Dining at Van Expresso Bar is like visiting your fun, quirky, well-travelled aunt at home. You don’t question what’s on the menu because you know it’s going to be good, you’re likely to have one too many drinks, and you always stay a little longer than planned.

But unlike your cool aunt, chef and owner Anna Kellett has spent a lifetime in hospitality and 20 years living and cooking across Southeast Asia. Kellett and her partner, Vladimir Vujovic, are behind Circular Quay’s Young Alfred, and were the original founders of Paddington’s Love Supreme. Vujovic also started Arthur’s Pizza in the ’90s.

Van is a tiny and good-looking cafe by day and a restaurant and bar at night. It’s on Clovelly Road next to fish and chipper Out of The Blue, and when Broadsheet visits on a Wednesday evening the lively buzz and flurry of people is like a mirage on an otherwise sleepy strip.

The food is modern Vietnamese with French accents and is informed by Kellett’s heritage. “It’s food without boundaries … I’m bored of the terms ‘modern Australian’ and ‘fusion’. I don’t want to pick a particular cuisine … it’s just me, it’s Anna, it’s who I am as a person.”

The san choy bow has clusters of crunchy fried rice with pickled pork, herbs, lime juice and peanuts, served in a lettuce cup. The market fish curry is exemplary; the perfectly cooked fillets are submerged in a light curry sauce and it’s served with a fried sweet rice bun for dipping.

Other highlights include the corn, smoked and stir-fried with XO sauce; the prawn spring rolls with a punchy dipping sauce; and the braised pork with quail eggs served with pickled greens and pork crackle. For breakfast you can get banh mi, French toast, oyster omelettes and crepes.

Yes, the food at Van is great, but it’s the relaxed, comfortable environment Kellett creates that makes it special, and that has some locals coming back up to three times a week.

Clovelly isn’t exactly known as a night-time destination, but Van has some decent low-intervention wines and a neat cocktail menu to entice. The Good Morning Clovelly is a mix of vodka with raspberry, lemon, Vietnamese mint and soda if you prefer fresh and fruity, or if you like yours dry and strong, there’s the Big V, with gin, sake, peach liqueur and a lemon twist. During the day it’s Illy Espresso, cold-pressed juices and bubble tea.

Van Expresso Bar
3/272 Clovelly Road, Clovelly

Hours:
Tue to Sun 7am–3pm, 5pm–10pm

vanexpressobar.com

This article first appeared on Broadsheet on May 2, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.