Gondola Gondola co-owner Annie Tran and her husband, head chef Tuoi Tran, have long been inspired by the diverse food culture of their respective Chinese and Vietnamese heritage and their many travels through Southeast Asia. These influences have been the linchpin of their west end restaurant since it opened in 2015 on the once chiefly nocturnal Hindley Street.
When Covid-19 struck and restrictions came into effect, the pair took time away from the restaurant to plan an extensive overhaul of their menu – the biggest in the restaurant’s five years – to better cater to city workers coming back to the west end post-pandemic.
“Operating here for five years, I’ve noticed people don’t like eating too heavy for lunch. It’s always kind of been an issue for us,” Annie tells Broadsheet. “We wanted to get more fresh and lighter dishes happening to capture the lunch crowd.”
A variety of seafood options, such as a seasonal sashimi salad with pickled garlic and namjin dressing, grilled squid with smashed avocado, and tiger prawns crusted in young green rice (toasted and pounded young rice kernels), are among Gondola’s new, lighter plates.
There’s also a noodle-less pad thai dish inspired by a Nu Suandokmai (Lantern by Nu) recipe, which features sugar snap and snow peas instead of noodles, served with tofu, chilli flakes, beansprouts, tamarind, peanuts and either shredded chicken or vegetables. Suandokmai was brought in by Annie to help her kitchen team fine-tune its operations, including a higher end style of plating.
“We’ve always used traditional Asian cooking methods with modern culinary styles to create an exciting menu,” she says. “The key here is to highlight both [Asian and Western] flavours and make them work together.”
“We’ve incorporated many different purees in our dishes, which is non-conventional in Asian cooking … For example, we use a lychee and nashi pear puree in the crispy pork belly dish. The sour and sweet flavour goes well with the belly, and on top of that [it] also helps [balance] the fatty and oily pork belly. And our twice-cooked duck leg not only has the traditional Asian five-spice jus, the flavours are more highlighted with a beetroot puree.
“The way we’re cooking our Wagyu rump steak is by lightly grilling it – that’s a Western way of cooking it – but plating it with a lot of Asian herbs and brown rice.” The pair also plan to introduce sous vide meats.
The all-day menu also includes braised lamb shanks cooked in a cinnamon and star anise master stock with cherry tomatoes, kipfler potato and baby carrots, served with garlic banh mi.
Along with the pork belly, Gondola’s old favourites – the salt and pepper eggplant, chicken and corn dumplings, Korean honey-glazed barbeque pork ribs, and papaya salad – remain, albeit with a subtle refresh. For dessert, there’s one choice: black sticky rice with coconut and caramelised banana.