Venturing south side for a visit to the Astor brought Jojo and I to the doors of Saigon Sally for a pre-film dinner. You may remember me visiting Sally’s sister restaurant Hanôi Hannah way back around when it first opened and while liking it, I did at the time have some issues with the sameness of the vegetarian options and the fact that it was so popular that it was hard to get a seat in the tiny space. Indeed, so pumping is Hannah that I have a feeling that there weren’t any subsequent visits made by me!
Little sister Sally, however, seems to have taken a look at Hannah and run in almost the complete opposite direction (as younger siblings are often wont to do in the face of elder ones). For one, you can make bookings at Sally, which means you can avoid queues. Thousands of points from me already. Secondly, there are a number of vegetarian dishes that are all interestingly varied, and actually have a sense of theatre to them, which is rare for a place that isn’t coded as ‘high-dining’. It situates its menu as drawing on Vietnam, but frequently looks across into other Asian cuisines for inspiration, meaning that there’s quite a few intriguing things going on in these dishes.
Sally is much bigger than the slightly-better-than-a-bolthole Hannah. The walls are covered with painted art and vintage Vietnamese posters acting as wallpaper, and the middle of the room is dominated by a square bar which I imagine would be a highly entertaining place to while away a Friday night watching cocktails getting made before your eyes.
But no! No digressions into alcoholic dreamscapes, we had a film to get to and needed full bellies. To start, I went with the bahn khot – rice flour bilini tofu, with smoked coconut milk and crispy shallots. On a stone platter with three depressions was presented three rough rice flour cups filled with soft tofu, sharp rounds of sliced chilli, with an oozing undercurrent of thick coconut milk that’d gone all tart like a creamy, savoury yoghurt. A little eyedropper vial was given alongside so that you can squeeze red vinegar over the cups to your own taste. A cute idea, it’s fun to shoot the vinegar everywhere, though I did end up getting weird flashbacks to being given Dimatapp when sick as a kid. Tangents aside, this was a thoroughly tasty and intriguingly put together dish. And fun! Food should always be more fun.
From the ‘sides’ part of the menu, I also ordered the simply monikered ‘tofu + seaweed’, which was comprised of silken tofu, pickled wakame, thai basil, sesame and kewpie. A big block of soft tofu, which had been lightly brushed with some kind of sesame oil based dressing took up the majority of the dish, was silky in the mouth and had soaked up much sesame goodness. Strewn across and around the tofu was much greenery. The pickled wakame had been dipped in a tempura-ish batter and flash-fried, creating great textural contrast. Charred snow peas brought another taste profile in (and was possibly my favourite component, I can’t go past charred fresh vegies!). It was a big serving for a side dish, and very good value for money considering the flavour excitement that was happening with it.
Jojo had the broken bibimbap: poached egg, broken rice, lemongrass, pulled pork, and what looked like lots of shredded vegies. I am mad for bibimbap and am a little sad that Sally doesn’t appear to do a vegie version, especially as Jojo was very pleased with this pork one.
Also, a note for those for whom gluten is a dreaded dining demon, all bar one of Sally’s menu items are actually gluten-free, including ALL the desserts! Sally’s dessert chef is actually coeliac himself, so you are in safe hands! On a separate dessert-only visit I sampled the bahn bo, little steamed coconut puddings with scads of caramelised banana and a ball of coconut sorbet, which somehow managed to be both light and rich, and all-over delicious.
As I’m sure you’ve twigged to, I am quite keen on Saigon Sally. The food is rather fancy from what you may have been expecting from the look of the venue and the very reasonable prices. It’s certainly a case where taking traditional recipes from a variety of south-east and east-Asian cuisines and playing around with them has resulted in thoughtful, well-rounded dishes that pay respectful homage rather than becoming unsuccessful imitations or, worse, crappy Westernisations that just don’t work. Saigon Sally is doing something very clever with its food, and is well worth exploring.
2 Duke Street, Windsor
Ph: 9939 5181