Simon Blacher, Paul Nguyen, Nick Coulter and Will Newton opened Saigon Sally earlier this year as a grown-up counterpoint to their screamingly popular Vietnamese street food diner, Hanoi Hannah. And things are looking very good.
Saigon Sally’s central feature is a low-lit wooden bar bedecked with fresh fruit, bottles of Tromba Blanco tequila and whispering couples. It’s a cracker of a fun spot to test bartender Tom Stonnill to his
limits on a range of potent cocktails with names like Apocalypse Wow (a mix of jasmine tea, gin, cherry liqueur, blood orange, lemon juice and lemon bitters).
Head chef Adrian Li has a light touch when it comes to uniting the five elements of Vietnamese cuisine (salty, sour, sweet, bitter and spicy). Prawn pandanus translate as feather-light fritters of smoked prawn chunks in rice flour batter with hints of kaffir lime and tamarind. They come wrapped in a crisp pandan leaf that you’re told not to eat and can’t unwrap fast enough. We guarantee chopstick wars over chicken ribs dipped in a mix of Kewpie mayo and Gochujang (that funky Korean fermented chilli and soy paste).
It’s all surprisingly light, fragrant stuff, if a little undemanding for hard-core Vietnamese aficionados. Read: Sally doesn’t deliver any of the intricate stocks you might get at one of Footscray’s finest, but for a casual southside joint they’re doing a good job.
They make a great deconstructed canh chua (a sour soup from the Mekong). A doorstep of pan-fried barramundi with almost-raw slices of okra and new pineapple comes with winter melon, tomato and sawtooth coriander in a sour tamarind broth on the side. Or then there are long crescents of fried eggplant and turkey berries (pea-sized green eggplants still on the twig) adorned with XO sauce.
How about a happy ending? Tira-Mi-Sally turns out to be triangles of strong coffee parfait separated by chewy macaron sheets that clamp your teeth together.
While Saigon Sally has all the trimmings of a hipster joint (hidden laneway location, commissioned artwork, share plates), it’s far away enough from the city to feature a few white heads as well as dyed pink ones. Book an early table for a quieter sitting, or swing in late for some pumping disco, wild cocktails and even wilder flavours.