Dai Daung and Rene Spence know St Kilda pretty well. “Dai lives up in Carlisle Avenue, and I lived here for about nine years,” says Spence. “These are our people, we know them, we’ve served them for a long time, we know the area inside-out, back-to-front and upside-down.”
So, the former Pelican pair felt sure the area needed a new Vietnamese restaurant. “We felt there was a bit of an opportunity here because there was nothing like it,” explains Spence.
Called Uncle, a term of endearment and respect in Vietnam, the new restaurant aims to be genuinely Vietnamese, if not meticulously so. “There’s a couple of other Asian ingredients in there, but we’re absolutely Vietnamese,” says Spence. “Vietnamese cuisine takes a little bit of influence from China, and a little bit of influence from France. We’ve got pate on there, but it comes with rice crackers. We’ve got steak with chilli and coconut butter.”
Perched above Blackhearts and Sparrows, the new venue was designed by Adele Winteridge of Foolscap Studio, the aesthetic brains behind Patricia. “We’re really, super-delighted, bloody happy to have caught her now, because she’s going places,” Spence says. “We didn’t have huge amounts of money, and shouldn’t have had a space this size. But we totally fell in love with it. She created such a bright, breezy, just a cool space.”
Design has clearly played an important part in Uncle’s conception, with furniture by Northcote’s Steve Edwards and handmade Crockery by Fork Ceramics (Ruth Laird Spence, Spence’s wife), complementing Foolscap’s fit-out.
With a working bar downstairs and al fresco dining above, Spence and Daung are aiming for an enjoyable but affordable dining experience. “We wanted somewhere that was really super-approachable,” says Spence. “The idea was for you to look at your bill at the end and say ‘Whoah, shit! Are you kidding me? Is it that cheap?’