15 Collins St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
I’m not a big fan of heading out to the St Kilda area. Not only is parking expensive and scarce, the only public transport option is the temperamental tram network that often results in waits of upwards of 20 minutes after 8pm. Luckily, there’s only a few restaurants out that way that I’m extremely keen on trying, so I don’t have to brave the trip out too often.
Uncle is one of the restaurants on that short St Kilda to-visit list, but before I could make my way out there, they’ve done everyone a solid and opened up a second branch on Collins Street in the CBD.
I’ll admit, this place is a bit of a pain to find; located just past Mamasita, you’ll find Uncle up a set of stairs that shares a (very tiny) foyer with Pressed Juices. Once you head up however, you’ll be glad you did. Walking into Uncle feels like discovering a secret cranny of Melbourne all for yourself; the floor to ceiling windows affords a beautiful view over the leafy street, and the interior itself is punchy and exotic without the tackiness. It’s a veritable oriental oasis away from the bustle of the city.
On our waitress’ recommendation, I gave up the more pedestrian lemon and mint iced tea for a more exotic Lychee, Cucumber, and Holy Basil Iced Tea ($5.5). The result is fruity and peppery, the mixture of herbs and tropical sweetness pairing well with the meal we’re about to have. Chris on the other hand opted for the Pimento Ginger Tonic ($5.5), which was pleasingly warm and spicy.
I don’t usually order edamame, as I can get a half kilo bag, frozen, from the Chinese grocer for about $3.But these Wok Tossed Edamame ($8) are something altogether different. Tossed through the wok with roasted peanuts and chilli salt, these smoky pods were the bottom line in moreishness.
The Raw Kingfish ($16, 4pcs) was also rather exciting. The fresh kingfish was topped with a fairly tame combination of citrus and crushed wasabi peas. What really makes this shine is the fluffy coconut foam reminiscent of piña coladas, which immediately gives the dish a refreshing tropical twist.
The Clarence River School Prawns ($16.5) is a new addition to the menu, and is an exciting cold salad full of varying flavours and textures. You’ve got the crunch of the school prawns contrasting with the tender silken tofu, and crispy white fungus mingling with sweet garlic shoots. The whole dish is dressed in a rich chilli sauce that bears the lip-tingling spiciness of peppercorns, mellowed out by a hint of sweetness.
Moving onto the heavier dishes, we indulged in a serve of Braised Beef Short Rib Bao ($15, 2pcs). The meat to bao ratio is way off, but for once, I say that in the best way possible. The hulking chunk of beef was rich and sticky, pulling apart with a gentle tug of the fork. There was enough meat to stuff each fluffy bao full, saving just enough room for the crunchy Asian slaw. The icing on top of the cake came in the form of cubes of rich morcilla, which we relished by itself so as to not lose the complexity of the spices amongst all the other flavours.
The centrepiece for the night was the Master Stock Crispy Pork Hock ($39), braised, fried, and then caramelised to bronzed perfection. The skin makes an audible crack as you cut into it, hiding a centre of sticky, collagen-laden meat.
Although it’s good enough to eat straight from the bone, the pork hock tastes best wrapped up in fresh lettuce leaves with rice noodles and herbs, and dipped into nuoc cham. It’s messy for sure, but you’re pre-emptively presented with moist towelettes, so go ahead and dig in.
It’s a close thing, but we managed to fit in a dessert of Set Vietnamese Coffee ($12). The disc of coffee-flavoured panna cotta was rich and smooth, good even for those who aren’t a big fan of coffee. Balanced on top is a crunchy sesame twill and a scoop of excellent coconut ice cream. The only aspect I thought didn’t quite fit was the scattering of freeze-dried passionfruit, which gave the creamy dessert an odd tang.
I was rather impressed with what Uncle had to offer. All the food I had sampled was quirky and exciting, but at the same time, staying true to the roots of South-East Asian cuisine. The space was also an utter joy; the exotic touches and hidden away location made the meal feel like a mini getaway. The prices however are a bit steep. My suggestion would be to go for the Uncle Knows Best banquet option – for $59pp, you’re guaranteed to eat your fill, and then some.
Rating: 14/20 – favourite uncle.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.
Sweet and Sour Fork dined as a guest of Uncle Collins St.