learned to cook from his parents, who served as chefs for the French during the Vietnam War. This is readily evident in his menu, which features popular street eats like Banh Mi, pho (Vietnamese ramen), spring rolls and more; happily co-existing with more delicate, French-inspired dishes such as shaking beef, Bo Luc Lac (angus eye fillet tossed with watercress and plenty of black and white pepper) and Bo Sot Vang, a tangy, spicy stew of beef braised in red wine and balsamic vinegar.
The waitstaff were lovely and knew the menu inside and out, and the food is creatively presented on pretty willow patterned crockery and in hand painted clay bowls. All dishes are well-priced and designed for sharing, and we went with the flaming prawns in fresh coconut, the Hanoi fried rice and the garlic shoots. The prawns were my favourite; fat and juicy tiger prawns garnished with freshly desiccated coconut and a tangy lime and ginger dressing.
The garlic shoots were wok-tossed and served with whole Portobello mushrooms and a rich, meaty mushroom sauce. The only disappointment was the fried rice, which tasted food court-standard and could have done with some spicing up and a rejigging of the rice to meat/vege ratio. Still, fried rice is kind of like pizza - it can never actually be bad.
If you're a fan of Vietnamese or French food, or the perfect hybrid of both cuisines, Le Vietnamese Kitchen is for you. It's deservedly packed most nights so make sure to get in early or book.