In Vietnamese culture, Uncle is a term of respect and familiarity – it’s what you call those you admire. This name is more than fitting for the St Kilda restaurant owned and run by friends Rene Spence and Dai Duong, serving up irresistible Vietnamese-inspired food full of fresh flavours.
Having worked together in St Kilda for many years the duo decided to go out on their own, opening Uncle in late 2013. Dai’s homeland Vietnam was the obvious choice for the cuisine; he grew up inspired by his mother’s cooking and Rene had loved travelling through the area in years gone by.
The space spoke to them from across the street, they saw the rooftop being built and knew it had to be theirs. They liked the unassuming nature of the site, with a small bar downstairs and a surprisingly spacious 125-seat restaurant upstairs, including half of this on the rooftop next door.
After a makeover courtesy of cracking architects, Foolscap Studio, they ended up with a bright restaurant that pays homage to Vietnam through the emphasis on natural timbers, splashes of greenery and light fittings reminiscent of the lanterns that hang outside traditional buildings. The custom-made ceramics come courtesy of Rene’s wife Ruth, the face of Fork Ceramics, who has coordinated bright pops of colour throughout the space.
As eye-catching as the interior design is, the main attraction has to be the delicacies Dai and his kitchen team dish up. They source their produce as locally as possible, using organic cumquats from Dai’s mum’s garden, beef from Sher Wagyu and snapper from Port Phillip.
Watch all of this produce come to life on your plate by working your way through Uncle’s diverse menu. Start with a selection of little guys, including lime cured hapuka with coconut, pomegranate and chilli on betel leaf, and chicken tenderloin steamed bao with Vietnamese mint and spicy pickles.
Move onto the banh mi and choose from Hanoi fish, tofu or crispy pig’s ear filling – the latter tastes like spicy, crunchy pork crackling. Or skip straight to the traditional Vietnamese noodle soup, pho, served in two different sizes and packed with your choice of beef, chicken or vegies.
The big guys will satisfy any remaining hunger pangs, including grilled whole fish with green mango salad and sweet and sour ginger dressing or the totally tropical lemongrass and coconut scotch fillet with yuzu butter, pickled lotus and mizuna.
If you can fit it in, finish with a coconut tapioca pudding, mango sorbet, meringue and mint syrup or a chocolate chilli ganache with coconut ice cream and almond milk granita.
You’ll want to wash everything down with a cocktail from Uncle’s comprehensive list. The crowd favourite is undoubtedly the superb Mekong Splice – a concoction of Stolen rum, mango sorbet, lime and chilli crowned with coconut foam. Once you’ve exhausted your cocktail choices, try a tipple from the wine list, featuring boutique and carefully chosen drops by small and cultish producers from all around Australia.
A quick bite with friends, a lavish celebration or take-away to be enjoyed at home. Whatever the occasion, Uncle’s got you covered.