Chef, Author, Intrepid traveller, Vietnamese Food Tour guide, and lover of all things Vietnam, Tracey Lister is Australia's fountain of knowledge when it comes to one of the world's most captivating countries and its food We recently caught up with Tracey to ask where she likes to eat when she's back in her hometown of Melbourne, and is missing the cuisine of S. E Asia. We literally can't wait to try each one of these eateries Tracey has recommended as soon as we can!
Over to you Tracey Lister:
Before I moved to Vietnam in 2000, restaurants serving good South East Asian cuisine in a stylish environment with attentive service and even maybe a reasonable wine list were few and far in-between. Things have changed during my years away. Well, as they say…you have come a long way, Melbourne.
Below are, in no particular order, some of my favourite South-East Asian eateries.
Hanoi Kitchen in the coastal town of Barwon Heads does some of the best Hanoi food I’ve had south of the Red River. The chef/ owner Hong Lee trained at Hoa Sua, one of Hanoi’s oldest culinary colleges, before migrating to Australia. And how lucky for those prepared to take the one-hour drive from Melbourne. Hanoi Kitchen serves modern interpretations of Vietnamese cuisine like Balmain Bugs with a chilli sauce or a creamy lemongrass pannacotta, but I find it hard to go past the classics like Pho Ga or Bo - a clear, full-flavoured chicken or beef broth with rice noodles and herbs.
Annam is a restaurant I love taking guests to. Whenever I have eaten there, the food and service has always been of the highest standard. The dumplings filled with oxtail braised in sarsaparilla are a must. Chef Jerry Mai should never take them off the menu! Some Hanoi classics that rarely feature on Australian menus like small prawn fritters wrapped in herbs and crisp lettuce or Cha Ca, marinated fish with rice noodles, are also well worth a try. My favourite, though, is the chicken dumpling soup- five plump dumplings and egg noodles floating in an aromatic broth. If you are in a hurry or dining alone at lunch time, there is also an excellent and reasonably priced “Office Rice Menu”, modelled on Vietnamese com binh xan, featuring six small dishes. Little Bourke St, Melbourne annam.com.au
At the NEFF kitchen at the South Melbourne Market join Van Le-Hugh. Van family hails from Hue and preparing meals for her big family has been central to her life. She now shares those family recipes with you in a fun and interactive way. The kitchen is well set up with plenty of room to move and a mirror above the workspace to observe Van handiwork. The classes run for two hours and generally take place on the weekend. In any one class you may prepare sizzling turmeric rice pancakes with prawn or pork and beef in betel leaf or a salad and a Banh Mi. She will take you through the recipes step by step, demystifying any unusual ingredients and you will leave not only with a full belly and some tasty recipes that you can easily recreate at home, but a better understanding of Vietnamese cuisine. South Melbourne Market, 90 Cecil St www.southmelbournemarket.com
Tucked away at the quiet end of Brunswick, Lankan Tucker serves up attractive Sir Lankan food in a stylish café environment. My favourite is the Sri Lankan Staple of beetroot curry and lentils with chutneys, sambals and your choice of either red rice or string hoppers. I can be a bit nervous about ordering an expresso in an Asian restaurant, but no need for concern here. Their coffees are excellent. And before you go, grab a take-away Roti Roll for the lunch box. Best of all, not only is the food delicious, you also eat and drink for a good cause: Lankan Tucker donates a portion of the sale price to a Sri Lankan orphanage. Albion St, Brunswick West lankantucker.com
For a hard earned bowl of noodles after battling the deli queues at the Queen Victoria Market head over the road to Noodle House by Lao-Luangprabang.Grab yourself a seat at the bench overlooking Elizabeth St and kick back with a Beer Lao while selecting from their small but interesting menu: I particularly love the Khao Piak Moo Krob, house-made thick rice noodles in a peppery broth with pork two ways, herbs and crispy shallots. Level 2, 4/500 Elizabeth St, Melbourne https://noodle-house-by-lao-luangprabang.business.site/
Geoff and Jane Lindsey’s Dandelion Restaurant features modern, mostly Vietnamese dishes in a stylish casual environment. The well-executed dishes show a beautiful balance of the five flavors essential in South East Asian cusiene, sweet, salty, spicy, sour and sweet, but with a contemporary edge. Bo La Lot, a classic Vietnamese dish of minced beef wrapped in betel leaf and chargrilled gets the royal treatment with deliciously moist and flavorsome Wagyu beef taking the centre stage. Leave room for sweets as there is usual one featuring Mauou chocolate, a bitter-sweet chocolate from Southern Vietnam. If you have little tackers, go between 5.30-7pm so they can order from the kid’s menu. Or book in on the first Tuesday of the month for the Chilli Crab Dinners: a set menu featuring crab entrees, main course, sides, dessert and wine can be ordered for the bargain price of $120 per person. 133 Ormond Rd, Elwood https://dandelion.ws/
I remember the first time I went to Cookie well over a decade ago. I was blown away by the urban beer hall atmosphere with its well-stocked extra-long bar and the ironic kitsch décor. But the place is more than a city watering hole - to top it all off, it offers fabulous Thai inspired food. I’ve been going back ever since my first visit to share dishes like Salt and Pepper Calamari, Duck Jungle Curry or Crispy Fish and Green Papaya Salad with friends. Alternatively, if you are after a bar snack, try the Betel Bliss Bomb. A pretty plate of toasted coconut, peanuts, lime, chilli, ginger and dried shrimps that you roll yourself in the betel leaf and dip in the coconut sauce – yum! Level 2, 252 Swanson St, Melbourne www.cookie.net.au
If you are in need of a caffeine or sugar hit, head down to Che, a small quirky café serving Vietnamese coffee and iced sweets. It’s bright and airy with colourful murals depicting Vietnamese street life, on the walls, red and blue stools and tiles reminiscent of the old quarter in Hanoi. Vietnamese meals are generally finished with cut fruit, so the Vietnamese satisfy their sweet tooth by heading down to a che vendor for a mid-morning or afternoon treat. Early in the morning go for the coffee with egg, think strong chocolatey coffee with zabaione and in summer months I love the chilled sweet corn and coconut soup over shaved ice. It’s great to have some authentic Vietnamese flavours on offer in downtown Melbourne, like Hue’s famous sweet soup of pomelo rind and Kem Bo, avocado over coconut ice-cream. 359 Lonsdale St, Melbourne www.chedesserts.com.au/
Rice Kitchen’s website professes their desire to share their love of Asian flavours and that certainly comes across in their food. Rice kitchen is located on a busy South Melbourne shopping strip, conveniently right outside the tram stop and close to the South Melbourne Market. Drawing on family recipes, their menu is broken down into rice paper rolls, noodle salads, Bao Buns, rice, pho and snacks. Knowing that one of the owners, Lilli Tu, hails from the north of Vietnam I will always head to the pho section and order the Pho Bo, beef cooked two ways with herbs and rice noodles in a light fragrant broth. Another Hanoi classic is crab and pork fried spring rolls, and the ones prepared by the Rice Kitchen are scrumptiously plump with a fine crisp rice paper wrapping. 212 Clarendon St, South Melbourne www.ricekitchen.com.au/
I love the Indian Malay food served by street vendors in Kuala Lumpur, so naturally I was intrigued by a restaurant named after hose stalls: Mamak. The menu is broken down into satays, mains, rice, noodles and a whole section devoted to my favorite, Roti. The rotis are made on site and arrive at the table hot and crispy on the outside, light and fluffy inside and deliciously flaky when bitten into. In the morning, I love the Roti Telur Bawang (egg and onions) washed down with sweet frothy tea. For lunch, I find it hard to go past their Nasi Goreng. A spicy fried rice with prawns, beans shallots and topped with a fried egg. Mamak is good value with most dishes under $18 and only $3 corkage if you choose to bring your own wine. 366 Lonsdale St, Melbourne www.mamak.com.au
Hanoi Mee is an airy beach side modern Vietnamese restaurant located in Port Melbourne. The Executive Chef Ennis Le, originally from Vietnam, has made a name for himself in Melbourne serving his fragrant innovative food and with the odd appearance on TV. The tiger prawns fried in young green rice are a favourite. The rice forms a vibrant, crispy crust and the prawn stays sweet and juicy inside. This is all balanced out with herbs, lettuce and dipping sauce. There are seven spring rolls to choose from, not just prawn and pork and a number of delicious Vietnamese inspired salads, using wonderful Australian ingredients like fennel and beetroot, are also on offer. If you can’t decide, go for the chefs menu at only $60 per person, including dessert. Another plus - there are plenty of vegetarian and gluten free options. 140 Rouse St, Port Melbourne, Port Melbourne www.hanoimee.com.au