Eat a mini (or large) bowl of pho on St Kilda's only Vietnamese rooftop.
November 13, 2013
Melbourne's cuisine is usually concentrated by suburb, with ethnic communities pumping out the dishes in a way that only they can. Go to Footscray for African, Glen Waverley to get your dumpling fix and, when craving a big, steaming pot of pho, Victoria Street is undoubtedly where it's always been done best. But, now, St Kilda's Carlisle Street is quickly becoming a destination for the stuff, thanks to one place: Uncle.
Prior to Uncle showing up to the Carlisle Street party, the St Kilda-Balaclava border had barely seen a rice paper roll, let alone a bowl of rare beef pho. That's something that owners Rene Spence and ex-Dandelion chef Dai Duong clearly wanted to change. The two-level bar and restaurant not only takes the prize as St Kilda's best Vietnamese haunt, but seriously rivals some Victoria Street stalwarts as well.
Split into two levels and three dining areas, the space — cleverly designed by Foolscap Studio — is clearly designed to cater for different crowds and seasons. The 30-seater bar downstairs is moody and bathed in burgundy, while the main dining room — light during the day, dim after dark — spills out onto the roof of Blackhearts and Sparrows next door. Inside, the fit-out works around the bar and is casual and considered, but it's the rooftop, complete with fairy lights, that will be a drawcard in warmer weather.
And, while the design shows signs of promise, it is the food that confirms its early (and, surely, destined to be continued) success. The menu isn't overly large, but balances big and small, and screams fresh, spicy and completely legit. Best to share is the lime cured hapuka with coconut, pomegranate and chilli on betel leaf ($6) with the soft shell crab ($14) and free range chicken slaw with fragrant herbs, bean sprouts, chilli and nuoc chum ($15). All of which are served on exquisite tableware — handmade by Ruth Laird Spence of Fork Ceramics, Spence's wife, no less.
The best thing about Uncle's menu is that you can enjoy a bowl of pho without forsaking other items on the menu. As well as large bowls ($11), a mini bowl of beef, chicken or vegetarian pho is also available — as well as being somewhat adorable, it fits into your dining experience without being a cornerstone. That then gives you the room for some of the 'big guys': caramel and ginger pork belly with quail eggs, cucumber, peanuts and spearmint ($28) and the grilled whole fish with fragrant herbs and nuoc chum ($32) being standouts.
With that, a few sides and desserts — all of which are gluten free — round out the menu, as well as an extensive drinks list. Cocktails are distinctly Asian ($15.50-18.50), while Victorian producers are heavily relied upon for beer and wine. Uncle's own Cavalier Brew ($7) is on tap, as is the King Valley DOC Rosso ($7.50 glass; $22 bottle), and filter Market Lane Coffee is served black, white or Vietnamese-style with condensed milk ($4).
Your new Vietnamese family member now lives on Carlisle Street, and he's one Uncle you'll definitely want to visit. The wait is only set to get longer as summer rolls in, but it's worth giving Victoria Street a miss to eat a mini bowl of pho on St Kilda's only Vietnamese rooftop.
184 Carlisle Street, St Kilda East
141 Chapel Street, St Kilda
292 Carlisle Street, Balaclava
36 William Street, Balaclava
10 Brighton Road, St Kilda East
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277 Carlisle Street, Balaclava
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