318 Bridge Rd Richmond, VIC 3121
|Opening hours||Tue-Thu 11am–3pm, 5:30–10pm ; Fri 11am–3pm, 5:30–10:30pm ; Sat 11am–10:30pm ; Sun 11am–9:30pm ; Mon Closed|
|Features||Licensed, Accepts bookings, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly, Bar, Wheelchair access, Outdoor seating, Family friendly|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9917 2563|
Every Melburnian has their favourite Vietnamese joint in Richmond – one they've been going to for years, one that might not be much chop in the decor stakes, one that often gets your order a bit wrong, but their pho is the best.
Then, sometimes, you fancy something a bit … more. Enter Paper Plate. Humble name, but the food here is anything but throwaway.
Brothers Quan and Quoc Nguyen have brought an utterly delicious game changer to the area, riffing on the staples of their homeland and spinning them into thoughtful contemporary dishes with just the right amount of groove.
Head chef Quan worked at the original Pho Chu The in Footscray for six years before spending two years as sous chef at Dandelion with Geoff Lindsay.
The interior of Paper Plate (the name is another wink to their childhood – street snacks were served on paper plates or banana leaves) feels like a welcome exhalation – bare bricks painted white, with bamboo basket lids floating up the wall like thought bubbles. Chocolate bench seating flanks one wall, a wooden slat bar with handsomely stocked shelves flanks the other, and lighting leans to gold instead of apoplectic fluorescence.
Kick things off with an Asian beer or perhaps something from the Viet-inspired cocktail list, like a Mekhong Sour – Mekhong whiskey, tamarind and egg white – to go with a couple of starters.
Soft rice paper rolls are filled with moist lemongrass chicken, herbs, bean shoots and cubes of pickled beetroot, and served with a theatrical flourish – cut across the waist and propped up with a high collar of oak lettuce.
Bundle up the bo la lot – minced beef wrapped in betel leaf and accompanied by rice noodles, nuts and herbs – in lettuce and dip it into the hot, sweet mango sauce for a juicy, textural, "oh my god, let's get another serve" bite.
The crispy pancake, full of tender slices of lean pork and lightly charred prawns, comes with a mountain of herbs and luscious nuoc cham, the addition of coconut cream to the pancake mix adding a cheeky crunch.
Naturally, there are pho and bun dishes on the menu, but there are also some unexpected turns. The beef salad has bright flavours ricocheting in all directions – green mango, pickled eggplant, toothpicks of Granny Smith apple and pearl-like orbs of onion tingle with a ginger dressing under slices of slightly rare beef. A silken tofu salad has a peanut and mulberry dressing. There's a master stock-braised, crispy skinned spatchcock.
The monk curry is a hearty bowl of sweet potato, mushrooms, yard beans and eggplant in a coconut-cream sauce with just the right amount of chilli tingle.
Cool things down with a dessert of jack fruit sorbet or a creme caramel with Vietnamese coffee syrup.
The service here is easy and friendly, and it's clear they're loving what they're doing and happy to talk you through your choices. There's a takeaway menu too, if you really do want to paper plate it. But seriously, but with cocktails and flavour-packed dishes like this, it makes sense to stay a while.
Or just keep going back. Yep, just keep going back. There's no way your first taste of these memorable, modern dishes will be your last.
Pro Tip: In a hurry? Grab one of their "on the go" dishes.
Go-to Dish: Beef salad, $19.