2 Gilbert Road Preston, Victoria 307203 9484 8686
|Opening hours||Tues-Sun, 8am-10pm.|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
WHERE AND WHAT
The gentrification of Preston is creeping along, and Fu Manchu is a welcome addition to the area's side streets. This modern Vietnamese restaurant is owned by Marten Chu, owner of Breadwell cafe in Flinders Lane and brother of ''rice-paper roll queen'' Nahji Chu, founder of the Misschu chain. Fu Manchu might take its name from the fictional and slightly racist evil villain from the novels of the 1960s, but it's all good here. The food is a blend of traditional Vietnamese and fusion styles and the emphasis is on fresh, traditional flavours, given a twist by head chef Nick Cross, formerly of Golden Fields.
WHERE TO SIT
Housed in an old community hall on the corner of Miller Street and Gilbert Road, Fu Manchu is stylishly fitted out and very spacious, with a mix of big communal tables and two or four-seaters. Chu designed the interior, which features exposed brick walls and a mash-up of traditional Vietnamese decor and modern cool. The imposing gold front doors come from a former bank. There are also benches in the windows and a few tables outside.
WHEN TO GO
Fu Manchu is open from breakfast right through to dinner and for coffees in between. For lucky locals, there's also a takeaway option.
As well a good range of mid-priced boutique wines from local producers, New Zealand and France, Fu Manchu has a selection of everyone's favourite Asian beers, and a quirky Asian-inspired list of cocktails, all of which feature fresh herbs.
The Vietnamese dishes start right from breakfast, with chicken congee, black sticky rice and Asian-style omelettes, but you can also stick with classic western classics, such as smashed avocado and scrambled eggs, with interesting extras like candied bacon.
The lunch and dinner menu is strictly Vietnamese, with starters ranging from faves such as spring rolls served with herbs, vermicelli and nuoc cham ($11 for four vegetarian; $13 for six prawn) and salt and pepper squid ($13/$19) to banh cuon - steamed crepes with prawn or pork ($12/$10).
Mains - or ''bigs'' as they're called - include bun, a vermicelli noodle salad served with a choice of curried chicken and lemongrass ($15), curried beef ($16) or with vegetable spring rolls ($14), a sweet pad Thai ($21 for king prawns, $16 for chicken) and classics such as nasi goreng ($18) and a selection of curries. A highlight (available for lunch and dinner) is a new take on the traditional dish com tam (broken rice), here served with grilled lamb steaks (it's usually a pork dish) marinated in lemongrass and spices, topped with a fried egg and a side of kimchi - a generous serve for just $19.
Desserts include sticky date pudding with a Vietnamese twist, palm-sugar-butterscotch and coconut ice-cream ($12), creme caramel ($12) and that classic favourite, three-colour drinks with coconut cream and jackfruit ($7). Many people can't wait until dessert to order one of these.
Grateful locals, families enjoying the pram space and highchairs.
It's worth it for the com tam alone, but the overall prices and serving sizes justify travelling out of your way if you're not a local.