Visit Ho Chi Minh’s Bến Thành Market, Nick La explains, and you’ll see rows of vendors all focused on just one dish. It’s an ethos he’s brought back to his new Little Lonsdale Street Vietnamese restaurant, The Brass Coq. Each member of the close-knit team is given free reign over their specialty.
In the kitchen, chef Phong Nguyen (MoVida, Oscar’s Table) is constantly testing new dishes and bouncing ideas off La, hoping to push Melbourne’s understanding of what Vietnamese food means. His menu is a testament to what chefs can do when given the time and resources to experiment. Every element is made in-house with dishes such as the Vietnamese fried chicken (VFC) summing up the approach. It uses a family recipe steeped in authentic flavours, refined with a playful twist on tradition. It’s also incredibly tender and uniquely sweet, thanks to the addition of fish sauce.
The share-dish-focused menu features all of the Vietnamese favourites—including tender beef pho, simmered for 48 hours—but ordering at least one dish from the specials board is a must.
On the floor, restaurant manager Sebastian Bertucci (Gill’s Diner) can help you mix and match the offering, keeping in mind the Vietnamese tradition of always having sweet, salty and palate-cleansing dishes on the table. Bertucci has built a wine list to work with the cuisine’s strong flavours and has focused on small Victorian wineries, with some French and German drops for good measure.
The upstairs bar is the domain of venue manager Colin Tan. Come dessert, you can retire up there to enjoy a deep-fried pandan custard bao and a drink fireside. Tan’s cocktail menu is in keeping with the restaurant’s theme and features a standout take on the espresso martini, made with Vietnamese drip coffee, condensed milk and homemade salted caramel. You’ll find thoughtful touches throughout the list, such as sous vide tequila with grapefruit skins (rather than a classic infusion) to give Tan complete control over the flavour.
Although naming the restaurant The Brass Coq may have began as a joke between La and his business partner, Luke Gurtman, this CBD spot has evolved to be a destination for anyone serious about Vietnamese food.
The Brass Coq
470 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
(03) 9640 0035
Mon to Thu 11.30am–3pm, 5pm–11pm