Jardin Tan

Jardin Tan at the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Jardin Tan at the Royal Botanic Gardens. Photo: Greg Briggs

Royal Botanic Gardens, Birdwood Avenue South Yarra, Victoria 3141

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Opening hours Daily 9am-4pm (kiosk 8am-sunset)
Features Licensed, Outdoor seating, Bar
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Michael Reid
Payments AMEX, Mastercard, Visa, eftpos
Phone 03 9021 2111

I was definitely living the dream. We'd shared Vietnamese finger food at outdoor tables sheltered from the evening breeze. The fish skewers were lemongrassy and sweet, the chicken bites were fried in an oaty crust, we wrapped crisp pork spring rolls in fresh lettuce and smothered silken tofu in pickled chilli.

Now, I sipped wine while my kids gambolled on the lawn over yonder. They were shoeless, cartwheeling, possibly mauling one another as I enjoyed a perfect post-prandial, pre-mosquito interlude. I toasted my great parenting: the kids were fed and exercised, and with my last sip, I swallowed the thought that upside-down play directly after dinner may be inadvisable.

Jardin Tan is the Botanic Gardens' Observatory Cafe, refashioned by Team Shannon Bennett (Vue de Monde) into a smart Vietnamese cafe, kiosk, kitchen garden, afternoon tea venue, bar and bakeshop. If you slot into its parameters it can be win upon win (congee with pulled pork for breakfast, duck curry for lunch, afternoon tea with bubbles, chilli mojito after work) but the many hats Jardin Tan wears can feel unwieldy.

Fish skewers on lemongrass spears.
Fish skewers on lemongrass spears. Photo: Greg Briggs

Sometimes there's table service, sometimes you take a number, sometimes inside is open, often it's outdoors only, and if you want breakfast before 9am you're restricted to takeaway coffee and a croissant in a bag.

The Vietnamese concept seems courageous in this high-traffic zone and the spice factor means it's not great for little kids. I also think the DJ vibe in the evenings is misplaced; this is never going to be Halong Bay.

There's plenty of upside though: excellent ingredients are ethically sourced (that's why it's more expensive than Victoria Street) and bread and treats from Bennett's bakery at Burnham Beeches are on sale.

Pastries from from Bennett's bakery at Burnham Beeches.
Pastries from from Bennett's bakery at Burnham Beeches. Photo: Greg Briggs

For me, I'm still glowing from that 10 minutes of peace I shared with a King Valley rose and the sunset.

Score: Three and a half stars (out of five)