If sophisticated, modern Vietnamese cuisine with a flash of fusion pzazz appeals, then head down to New Quarter in Richmond where the flavours sing on the plate in a cleverly lit, chic dining space.
Location: 79 Swan St, Richmond, VIC 3121 Ph: (03) 8391 1388
There is something quintessentially Melbourne about New Quarter.
Set on a busy corner block in an always lively section of Richmond’s Swan Street, it’s a synthesis of much that is hot in this foodie city right now.
Firstly, the venue has an intimate, industrial chic design with echoes of warehouses and hipster haunts in other metropolitan cities. Secondly, the food is Modern Vietnamese, which means many dishes have the familiarity of your local pho and bun joint, but with a twist. In fact, there’s even a tweak of Asian fusion magic, in places.
So it isn’t surprising to learn that New Quarter comes under the Commune Group banner. The Commune brigade are skilful exponents of funky Asian fare dished up in cool, locales. Their popular Tokyo Tina rifts on Japanese street food, whilst Firebird is another Vietnamese influenced eatery, only one where open flame cookery is at the fore.
New Quarter is actually a rebirth of Hanoi Hannah New Quarter – which has sister joints in Windsor and Elsternwick. And with the revamp comes a new spin on Vietnamese cuisine.
If Japanese food spliced with Korean flavours and pulled together by Chinese cooking techniques fills you with excitement, see our post on the Best Asian Fusion Restaurants in Melbourne
We’re back in the familiar land of moody lighting and minimal decor and as bona fide Melburnians, we love it.
The most striking design feature in the dining room is the wicker cage snaking over the lights. It lends the room a dappled light which adds heaps to the low-key ambience.
The table settings are a mixture of squishy banquettes and tables – both circular and rectangular. The bar running the back of the venue lures night owls with high stool to perch on for late night drinks and elegant nibbles.
Another great modern Vietnamese restaurant with a cool bar is Coda Melbourne – read our review here.
Neo Vietnamese might sound a bit pretentious, but we’re here to tell you that it tastes damn good.
As with many places these days, you can eat a la carte or go with a curated selection. At New Quarter, if you decide on giving control to the kitchen, you have 3 choices – the Classic Set Menu ($75), the Premium Set Menu ($89) and the Vegan Set Menu ($75). And with the Vegan option including the fabulous Taro Toast, Shisho & Burnt Chill and the Marinate Tofu Larb, Sticky Rice, Banana Shallots & River Mint, this is no half-hearted attempt to appease any plant-based eaters in your party.
Apart from the addictive Taro Toast ($8) mentioned above, the Grilled Corn Tartlet, Lemongrass Sate & Soy Custard ($9) is also a fabulous little morsel.
That said, Eatability’s love of anything Chicken Liver Pate-related is well documented by now. So it can’t be a revelation to learn that we adore that Banh Mi Finger ($9).
It alights on our table, 2 pressed slithers of bread, separated by a rosy ripple of the softest Chicken Liver Pate. And we’re hooked.
For more of the Best Vietnamese Restaurants in Melbourne, click here.
If you’re not brave enough to dip into the New Quarter Beef Tartare ($26), then you really are missing out. It’s a playful spin on all that is good about smart Asian fusion cooking. The French origins of the dish are clear to see, but the addition of aromatic Pho Jelly and Anchovy Tapioca Crisps ($26) pull it towards Asia.
Meanwhile, the Cured Trout Canh Chua, Charred Tomato & Betel Leaf Cracker ($25) is light and fresh. The Crackers have a heavy, almost crisped blotting paper texture that works well against the zesty, yielding fish.
For NY loft vibes and an interesting wine list, try Lilac Wine Bar over in Cremorne
The 3 wok dishes currently on the menu are all built on Noodles. So far, we’ve sampled 2 of them.
The Butterflied Tiger Prawn Noodle, Tamarind, Chilli & Black Pepper ($36) is a balancing act – both in terms of flavour, and visually. A striking bowlful, it’s topped by a perfectly cooked Prawn splayed across a tangle of slippery noodles. Noodles which pack welcome heat from the twin attack of chilli and pepper. We’re invited to mix the Prawn flesh through the rest of the dish before eating. The sweet Prawn and spicy Noodles are a great match for one another.
If you’ve never eaten New Quarter’s Duck Floss Egg Noodles, Spring Onion & Chives ($28), then you really must order it. It’s a glossy, rich, umami loaded indulgence. The sauce pooling at the bottom of the plate is a belter – satiny in the mouth and deeply savoury in taste. The Duck Floss adds texture, as well as an extra hit of meaty flavour.
The team at Straight Outta Saigon whip up delicious Vietnamese fare and more at their funky eatery
The Roasted Turmeric Chicken, Fermented Chilli & Lime ($34) is an obvious crowd-pleaser. Juicy cuts of chicken, marinated to a vivid yellow and then given the blistered-skin treatment on a grill. Again, the Fermented Chilli takes no prisoners, if you like your chook fiery – and we do.
Our last Main is the Lemongrass Pork Cutlet, Sharing Leaves, Lime & Sate Salt ($46), which proves to be an interactive finale. The Chop – charred on the outside, pale rose in the middle – arrives sliced from the bone. Diners take a piece of pork, wrap it in a leaf and dunk their bundle in the condiments provided. It’s simple, but oh so easy to eat.
We completed our Set Menu with a couple of puddings.
The Starward Ginger-Whisky Cake, Che Chuoi Cream & Honeycrisps ($14) marries the warmth of Ginger with the hum of mellow whisky. It’s the kind of dessert that would go well by a fireside on a chilly evening.
In contrast, the Jasmine Panna Cotta, Strawberries, Lychee, Pepperberry & Meringue ($14) is an ethereal confection with the perfume of summer. The inclusion of the native Pepperberry is genius – cutting what could be a cloying sugariness with a spike of astringent heat.
After 13 years of leading the way, Chin Chin is still one of the top Asian restaurants in Melbourne. Read our review of Chin Chin here
We love a Wine List that dares to play with the usual structure of such documents. At New Quarter, bottles come under headings like Orange, Clean and Crisp, Structured Sippers, and Dark Fruits and Beyond. The end result is a pretty extensive selection of largely Aussie options.
If you lean towards a cocktail on a night out, the bar staff are happy to make any classic combination upon request. Otherwise, the list on offer is small, but ties in with the Asian soul of the food. So the Kaffir Lime Margarita ($22) has all the citrus ping you’d expect and the Spiced Pomegranate Sour ($23) tastes like Christmas in the Orient.
For innovative drinks and gorgeous decor, see our review of Bouvardia Cocktail Bar
With it’s twilight, grown-up ambience and sleek decor, New Quarter is ideal for a romantic date night or n animated catch up with friends.
The service is polished and helpful. The last time we dined at New Quarter, the wait staff were clearly short-handed but did everything they could to keep us informed about delays in the our food getting to us. And you can’t ask for more than that.
But ultimately, New Quarter excels at doing something that many restaurants try to do, and fail. It takes a much-loved cuisine – in this case Vietnamese – and shapes it into something new and exciting, without losing the integrity of the original dishes.
If this is what neo Vietnamese looks like in Melbourne, sign us up for more please.
News has come in that New Quarter are introducing a Weekend Lunch.
Their ‘Non-Stop Noods’ is a 2 course budget-buster. The deal includes 2 Snacks from a choice including their Wagyu Skewer and that killer Banh Mi Finger and then an Unlimited helping of your favourite Noodle dish. For the Noodles, the options include both the Duck Floss Egg Noodles and the Chilli Tiger Prawn plates mentioned above, plus others.
At $49 pp, we reckon it’s going to prove popular.
If Vietnamese rolls get you excited, see our guide to the Best Banh Mi in Melbourne