It was that time of the year again when work Christmas parties just all seem to roll in at the same time. Most parties I’ve attended organize dinner parties, but at this particular place I work it has become commonplace to hold a Christmas work lunch instead. That way when all the merry dining is done and finished, there is still time for a night out in town for some more festive partying. Christmas lunch this year was held at Uncle, a hip new Vietnamese restaurant in St Kilda serving up some modern classic Vietnamese food with a modern Melburnian twist to it.
It doesn’t look like much on the outside but inside, Uncle is beautifully furnished. On the ground flour downstairs there is a bar with a counter serving up some street food to dine in or take away. The colourful baskets suspended from the ceiling double up as light covers and decorations.
As you head upstairs it’s there is a lot of cool greenery. Young bamboo trees line the wall on the far end on the completely sheltered rooftop floor. It’s bright, it’s warm, it’s peaceful and welcoming. It’s a little tropical paradise as opposed to the concrete jungle outside.
Vegetarian betel leaves: coconut, pomegrate with chilli
The lunch banquet started off with some betel leaves. These betel leaf wraps a certainly an acquired taste. The raw ingredients and the strong flavour of the betel leave itself is something that does require getting used to especially if you are familiar with the taste of Asian herbs. As there were some vegetarian eaters among us (myself included) these betel leaves originally served with lime cured hapuka (a type of fish) were omitted to make it vegetarian.
Rice paper rolls with black vinegar eggplant, jack fruit and nuoc mam cham (dipping sauce)
In all my rice paper roll eating life at home (I am half Vietnamese after all), I have never considered adding a bit of fruit to the mix. The jack fruit in these rice paper rolls really made the rolls standout. The rice paper rolls were tightly rolled as opposed to loosely rolled which is how you tend to find them at some other Vietnamese fusion restaurants. I much prefer them to be rolled up tightly. That way, things don’t fall out all over the place after taking a bite.
The combination of eggplant and jackfruit with Vietnamese mint was something very different and new. I really enjoyed them.
Tofu banh mi with pickles and peanuts (left) and Corn fritters (right)
Tofu banh mi in non typical Vietnamese bun (aka normal bread) with pickles and mayo tasted more like a tofu slider than banh mi. It tasted pretty good, so it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Chicken wings with chilli lime and Maggi sauce
Always a classic favourite.
Grilled whole fish with ginger soy and fragrant herbs
The combination of the ginger soy sauce and fragrant herbs on this fish does bring back memories of mum’s cooking back when I was younger when we used to eat quite a bit of grilled fish at home. But instead of eating it as such with rice, we would take a bit of the grilled pieces of fish and wrap it in rice paper rolls with Vietnamese lettuce and herbs. It tastes just like home cooking.
Aromatic vegetable curry with sweet potato and bamboo roots
My favourite kind of curry is the kind that has coconut milk and lots of vegetables and Uncle’s aromatic vegetable curry ticks all the right boxes. The lotus root chip garnish and fried onion garnish gives the curry an added crunch while the mix of herbs gives it an extra kick of flavour.
Mixed leaves salad: radish, lotus stems, crispy wontons and sesame dressing
A fusion of Asian and non Asian herbs mixed with lettuce leaves turns makes it quite refreshing. I have never seem lotus stems before, having only eaten lotus root before hand. The addition of the little holey stems makes it quite interesting to look at. I am tempted to play with lotus roots and stems in general a lot more because of it.
Tropical fruit salad with coconut cream, sorbet and honeycomb
No banquet would be complete without some dessert. Not to heavy or too light, the dessert was just an explosion textures. You have the crunchy sweet and sticky honey comb, icy cold sorbet and creamy soft coconut cream all siting on top of some subtly soft sweet fruit.
I really like Uncle. I like the dining atmosphere and the food was enjoyable. If I had to pick a favourite, it would be the eggplant and jackfruit rice paper rolls. The banquet serves up a lot of food and it really seems like you’d be stuffing yourselves, but in reality the amount of food you get is just right. Just enough to be satisfied and not too much that you’d end up a dress size bigger (or pants for guys).