Carlisle Street: you’ve waited a long time for your very own mod-canteen where casual insert-cuisine-here food and fun go head to head with great drinks and Ray Charles, and your patience has been rewarded with Uncle. The cuisine in question is Vietnamese. They’re serving it in bar snack and share plate form throughout a triple-threat venue combining a cocktail bar, restaurant and rooftop garden ringed with bamboo.
The downstairs bar has a bit of a seedy Miss Saigon thing going on with all the black décor and red lights, but it’s a handy waiting pit for a table, and you can access the whole menu if you dig on the dimly lit. Upstairs they’ve applied the Vietnamese theme with a lighter brush. It’s all bright blonde furniture and a bar of glittering tiles, with just a few geographical giveaways in the hawker cart waiter’s station and abstract lantern light shades shrouded in soft grey cloth.
On the burners is Vietnamese chef Dai Duong. He’s done time at Geoff Lindsay’s Dandelion in Elwood and you’ll see a similarly delicate touch applied to classic Vietnamese dishes here.
The beef pho is a glazed bowl of firm flat noodles crowned with a fan of fine raw beef slices served with a plate of crisp bean shoots, lime and a pot of viscous, star anise forward broth. It’s good pho – all the better for coming in large or snack size so you can get it as a side if you’re going hard on the likes of pork ribettes in a finger-painting, pant-staining ginger and chilli sauce refreshed with cucumber and spearmint.
Vegetarian spring rolls are a fun handful of crunch – roll the shitake-filled pastry cigars in your crisp lettuce cups with grated egg and douse the lot in a sweet chilli dressing. It lacks a little in acid and salt. Same goes for the Vietnamese coleslaw which is a texturally excellent bowl of shredded poached chicken, and threads of crisp carrot, bean sprouts and spring onion, punctuated by the biggest sesame-flecked rice cracker we’ve ever seen, but a little on the bland side. The dressing hits its salt-sugar-tang marks but there’s barely any of it.
Then again, we hardly even notice because we're having such a good time at the bar. Ex-Smith bartender Peter Siganto is a man whose enthusiasm cannot be contained by two feet of wood. He’s everywhere: pouring wine, cracking jokes, chatting with the bar’s mascot goldfish, Benny. He plays matchmaker for our crisp pig’s ear banh mi – two mouthfuls of fragrant leaves and salty crunch in a soft bun– with an apple-y Austrian gruner veltliner made from white grapes, and then he’s off dispensing beers, chat and high fives to all.
The dudes at Cavalier Brewing have made a custom Uncle ale that’s all crispness, hops and funk and Siganto’s cocktails are a lot more serious in the mouth than they read on the page. A Mekong Delta Splice is a savoury party of white rum chilli, lime and a mango tempered with bitter tea syrup, with a creamy coconut foam float. Party down.
Throw in the managerial stylings of jovial Scotsman Rene Spence and it’s good times all round before you’ve even opened your mouth.