George and Leanne Lai are living, breathing examples of why Paris is called the ‘City of Love’. After meeting there, they fell madly in love and went into business, opening firstly, a restaurant in Paris and then moving to Australia to open two others.
Their most recent venture is La Mint, a French-Vietnamese restaurant just shy of busy William Street in Darlinghurst. Capturing a touch of colonialism, a dash of French ‘oh la la’ and a whole lot of Vietnamese spirit, it reflects the owners’ life experiences, as Vietnamese-born adventurers who fell in love with the French culture (and each other) while living there.
George grew up in Paris studying hospitality and becoming a sommelier. He gained a taste and curiosity for the different food and flavours from his childhood travels through Asia, leading him to his chosen career in hospitality. He opened his first restaurant in 1984 when he was 22, the ‘Garden de Joinville le Pont’.
After meeting Leanne, who grew up in Vietnam surrounded by a family of business entrepreneurs, the couple opened Le Dragon in Saint Germain des Pres, before making the decision to move down under to Sydney. There, they continued to follow their passion, opening Saigon Metro in Haymarket, before establishing La Mint.
George, as Head Chef, has created a menu that captures French-Vietnamese fusion and focuses on fresh ingredients, with a particular emphasis on herbs. Start with seared scallops served in their shell with lemongrass, shallots and crushed peanuts, before maintaining the culinary journey with Pave de Porc, twice-cooked pork belly tenderised in traditional caramelised sauce for four hours, or Steak Chateaubriand, a traditional French recipe of tender rib-eye fillet, thick cut with George’s white wine Béarnaise sauce. Finish your immersion with the signature La Mint pudding, an exotic bitter melon jelly served with coconut sago. For a truly indulgent experience, book in for the eight-dish degustation, with the option of matching wines.
Wine connoisseurs will want to book into for one of their wine dinners, which celebrate the best of French and Australian drops. Francophiles will be lining up for the Beaujolas Noveau, while Australian fans can sample the best drops from places like Two Hands Wine, St Hallett’s and Phillip Shaw when the restaurant opens their doors and cellar to the wineries.
If just one glass will do, choose from an extensive list, which includes a large selection from France, as well as Australia and New Zealand. If you’re in the mood for something stronger, opt for a cocktail – the Parisien will transport you back to the land of berets in no time.
Residing in a heritage-listed warehouse, the space is decked out in earthy tones from wooden tables and floors, thatched chairs and grey tiles, with some furniture imported from Saigon. A little bit of France shines through posters that adorn the walls and an enticing wall of wine at the entrance.
For an immersive experience that will transport you to the rice paddies of Vietnam and the cobblestones of Paris, look no further than La Mint.