Trendy, modern Vietnamese restaurant with a cool vibe serving flavoursome dishes and winning cocktails at a surprisingly affordable price. This lively eatery is particularly good for groups who like to share dishes. And the staff are superb.
Location: 138 Russell St, Melbourne, VIC 3000 Ph: (03) 9654 2024
We hit Straight Outta Saigon on a busy Thursday night, just as the pre-Christmas drinks and dinner frenzy was beginning to grip Melbourne.
From the moment we walked in, it was clear that this dinky Vietnamese restaurant was under-staffed. And very busy. But wow – the staff didn’t miss a beat.
We’d booked for 8.30, but our table was still occupied. No problem, we were deposited at the bar with a cocktail list. There, the barman – despite constantly fielding orders from the floor – managed light conservation as well as mixing a very decent Asian-fusion spin on a Margarita.
And this was the theme of the night. Once we got to our seats, the menus came quickly and everything was explained with calm, friendly efficiency. When it came to ordering, our server took the time to advise us that a couple of our dishes were similar and suggest an alternative. Then, when our food came, it did so with more laidback conversation.
Pretty impressive. Especially, as everything was being done by the 1 barman and 2 servers – all of whom were obviously under the pump! It was a timely reminder that Melbourne has some of the best hospitality workers anywhere in the world and with staffing shortages continuing post-Covid, we really need to value them.
For more of the Best Vietnamese Restaurants in Melbourne, click here.
Tucked into a shopfront on Russell St, this CBD Vietnamese joint thrums with energy.
There’s an artfully nocturnal feel to the place with the small, dimly lit dining room tinged pink and purple by neon signs and feature lighting.
We’re back in the world of concrete floors, exposed brick and plain wooden furniture. A few astutely positioned evergreen plants give a lush, tropical feel. The music is hip and loud – but doesn’t prohibit conversation, which is a hard balance to achieve.
The atmosphere at Straight Outta Saigon is bustling and funky. It’s the kind of venue you walk past on a warm summer’s evening when it’s windows are open onto the street and the alluring smells from the kitchen combined with the laughter and chatter of patrons makes you wish you were sitting at a table with a plate of their signature Southside Wings (6pc $14) yourself.
Another of our favourite Vietnamese Restaurants in the CBD is Coda. Read more here.
Firstly, it’s good to know that Straight Outta Saigon is a sister establishment to Hochi Mama. However, although Hochi Mama definitely pays tribute to its Vietnamese heritage, a number of its dishes lean towards Asian fusion.
In contrast, Straight Outta Saigon serves more authentic Vietnamese food – though often with a little twist for interest.
And like many of Melbourne’s modern Vietnamese eateries, customers can either go a la carte or choose a Set Menu.
As we were a 4, it made sense to follow the Get Dishy Wit It option where each pair chooses 2 Smaller, 2 Larger and 1 Side for a bargain $39pp.
Update: Since we ate at Straight Outta Saigon, the set menu has been revised. Now called Saigon Social, it offers the same choice of dishes, but for $44.50 pp. Also it’s only available for groups from 2-5 people, inclusively.
As we are all seafood lovers, we dived in with a Grilled Scallop each – so using up 2 of our Smaller plates. It was a smart move. Sweet discs of soft shellfish, baked in their shell and bathed in an umami-rich ‘chef’s secret sauce’. It was an ideal palate-teaser of an opener.
For wine bar vibes and relaxed Italian dining, try Ombra Salumi Bar, just around the corner on Bourke Street.
From there, we had the Pork Belly Saigon Baos, which we halved. These were generous slabs of succulent, marinated Pork with Pickled Carrots, Cucumber and Hoisin Sauce, all in a cloud-light Bao Bun. Delicious.
We divided our next selection as well – a texturally brilliant Banh Mi Bite of Soft Shell Crab with Kimchi and Sriracha Mayo. Seriously, my mouth is watering just recalling this dish. The crunch of the wispy batter on the delicate crab meat and the sharp, sour kick of kimchi, finished with the heat of the chilli sauce. We all wondered if one of those each might have been better than the scallops.
With rising food and fuel prices, there’s never been a better time to buy an Air Fryer. These compact appliances make healthy meals, quickly and efficiently. Not only that, they can also steam, bake, roast, dehydrate and more. For more information and price, click here.
‘Smaller’ dispatched with, we moved on to ‘Larger’.
Initially, we were leaning towards both the Traditional Viet Salad and the Pork Belly with Apple Slaw. However, our fabulous waitress suggested change as they were a little similar. Great advice which we were glad we heeded.
In the end, we kept the Pork Belly. The slices of juicy pig went beautifully with the Green Apple and Cabbage Slaw which zinged with a salty, sweet and sour Nuoc Nam. We then swapped out the ‘Salad for the Wok-Tossed Asian Broccoli. The Chinese Broccoli was dressed with garlic and a lovely savoury sauce and came with Crispy Pork Belly. It was fresh and vegetal in all the right ways.
The Bo Kho (Beef Stew) arrived as tender chunks of buttery, braised beef bobbing in a pleasingly fragrant broth. We’d ordered both Jasmine Rice and Coconut Rice as our sides, and the Bo Kho was perfect poured over a scoop of tender grains.
To our surprise, our last plate was the dish of the meal. The Vietnamese Curry comes with either Chicken, Tofu or Crispy Eggplant. We plumped for Eggplant and boy were we glad we did. It was a bowl of luscious, yellow Coconut Curry, perfumed with spices and aromatics, thick with Veggies and garnished with Coriander and Spring Onion. And the Eggplant? Wedges of silk-smooth, dark purple bliss – crispy on the outside and soft as marshmallow in the centre. It was one of the best vegetarian courses I’ve eaten in a very long time.
It’s worth noting that the kitchen at Straight Outta Saigon doesn’t scrimp on portion sizes. In fact, our Set Menu was almost too much for us – but not quite – and we didn’t have space for a dessert. If we’d had room, the Fried Oreo Bao ($10) – an outrageous marriage of Bao and Oreo Ice Cream, fried to hot and cold, perfection – had my name all over it.
If you have a sweet tooth, see our Best Cake Shops, Cake Delivery and Takeaway Cakes in Melbourne.
Baby Got Banq
Whilst we were more than happy to Get Dishy Wit It, Straight Outta Saigon also has a larger Banquet menu – Baby Got Banq.
For the princely sum of $55pp, you get to sample 4 Smaller plates and 4 Larger. And as the Smaller selection includes the rather amazing Sichuan Lamb Skewers, it might be worth splashing that extra $9.50 and push the boat out in style.
There’s a limited Wine List, and a small selection of Beers and Spirits.
Similarly, the Cocktail Menu is brief, but playful. Classics are tweaked and given an Asian spin. So there’s an Xpress Yo Self ($20) which riffs on an Espresso Martini with Vodka, Condensed Milk, Coffee Liqueur & Cold Extracted Coffee. Or perhaps the Ginger Binge ($21), a refreshing blend of Gin, Elderflower, Fresh Mint, Lemon Juice and Ginger Ale is more to you liking?
Whether you’re partial to a Negroni, or something a little more fancy, these are our favourite Cocktail Bars in Melbourne.
If you want great tasting Vietnamese fare which plays clear homage to its cultural roots, then it’s hard to go past Straight Outta Saigon.
The food is great quality and each dish is fresh and distinct. Even better, the servings are plentiful and the Set Menus offer excellent value for money in these cash-strapped times.
Combine this with a fun cocktail list, a vibrant ambience and some of the hardest working staff around and you’ve got yourself a great night out.