Louis Sergeant's former Featherston Street spot has been taken over by Le Saigon Vietnamese Kitchen, the latest entrant in Wellington's frankly impressive lineup of Vietnamese restaurants. You won't find too many cakes and sweet treats here, but Le Saigon certainly holds its own with an audacious range of fresh, modern Vietnamese dishes that are sure to turn heads.
From the first glance at the fit-out, you know Le Saigon's not here to play by the rule book. The polished wooden floor, subtle pastel hues and bold neon sign at the back look like they belong in a Te Aro brunch spot rather than an Asian eatery off Lambton Quay. There's not a squeeze bottle of sriracha in sight, and the hefty stock of the menu card screams fine dining.
We started with the steamed rice cakes ($9), which look like they've been plucked straight out of a degustation menu. The dish consists of delicate rice cake wraps topped with minced shrimp, carrot, salted radish, spring onions and croutons. It's a bit of a challenge holding everything together as you dip it in the accompanying nuoc cham sauce, but the rice cakes are incredibly soft to the touch and the fillings pack a sharp zing that will definitely wake your tastebuds.
If our appetiser pushed the envelope, our mains were more in line with traditional Vietnamese fare. We opted for a pork dish each: the chargrilled pork sirloin ($25) and the grilled pork and spring roll ($18). Given the wild first impression we received from the rice cakes, the pork sirloin was surprisingly utilitarian — a marinated pork steak flanked by pork meatloaf and broken rice, served with a side salad. The presentation has the unassuming homeliness of a food court meal and while the flavours don't really jump out, it's a solid enough dish.
The grilled pork and spring roll bowl is Le Saigon's chance to put their spin on a Vietnamese favourite, and they don't disappoint. The slightly chunky vermicelli noodles are topped with a vegetable mix, tender strips of pork and sliced spring rolls, with the contrasts of fried and fresh, meat and vegetables giving the dish a real edge.
There's plenty more on the menu for the adventurous types to explore — cured jellyfish, tamarind prawns and fish ceviche will raise plenty of eyebrows. What you can be assured of at Le Saigon is that they cater well to all fans of Vietnamese, whether it's a classic pho or vermicelli bowl or something a bit different you're after.