Uncle

188 Carlisle Street, St Kilda, Victoria

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Uncle at 188 Carlisle Street East, St Kilda.
Tasty eats are served in gorgeous colourful ceramics. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer

Dani Valent

Uncle is a new-school Vietnamese restaurant that opened with a queue at the door a month ago and hasn't drawn breath since. It's a cool, fun place with tasty eats and great drinks, and it's easy to see why there's an hour's wait for dinner (reservations are available for groups), especially when you consider Carlisle Street is amazing for bagels and sorted for coffee but wouldn't know pho if it fell into a large lake of it.

Speaking of pho, the cleverest twist on Uncle's snappy menu of ''little guys'' and ''big guys'' is the fact that pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) is available in mini versions so it's not the filling commitment that it usually is. Sparkling clean broth is jazzed up with chicken, beef or mushroom plus DIY herbs, shoots and condiments and, like everything here, it's served in gorgeous ceramics.

The obvious comparison for Uncle is Elwood's smart Dandelion and it's no massive surprise to learn that co-owner Dai Duong was head chef there. But where Dandelion is smooth (think Cafe del Mar, manicures, concrete), Uncle is indie (Pixies, moustaches, plywood). Uncle is bigger and cheaper, too, with downstairs bar/holding pen and upstairs terrace and dining room. A stylised rickshaw-cum-waiters' station is a winning feature in the attractive wipe-clean interior.

Pho is served with DIY shoots and condiments.
Pho served with DIY shoots and condiments. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer

In a big, brash setting the food needs to be loud, too. That's why I didn't fall for the pork belly and quail egg braise: the ginger and star anise broth would be delicious in a cone of silence but it's too subtle to make waves in this room. Flavour bombs fly better, which is why I'll always order the happily inauthentic betel leaves topped with lime-marinated fish, coconut and pomegranate seeds. Chicken liver pate is so Frenchy but so chic when served with voluminous fried crackers flavoured with prawn and sesame. The play of soft and crunchy is indicative of Duong's thoughtful way with textures. Wraps and rolls round out the snacks: crisp strips of pig ear are stuffed in a roll, fried soft-shelled crab is served with lettuce leaves. Wine on tap, themed cocktails (love the Mekong Splice with rum, mango and coconut) and unflappable service headed by co-owner Rene Spence boost the experience at a restaurant that's sure to be a favourite Uncle this summer.

Rating: 3 and a half stars (out of 5).

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188 Carlisle Street, St Kilda, Victoria

  • Cuisine - Vietnamese
  • Prices - Small $4-$15; large $18-$32; dessert $11
  • Features - Licensed, Outdoor seating
  • Chef(s) - Dai Duong
  • Owners - Dai Duong and Rene Spence
  • Cards accepted - Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
  • Opening Hours - Tues 5pm-late, Wed-Sun noon-late
  • Author - Dani Valent
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Reader ratings (11)

4 comments so far

  • "Pho is served with DIY shoots and condiments." Pretty sure most, if not all pho comes with bean shoots, herbs, chilli, lemon and condiments that you can put on it.

    Commenter
    Ange
    Location
    Date and time
    November 11, 2013, 12:47PM
  • Had the banquet of 5 courses. Mostly OK, but the rice paper rolls had a nasty discordant flavour, possibly due to the type of mint leaf used. The spring roles were so-so and served with insufficient lettuce leaf. The pork belly was quite good. On balance I won't bother going back, I'd rather get in the car and head over to Footscray for the real Vietnamese thing, and better value.

    Commenter
    Peter
    Location
    St Kilda
    Date and time
    November 11, 2013, 10:11PM
    • Since when did spring rolls (it's rolls, by the way, not roles) need to come with a specific amount of lettuce leaf?

      Commenter
      janeygotagun
      Location
      Date and time
      November 15, 2013, 11:54AM
  • @janeygotagun Spring rolls need to be served with sufficient lettuce leaf to be eaten in the traditional way,there needs to be sufficient to wrap each roll together with a generous amount of mint and bean shoots. To skimp on the lettuce shows poor attitude. You got me on the typo - well done.

    Commenter
    Peter
    Location
    St Kilda
    Date and time
    December 17, 2013, 10:33PM

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