A huge mural depicts 'an Asian Audrey Hepburn' at Saigon Sally in Windsor. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
New cult alert: the banh bo nut. Hello, Vietnamese doughnuts - hot, sugar-crusted balls on a sticky lick of salted galangal caramel sauce with a scoop of coconut sorbet. They're served in a festive boat with a jaunty cocktail umbrella, and if ever a dessert can make gluten-free cool, banh bo nut can.
Its creator is coeliac pastry chef Felix Goodwin. Watch him in action at Saigon Sally's dessert bar, whipping up "tira-mi-Sally" - two nifty triangles of macaron "bread", layered with coffee parfait, condensed milk and peanut brittle, a play on the Aussie Vegemite and cheese sanger. It was too sweet for me, but it's fun and - like all desserts here - gluten-free.
Saigon Sally is what happens when a clever Gen-Y team - Simon Blacher, Nic Coulter, Paul Nguyen and Will Newton - takes control of the restaurant rickshaw, creating an exuberant, glam, buzzing modern Vietnamese diner. It's the same crew from Prahran's outrageously popular hawker kitchen Hanoi Hannah, and Saigon Sally is her sophisticated older sister.
A new cult-classic? The banh bo nut.
The room is fantastic, an unstuffy bar-restaurant mash-up in the side-street site that used to be Pandora's Box. A huge mural depicts "an Asian Audrey Hepburn" with smoke that swirls on the concrete bunker roof. There's an actual rickshaw (a customer brought it back from Vietnam), a wine cellar lit like a red-light district, twinkling candles on the tables, and a massive central bar encircled by glamour girls and spunky boys - smell the wafts of pungent tamarind over the sweet notes of CK One.
Adrian Li's menu focuses on "Vietnamese sharing". Dishes are small (kingfish tartare, chicken ribs), medium (eggplant XO, steamed mussels) and large (fish curry, five-spice wagyu), and aren't bothered by authenticity. Take the Vietnamese "taco", a deconstructed, DIY version of the traditional savoury pancake, banh xeo. In a lettuce cup, place your "tortilla" (made from rice flour, turmeric and coconut milk) then pile in pork belly cubes, prawns, beanshoots and fresh herbs. Once again: fun. Jumbo quail, a tricky bird to wrangle, arrives tunnel boned, juicy and barbecued, stuffed with black rice and lap cheong (Chinese sausage).
Tea-smoked duck ranks high on the quack-o-meter, the rare, crisp-skinned meat infused with subtle, smoky flavours - green tea, star anise, cinnamon and cumquat (Li picks the fruit from a neighbour's tree that overhangs the carpark). Alongside are strands of green mango, cucumber and ginger in a gutsy sweet-sour fish sauce dressing that makes your eyes squint. Weirdly, it was missing its promised vermicelli noodles. More ingredients were waylaid on my visit, the tofu hotpot missing its, er, tofu. There was lots of shiitake, though, bobbing in a dark- brown one-dimensional broth (I didn't love it) with springy Taiwanese knot noodles.
Jumbo quail stuffed with black rice and lap cheong. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
Staff were switched-on - water glasses filled regularly, desserts on-the-house to compensate for missing ingredients. But sloppy errors included empty soap dispensers in the girls' loos and unfilled hand towels.
It took about a week to get a booking at this 65-seater, despite there being two sittings from 6pm or 6.30pm, and 8pm or 8.30pm. Sally's a fun ride, and if you're after hipster Vietnamese, she nails it.
- 03 9939 5181
- Cuisine - Vietnamese
- Prices - Share plates, $8-$34; desserts, $10-$12
- Features - Licensed, Accepts bookings, Gluten-free options
- Cards accepted - AMEX, Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Tues-Thurs, 6-11pm, Fri-Sat, 6pm-1am, Sun, noon-11pm
- Author - Nina Rousseau