UPDATE: MARCH 23, 2018 — Annam has been pumping out top-notch fare since October 2017, but the restaurant has just introduced a super affordable lunch menu. If you head in for lunch between noon and 3pm Monday to Friday, you can order a main — like the Asian 'spag bol' or twice-cooked crispy chicken — for just $12. And, in the interests of getting you back in the office within the hour, it'll be on the table in 15 minutes or less.
She's worked in hatted restaurants and, in recent years, chef Jerry Mai has hit Melbourne to open Pho Nom, a Vietnamese restaurant with two Melbourne CBD locations bragging the freshest rice paper rolls this side of the Mekong Delta.
Now she's returned to her hatted roots with a new (and slightly more upmarket) venture, Annam. Mai has teamed up with Rani Doyle, of The National Hotel in Richmond, whom she's known for many years — and together they're hoping to revolutionise your understanding of Vietnamese cuisine.
Annam is all about traditional Vietnamese dishes — in fact, Annam was a historical region in Vietnam. But don't confuse traditional Vietnamese food with homogenous Vietnamese food. The cuisine has picked up influences from China, France and Japan, as well as from the country's neighbours Laos and Cambodia.
Expect dishes like tuna tataki with cumquat nuoc mam (fish sauce) and crispy onion, whole grilled kingfish with rice paper, braised goat somm la curry with pea eggplant and bo kho spiced beef ribs with mustard leaf. And when you get to dessert, there's a waffle-coated salted caramel fried ice cream. We'll just leave it at that.
For the drinks menu, Annam serves up complementary but not strictly Vietnamese drops. Put together by Doyle, the list is heavy with gewürztraminer, pinot gris, grüner veltliner and local rieslings that pair well with the bold, spicy and salty flavours. You can also grab cocktails with a Southeast Asian twist, like Four Pillars gin with nashi, Thai basil and finger lime.
The architectural concept was developed by Emlyn Olaver. There's lots of light wood, exposed walls and neon. The aim of the fit-out — and indeed the whole restaurant — is to transport patrons to sensual Vietnam.
"Relive sitting in the street, on a little stool somewhere in Vietnam," Mai says. "The heat and the smoke coming from the grill, and the noise coming from the kitchen and hopefully we can transport you back to a holiday in Southeast Asia somewhere."