Shannon Bennett turns his hand to Vietnamese at his latest venue, with mixed results
This is the latest restaurant from Shannon Bennett and the Vue De Monde team. This time it’s a French-Vietnamese eatery in the middle of the Botanical Gardens on the old Observatory Café site. And no, you’re not crazy – they have also just opened in the Dandenongs. Bennett just can’t be stopped.
Jardin Tan embodies all that Vue De Monde does well. It’s a stunning space that’s big and airy, with huge glass panels, glistening green tiles and sturdy tables looking out to a sunny deck. The main counter is loaded up with fresh croissants and cakes, all delivered daily from their Burnham Beeches bakery, as well as big platters of salads: wedges of iceberg lettuce and soft boiled eggs with anchovy dressing and bowls full of quinoa, wild rice and herbs for the joggers. Opposite there’s an old trough filled with bottles of fresh pressed juices. They’re also making decent coffee. That’s a lot of boxes ticked in the affirmative for park loiterers.
But how’s their Vietnamese food? This is newer ground for team Vue and it can be hit and miss. They’re working with all the great ingredients you expect – it’s David Blackmore’s wagyu beef in your pho and they give good condiment. Tables are stocked with the thick chilli-based firecracker sauce, and their own sweet, spicy, limey and fishy nuoc cham for dipping. They also grow their own herbs, which are delivered on silver trays with crisp bean shoots and more iceberg cups.
Sadly that beef noodle soup is a miss. It looks promising - thick rice noodles layered with bean sprouts, green onions and paper-thin slices of raw beef in a deep black bowl. But then the broth is really sweet and throws the dish out of whack. Our hopes for the banh xeo are also dashed. What should be a fine, crisp rice pancake (here it's southern-style with coconut) is thick and doughy, while the filling is gung-ho on the raw bean sprouts and light on with the pork belly and prawns.
The fried chicken is worth diverting off the Tan running track for, though – small, juicy pieces of boneless bird are fried in a delicate flour jacket so they have an ethereally light, crisp shell. We also like the fragrant stir-fry featuring long strips of lamb belly and lemongrass, and a bowl of dark, glossy morning glory fried with shitake mushrooms and garlic.
If you're thinking that a vodka Martini fat-washed with peanuts sounds like a bad idea, we can confirm you're correct. But then there's the Moo Brew beers and the compact wine list (Bollinger bubbles; Mac Forbes chardonnay) and the familiar territory of dessert: slips of banana, bound with thick cream, and a bitter-sweet chocolate foam that falls somewhere between a mousse and a sauce. Beauty and balance in a pretty little cup.
It's almost like two cafés in one, and our advice is to treat it as such. For coffees and cakes and booze in the sun, it's a cracker. For Vietnamese? For now it's not the city's best – or cheapest – but perhaps time and trials will remedy all.